Some Book Recommendations

August 13, 2009

A pastor must read.

I didn’t grow up around books. I’ve heard of childhoods where homes were filled with books, cracking open the mind (and hearts) to imagined worlds, truth and beauty. This wasn’t my childhood. My brother and I watched Don Cherry with my dad, playing hockey with ping pongs and paddles (I had a pretty good kick save).

But being who I am, shaped by God for what I now do, I can’t not read. It’s a requirement, actually. Not just to “get a degree” but as I’ve learned pastors must know words, what they mean, how they work together, how to re-define words and so redeem them, or see redemption through them.

Eugene Peterson, who has been influential in shaping my pastoral identity, makes this observation that pastors are like poets (from The Contemplative Pastor).

Poets are not primarily trying to tell us, or get us, to do something. By attending to words with playful discipline (or disciplined playfulness), they draw us into deeper respect both for words and for the reality they set before us.

Pastors are also in the word business. We preach, teach, and counsel using words. People often pay particular attention on the chance that God may be using our words to speak to them. We have a responsibility to use words accurately and well. But it isn’t easy. We live in a world where words are used carelessly by some, cunningly by others.

I read now, when I can. And when I can’t, I try to force myself to read. I read mostly Christian authors, because I know I still must be shaped by the wisdom they’ve gained from their walks, their reflection. I need to learn more, and grow. And, truth be told, I can’t not read because I simply don’t know it all.

Recently I’ve been asked for book recommendations. And all these requests come from a personal desire to grow deeper, spiritually. Below is a snapshot of an email that I just wrote to a brother in Christ seeking to grow by reading. This person is a self-proclaimed “non-reader,” and so I encouraged him that I was once one of those too.

Discipleship Essentials by Greg Ogden
This is more like a “bible study,” or material for group study. As the title suggests, it covers the basics of discipleship. I know you know most of these things (glance at the table of contents), but we always need to keep learning how to grow in each of these areas. I strongly recommend going through this book with either people in your fellowship, or a small group of committed guys.

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson
I love this book, and have recommended this to a lot of people. Peterson never writes “how to do…” spirituality (or how to grow spiritually). He has a way with words that describes what the spiritual life looks like, and draws you into it…creating a desire to do it, live it. Peterson, who paraphrased the Bible into The Message (which Bono reads), and who had worked as a pastor for nearly 30 years, is deeply rooted in Scripture. I appreciate this about him. So, this book follows the outline of the Ascent Psalms (Psalm 120-134) and highlights key terms and concepts for the Christian. To get a good idea of what the book is about, read the opening chapter: Discipleship. I highly recommend this.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
Originally not a book, but a series of radio shows broadcast in England on the BBC, Lewis’ intent was to make a plausible case for Christianity. It’s a classic–and one of the most popular Christian books–on apologetics. If you have already read Narnia (you should also, if you haven’t), you must read Mere Christianity.

Listening to God in Times of Choice: The Art of Discerning God’s Will by Gordon Smith
The more I speak with young adults like yourself, the more I hear (and am reminded of my own journey) for guidance in making big decisions in life. I know you’re in the middle of thinking this through, and to be sure, you will keep having these big decisions to make. This book has been helpful to me in this regard. It’s clear and lays out practical and effective ways to listen to God’s voice. There are many other books that speak on the same subject, so keep your eye out for these, if this strikes a chord with you.

In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership by Henri Nouwen
This is the shortest of all the books I’m mentioning here, but its impact on me is still reverberating. Especially as you’re discerning God’s call on you to serve in specific ways, I would say this is a must. If you want to grow as a Christian leader, heed the words of Nouwen closely. He writes simply. And his reflections will not be what you expect from a “leadership” book. No 1-2-3 steps on how to get people to follow you, but a powerful reminder of humble, Christ-like, Christ-centred, servant-like leadership.

Question: If someone asked you what books could shape them spiritually, what would you recommend?