I started working at The Well 1 year out of college. That was 2001. Since then, it has been quite the journey. It’s fascinating (to me at least) to look at how I have grown as a Christian and as a leader based on the influences of authors and their books. In this post, I am going to try and outline some of the books that shaped been important in who I have become today.
I can’t hit them all but the books that follow were some of the more influential and formative books for me as I continued to mature in my understanding of the church, her mission and my role in it. I’m going to start from the beginning and move toward today… I’m not sure they are in perfect order but they generally follow the timeline of how they influenced me.
by: Brian McLaren
For many of of us who were part of the early emergent conversation, this book was mind bending. Actually, it may not have been so much as mind-bending as it was totally affirming. “Someone put into words the things I’ve been thinking” and “I’m not the only crazy one” are a few of the quotes that come to mind as I remember reading this book. Funny story, when we were still young in our journey of replanting The Well (then Jericho Valley Church) I distinctly remember reading this book with my co-pastor Brad and then emailing Brian McLaren with some questions about next steps for us. He wrote back within the hour with some excellent advice. Of course, we were too smart to listen to it and probably brought ourselves some hard earned lessons that we could have avoided.
by: George Hunter
This is one of those books that was extremely formative for us early on. It’s as short book but in my mind, it’s a classic. This book looks at the missionary journey / story of St. Patrick and brings out some important themes for ministry in mostly secular settings.
by: John Franke
This book, along with taking his class at the same time, totally wrecked me. But, in a totally good way. I graduated from Bible College with a pretty strong set of assumptions about God and faith. I kept them all in a tidy little box with a cute little bow on it. John’s book took my box and totally smashed with a sledge hammer. I remember driving in the car with my wife on the way to pick up a used sofa in 2002 and telling her I didn’t know how to believe in God anymore. Thankfully I finished the book and the class and John helped lay the ground work for a faith that was more real than I had ever experienced.
by: Dallas Willard
Instant classic. Hands down one of the most important, shaping books I have ever read. I remember reading the beginning of the book and being so excited that he took the arguments I’d heard about in college as so important (Lordship salvation) and totally reframed it and blew it out of the water by coming at it in a completely different direction. For many of us, this book was a game changer – and I’d argue it still is.
by: Darrel Guder
These two books by Guder were awesome. I actually read The Continuing Conversion of the Church first and it completely blew my mind. I started reading it on a trip to Sedona, AZ and I remember my wife being upset at me for reading too much. I think most of the pictures of me from this trip had me with this book and a highlighter in my hands. It TOTALLY reoriented my ecclesiology. Guder’s other book, Missional Church, then reconfirmed it all for me and I was totally hooked on Missional Theology / Missional Ecclesiology.
by: David Bosch
If I wasn’t hooked on Missional Theology after Guder’s books, this one sealed the deal. A friend and I have joked that no one should be able to call themselves “Missional” unless they’ve read this book. Basically, Bosch takes a look at the theology of mission through the lens of the Bible and Western church history. If you haven’t read this book. You need to buy it now and start reading it. Warning: It’s massive. I read it in chunks and it took me like 3 years to finish. But, it was totally worth it.
Again, one of those books that was a game changer. This book was fresh back when it came out and I’d argue its still just as fresh today. While some people might argue that its a little too “low ecclesiology” I’d respond by saying, “maybe, but it’s awesome.” Hirsch and Frost lit a fire under so many church planters / pastors with this book. I really believe we are still experiencing the effects of this book in the revitalized church planting scene we are seeing today.
by: Eugene Peterson
This was my first introduction to Eugene Peterson. It could not have come at a better time. I’ve read this book quite a few times and it continues to challenge me and call me in ways that make me uncomfortable – and I mean that in a good way. He sets a standard for pastoral leadership in this book (and frankly, all his books) that is so high and so healthy.
by: Ron Sider
While I knew that caring for the poor was important from all the other stuff I’d been reading and talking about with other pastors, this was really the first book I digested on the subject. I think I highlighted about 3/4 of it. It was a short book, I read it on the airplane from Seattle to Philly and have never been the same.
by: Joseph Myers
This book changed my whole understanding of community. I can’t begin to tell how important it’s been for us as a church. We constantly hear how The Well “does community well” or “has such a unique approach to community” and I’d credit this book for almost all of that. I was able to take a class with Joe after reading it and he and I became good friends and he’s been a bit of a mentor me to over the years. This book is one of those books that I think pastors kind of struggle with but parishioners are like, “yeah, duh.”
