The following is a list of books that helped me transition into a full-time leadership role as a lead pastor during my first couple years in ministry. The order of the list is the order that I read them, not necessarily the order of helpfulness. All of the books were helpful at some level. Those I gained the most from have an asterisk next to the title.
Hopefully this list can be helpful to a guy staring out in ministry. From my experience, a seminary degree and pastoral internship did not prepare me enough for the weight of leadership that I would take on. I believe that good books are a God-ordained way of teaching us nuggets of wisdom and skill we lack in certain areas.
1. Practical Wisdom for Pastors by Curtis C. Thomas. A godly man sent me this book when he found out I was taking my first church. Great practical advice from a seasoned pastor. Chapters are short and filled with nuggets. The bibliography is also very helpful for further leadership resources.
2. *Pastor to Pastor by Erwin Lutzer. The subtitle is “Tackling the Problems of Ministry” and it rings true. I ordered this book about 6 months into ministry when I was facing my first problems in leadership. Lutzer’s book was immensely helpful.
3. Good to Great by Jim Collins. A standard in leadership. I did not finish the book but the chapter on “Level 5 Leadership” is priceless. Collins suggests that great leaders have a peculiar mix of humility and determination.
4. *The Conviction to Lead by Albert Mohler. Mohler reminds his readers that great leaders have the right convictions. This was a helpful book after reading Collins. There are 25 principles in the book, though some apply to larger platforms of leadership, the pastor of a small congregation can still benefit from them.
5. Dangerous Calling by Paul David Tripp. Tripp has seen many pastors fall out of ministry because of sin. The book addresses indwelling sin in the hearts of leaders. He confronts the reality that pastors will numb themselves through endless hours in front of the TV or on Facbook if they are not actively pursuing Christ. You feel as if Tripp is personally counseling you. A good heart-penetrating book for leaders.
6. *Sensing Jesus by Zack Eswine. Probably my personal favorite so far. Eswine reminds leaders that they are human and not God. The temptation of the leader is to try to be “like God” to those he leads. Eswine reminds us of our humanity and gives the leader a greater love for the locality he serves.
7. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell. Maxwell is considered the expert on leadership among some evangelicals. The fact that his book has sold over 1 million copies and is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller has something to say. I got my copy for $1 at a thrift store. A treasure and worth coming back to again and again.
8. What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary by James Emery White. The new pastor knows that seminary hasn’t taught him everything, just like premarital counseling can’t fully prepare a person for everything in marriage. White writes as a seasoned pastor passing on these lessons learned. Well worth the couple of bucks I paid for the eBook version on my Kindle.
I also subscribe to Leadership Journal which I find very helpful for developing leadership skills. Though not every article is great, there are some issues that have been extremely helpful. For example, one issue was on the topic of spiritual warfare and it related to some things I was going through at the time. Or another was on the topic of money. I don’t remember any teaching in seminary on how to lead an organization where money and finances are a big part of everything done or not done.
I read these books over the course of my first two years in pastoral leadership. If you do the math, these 8 books break down to a book every three months, which is quite manageable even for busy pastors. I personally take time on Monday to focus on leadership development, which is when I set time to read these books and listen to stuff online that helps me grow more as a leader.
I also recommend regular visits to Thom Rainer’s blog: thomrainer.com.
“Although it’s true that some people are born with greater natural gifts than others, the ability to lead is really a collection of skills, nearly all of which can be learned and improved. But that process doesn’t happen overnight.”