I’ve always been a voracious reader, so I encourage pastors to read a minimum of ten books a month. I was glad to read a blog from Rick Warren titled “To Be a Great Leader You Absolutely Must Be a Reader.” You can see the article here.

However, I remember when I was a pastor of a restart church, I didn’t have money for food, much less books, so I had to beg and borrow from friends in larger churches. I also talked my church into paying for a service called Executive Summary. But as the church grew I received a $100 per month book allowance that equated to ten to twelve books a month (that was before 1993; it wouldn’t be enough today).

So when I left the local church in 1993 to pursue a ministry in church consulting, I vowed to do regular book reviews for pastors. I’ve continued to do this over the years. First I reviewed books for Net Results magazine, then for Rev! Magazine. So far to date, I’ve done hundreds of reviews and put the best on our website. I have also listed the best books by category.

I decided to share with you my reviews of five of the most important books of the past two decades. For some reason the books of the past decade have been some of the most groundbreaking books for the Western Church I’ve seen in my entire ministry. We will look back on the following books and call them “classics.”

If you only have enough money to purchase five books, these are the five you should own (I’m not including any of my books, but if I did, it would be Growing Spiritual Redwoods).

The Present Future, by Reggie McNeal

It is not often that a book plows new grounds. McNeal has succeeded in doing so. McNeal identifies the six most important realities that church leaders must address, including the following: recapturing the spirit of Christianity and replacing church growth with a wider vision of kingdom growth, developing disciples instead of church members, fostering the rise of a new apostolic leadership, focusing on spiritual formation rather than church programs, and shifting from prediction and planning to preparation for the challenges of an uncertain world.

McNeal contends that by changing the questions church leaders ask themselves about their congregations and their plans, they can reframe the core issues and approach the future with new eyes, new purpose, and new ideas.

While the trends listed are not new, the depth to which McNeal develops them is new and powerful. This book is one of the road maps to the emerging church, which is a movement rather than an institutional church.

My advice for reading this book: take two aspirin before you start reading.

Missional Renaissance, by Reggie McNeal

I just finished an interview with my longtime friend Reggie McNeal. He currently serves as the Missional Leadership Specialist for Leadership Network of Dallas. Reggie is one of the people I trust to lead us through the 21st century. His book Missional Renaissance is destined to be a classic in the missional church conversation.

Reggie likens our time to the confluence of major ideas that bombarded the Renaissance. Changes today are so pronounced that 50 years from now we won’t be able to recognize the church. That means we have to have a whole new way of measuring biblical fruitfulness. Because we get what we measure, we need a new scorecard that changes the ways we measure success.

The new scorecard is focused on the personal growth of the person more than the growth of the church. Instead of participation in a church ministry, the focus is on the maturation of the person. Instead of measuring how many people are in church the measure is on what people do when they leave the institutional church.

When I asked Reggie in an interview how one goes about turning an institutionally focused church into a missional church, his answer was right on. To paraphrase: the pastor has to live missionally before the people and infect those around him or her with the missional virus until it becomes a contagion.

This is one book and interview you don’t want to miss.[i]

Exponential, by Dave and Jon Ferguson

Dave is the lead pastor of Community Christian Church (in several locations in and around Chicago), and Jon has left CCC to plant three churches in the Chicago area.

This book is full of information and not just for church planters or people interested in forming a church planting movement, but for anyone who wishes to multiply their leadership base.  It tells the story of Community Christian Church and the pilgrimage of Troy McMahon from non-member to staff member to campus pastor to church planter and how that lays out the principles for starting a church planting movement. The book also lays a foundation for any church that wants to start leadership multiplication. I’ve seen this church first-hand and know they practice what they preach about multiplication of leadership. If you’re interested in developing a leadership and multiplication culture in your church, you must own this book.

 The Shaping of Things to Come, by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost, and The Forgotten Ways, by Alan Hirsch

These two books are two of the most important books of this decade.  I might not agree with everything they say, but the questions they raise and their critique of Western Protestantism are questions that will be dealt with for some time.  Their incarnational approach to ministry is as biblical as one can get – the role of the church is to go to the people rather than wait for the people to come to it.  The question is, can the church be incarnational and attractional at the same time? I think it can be.

These two books should be read by every Christian who knows something is wrong with today’s version of Christianity but can’t put their finger on what it is. The authors challenge every facet of Christianity today and go far beyond “reshaping” or talking about innovation like the title suggests. A better title for the book might be “The Rewiring of Things to Come: The Beginning of a Revolution.”

The book begins much like many other books on the emerging church. So don’t put it down till you get to the end. I dare you to read it, and if you do, to find ways to apply it to your church. Doing so will drive you crazy.

This is must-read material for today’s conversation.

Sticky Teams, by Larry Osborne

Larry is the pastor of North Coast Church in Vista, CA.

Sticky Teams is one of the most practical and insightful books I’ve read in over two decades. It is hard to believe how simple yet profound it is. In less than 200 pages, Osborne shares the secret to achieving unity with the board, staff, and congregation. Now that is close to a miracle.

His insight on how the function of a board changes as the church grows is worth the price of the book. In a small church, board members function as doers – he calls it “all hands on deck.” Board members are involved intimately in the day-to-day affairs of the church. As the church grows, the board approves all ministry before it happens. As the church gets larger, the board reviews ministry after it happens. When the church becomes large, the board sets direction and boundaries.

He offers a suggestion that mirrors closely the one Dave Travis and I offer in our book Beyond the Box. He suggests having two board meetings a month – one for business and one for team building, training, and prayer. His argument is that you must spend time with board members in order for them to be a unified part of the team and for them to be prepared to act when called upon.

Growth also changes the way staff members function. In a small church staff function more as generalists since there aren’t many staff. As the church grows, staff function more as specialists since there are more staff. In time, staff stops being “doers” and begins to hand off ministry and empower others to do ministry. The larger the church grows and the more staff a church has, the more important it is that staff function on behalf of the entire church instead of doing their ministry in silo.

When it comes to staff alignment, Osborne suggests using ministry “plumb lines.” Some might call these “core values.” The point is there needs to be a short list of values embedded in every staff person so they are all on the same page. Values are different from expectations. Everyone on the staff should know both.

There is so much more crammed into this book. You just have to read it for yourself.

Question: What are some other books on church leadership that you might have added to the list? Share your favorites in the Comments section below.

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