By: Ken Callahan
I was introduced to Ken Callahen through Joe Myers. Ken, Joe’s mentor, is in his mid-70’s and is a Methodist church consultant who is absolutely brilliant and way ahead of his time. He was using the word missional in 1990 in his book Effective Church Leadership (also excellent) and this book on stewardship has single-handedly changed the way we talk about money at The Well. I have honestly had someone say to me “When you talk about money on Sunday mornings I want to open my wallet and give you everything I have.” This philosophy laid out in this book is the reason that person said that.
by: Scot McKnight
This was my first introduction (in print at least) to a “whole” gospel that didn’t just include the salvation of souls. While I would now credit N.T. Wright for further developing this understanding, I’m actually going to say that Scot McKnight’s book opened the door for me to appreciate N.T. Wright’s work. We used this book in a small group study and it was absolutely excellent. Scot’s other books could just have easily been on this list (especially A Community Called Atonement) but this one was the most important one that I read because of the timing of it.
by: Leslie Newbigin
Um. This book was amazing. I don’t even know what to say about it. I’d argue that most of the good, missional, emergent theology/thinking finds its roots in Newbigin. You have to read this book. The chapter of Church Leadership is worth the price of the book itself.
by: Al Hsu
When I was wrestling with living in Suburbia this book saved my suburban life. It was instrumental in the writing of my Missional in Suburbia article and thus my naming my blog “Missional in Suburbia” for about 5 years. Al came and spoke at The Well a few years back and helped us continue the journey of what it means to be a Christian in individualistic, consumeristic suburban America.
by: Chris Eardman
I think this book is out of print. But, as a bi-vocational pastor this book has been so helpful. Eardman lays out how he prepares each week when we can’t spend tons of time in his study. He refers to it as “Preaching on the Run.” I’ve adapted his weekly rhythm for me a bit but it totally changed how I approached preaching. I wrote up a longer blog post about this book and my rhythm here.
by: Karl Barth
I said earlier that all good missional theology finds its roots in Newbigin right? Well, I’m willing to bet that Newbigin finds his roots in Barth’s dogmatics. This is some heavy stuff but here is where we find Barth’s ecclesiology and it’s absolutely brilliant. Aside for the Bible, I’d say its the mother of all missional theology.
by: Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon
I read this book two summers ago while at the shore in New Jersey. As I’ve continued to shape my ecclesiology this is the book that has come the closest to describing where I’ve landed.
by: Soong-Chan Rah
Over the years I have been challenged by some close friends (who are not white) about the challenges faced by non-white, middle class congregations and leaders. I continue to find myself in conversations that make me want to use my place of privilege to come partner with leaders and congregations of marginalized people groups. I am still on a journey to understand what this actually looks like but Rah’s book was vital in confirming that and helping me on my journey. Some might think that Rah is just angry in this book. Maybe he is. But its a vitally important book nevertheless. I wrote about this a little bit here.
by: Edwin Freidman
Hands down the most important leadership book I have ever read. Tim Keel recommended this book to me and he said, “hang onto your hat.” I’m glad I did because it blew my mind (wait, no pun intended?). I’ve subsequently recommended this book to almost every leader I know and those who have taken me up on it have said the same thing. It basically addresses the problem of “leadership in the age of the quick fix” and talks about the importances of being a leader who is “self-differentiated.” I wrote up a simple overview of the book here.
by Peter Block
Peter Block is awesome. These two book are quickly becoming my most recommended leadership books (behind Freidman). Community lays out a framework for having conversations that build community and togetherness and Stewardship talks about how we lead communities where people naturally buy in, without the need of coercion and manipulation.
What books would fit into your “most influential books” that you’ve read? Which books shaped your journey?