I love to recommend books to others. So, why not share what I found particularly helpful? Here are five more books to put under your tree for Christmas. With each book I’ll enclose information provided by the publisher or Amazon.com followed by my comments: “Why I like this book.”


Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck–Why Some Thrive Despite Them All by Jim Collins. Ten years after the worldwide bestseller Good to Great, Jim Collins returns to ask: Why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not? Based on nine years of research, buttressed by rigorous analysis and infused with engaging stories, Collins and his colleague, Morten Hansen, enumerate the principles for building a truly great enterprise in unpredictable, tumultuous, and fast-moving times.


The study results were full of provocative surprises. Such as:

  • The best leaders were not more risk taking, more visionary, and more creative than the comparisons; they were more disciplined, more empirical, and more paranoid.
  • Innovation by itself turns out not to be the trump card in a chaotic and uncertain world; more important is the ability to scale innovation, to blend creativity with discipline.
  • Following the belief that leading in a “fast world” always requires “fast decisions” and “fast action” is a good way to get killed.
  • The great companies changed less in reaction to a radically changing world than the comparison companies.


The authors challenge conventional wisdom with thought-provoking, sticky, and supremely practical concepts. This book is contrarian, data-driven, and uplifting. He and Hansen show convincingly that, even in a chaotic and uncertain world, greatness happens by choice, not chance.


Why I like this book: I expected another business book stressing innovation and instead discovered a surprising emphasis on discipline in the midst of chaotic change. The secret to understanding this book lies in the meaning of story about the “20 Mile March.” Why 20 miles? Why not 50 or 10? Important lessons and warnings for any leader whether leading a business or a church.


Bearing Fruit: Ministry with Real Results by Lovett H. Weems Jr. and Thomas M. Berlin. Thousands of congregations are in serious trouble. Children are not being taught the faith. Disciples are not being made. Lives are not being transformed. The poor are not being blessed. Communities are not being redeemed. These congregations know something is terribly wrong. And in most cases, the problems have little to do with the pastor’s prayer life or whether the pastor takes weekly Sabbath time. In fact, in many of these churches members deeply respect their pastors as sincerely spiritual people of utmost personal faith and integrity. But they need more from their pastoral leaders.

They need leaders who define ministry in terms of fruitfulness as well as faithfulness. They need pastors and lay leaders who ask about the outcomes of any given ministry or program, not just its process. Mostly, they need a vision of ministry that focuses on changing people’s lives. Absent that vision, ministry will fail. In Bearing Fruit, Lovett Weems and Tom Berlin provide readers with the tools they need to assess the fruit their ministry bears in the lives of their congregations, their communities, and the world.


Why I like this book: Combine the research capability of Lovett Weems with the success of Thomas Berlin and Floris United Methodist Church and you create the perfect recipe for a church looking to more effectively make a difference in their community and in our world. This is a book to study together with your church leadership team. More importantly, this book will enable your team to guide your church from studying to action as you learn to bear fruit for the Kingdom of God.


Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church by Kenda Creasy Dean. Based on the National Study of Youth and Religion Kenda Creasy Dean’s compelling new book, Almost Christian, investigates why American teenagers are at once so positive about Christianity and at the same time so apathetic about genuine religious practice. Instead of proclaiming a God who calls believers to lives of love, service and sacrifice, churches offer instead a bargain religion, easy to use, easy to forget, offering little and demanding less.


But what is to be done? In order to produce ardent young Christians, Dean argues, churches must rediscover their sense of mission and model an understanding of being Christian as not something you do for yourself, but something that calls you to share God’s love, in word and deed, with others. Dean found that the most committed young Christians shared four important traits: they could tell a personal and powerful story about God; they belonged to a significant faith community; they exhibited a sense of vocation; and they possessed a profound sense of hope. Based on these findings, Dean proposes an approach to Christian education that places the idea of mission at its core and offers a wealth of concrete suggestions for inspiring teens to live more authentically engaged Christian lives. Persuasively and accessibly written, Almost Christian is a wakeup call no one concerned about the future of Christianity in America can afford to ignore.


Why I like this book: If you are looking to start a new youth group, don’t bother to read this book. But, if you are looking to develop a better understanding of our youth so that you and your church can have an eternal life-changing impact on their lives then this book is for you. Almost Christian challenges you to go beyond offering fun and games and focuses on providing opportunities for mission and service.


The Gifts of the Small Church by Jason Byasee with Afterward by William H. Willimon. Dizzying changes have taken place in American religious life in the last half century. Yet in spite of that fact, taking a snapshot of a “typical” Christian church in America would reveal a surprising number of small-to-mid-sized congregations, rooted in a local neighborhood or community, tied to a specific denomination, where most of the members know each other and hence are blessed (and cursed) with being the church together.


In this clear-eyed, humorous appraisal, Jason Byassee contends that the “church around the corner” occupies a particular place in the divine economy, that it is especially capable of forming us in the virtues, perspectives, and habits that make up the Christian life. Not that he romanticizes these churches, however. Having been a rural, small membership church pastor, Byassee knows too well the particular vices and temptations to which they are subject. But he also knows the particular graces they’ve been given, graces like the “prayer ladies,” those pillars of the congregation who, “when one told you she was praying for you it meant something. When one hugged you, you remembered all week. When one cooked for you the casserole tasted like love. And when you were around them you were in the presence of Jesus.” Anyone who serves, or belongs to, a “church around the corner” will find their ministry strengthened by this enlivening, inspiring book.


Why I like this book: How do smaller churches survive in the midst of mega churches offering varied programing, high tech media and inspiring music? Jason Byassee doesn’t attempt to answer the question as much as provide real life examples of churches doing what they do best: surround you with an imperfect community of support and encouragement.


Journey in the Wilderness: New Life for Mainline Churches by Gilbert Rendle. The last forty years have seen transitions in mainline churches that feel, for many, like a journey into the wilderness. Yet God is calling us in this moment, not to grieve over the changes we have experienced but to hear the call to a new mission, and a new faithfulness.

In Journey in the Wilderness, Gil Rendle draws on decades as a pastor and church consultant to point a way into a hopeful future. The key to embracing the wilderness is to learn new skills in leading change, to reach beyond a position of privilege and power to become churches that serve God’s hurting people.


Why I like this book: Gil is a thoughtful communicator as well as an insightful church consultant. Journey in the Wilderness is a book for people who are committed to strengthening the leadership of the church and are willing to work within the wilderness. From the very beginning: Things move slowly so we need to be patient. Churches work collaboratively through committees and councils but in the end, “the church responds best when it recognizes what is essential, what is primary.” Every pastor and church leader should use this book as a field guide for helping churches discover what is essential and primary. Gil reminds us: “Our God is a God of surprises. We live in constant hope.”