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On April 5th of this year I picked up a book I had bought months before. Little did I know how much of an impact it would make on my life. I read it in less than 24 hours. Why? Because I couldn’t put it down! Because it answered a number of questions I didn’t realize I was asking for years as a pastor and leader. It raised issues in my own life I didn’t even know were there. It provided words and direction that filled my heart with inspiration and drive. It gave me the answer to the “How?” question I’d been wondering for years. As a pastor my job description is pretty explicit in the scripture. “Equip the saints for works of service.” Sounds easy right? I was trained and have a four-year degree on how to equip people biblically. I know how to disciple people, teach them how to study the Bible, how to apply the scriptures to their lives, etc. – but it wasn’t until April 5th, 2014 I began to see my purpose as a pastor as much more; I saw my role much more clearly as a leader. I can disciple people without ever equipping them to be leaders. I can encourage people to serve, but am I training them to lead others? I’ve always been told that great leaders “replace themselves.” But what does that really mean and how do I do it? Am I raising, training, and equipping people to lead or am I being, as Jim Collins in Good to Great calls it, “a genius with a thousand helpers?”

It was on April 5th a new path was opened up for me as clear as day. I was like Dorothy being transported from the black and white world of Kansas to the beauty and wonder of Oz in color and full HD. God began stirring a passion and desire in me I haven’t felt since I was young. I knew that my role as a leader, as a pastor, as a Christian, was taking a turn for the better.

On April 5th I came to realize if I wanted to lead others, I had to lead myself. I had to pay the price of leadership and growth. I had to fill my soul with so much inspiration and passion and love for God that it poured out of me in every conversation and in every relationship. If you don’t fill your life you’ll have nothing to give. Thus began a journey of filling my soul. I set a personal goal to read 26 books by the end of 2014. I had no intention of reading 20 in just April and May alone. A few folks have asked me if I’m a speed reader – let me assure you, I am not. I have two jobs that I work from home, take care of three kids, have an amazing marriage, while also being the best housekeeper I can be (which usually fails). When I entered Oz my eyes were opened to all the time wasters of my life. It’s truly unbelievable how much time I was wasting on meaningless things. As a result, I simply stayed focused, hungry, and alert to how I spent my time.

My goal for reading is not so that I can grow myself alone, it is so I can help others grow from the knowledge I gain. Most people will not read like I am. But perhaps from what I have gained it can inspire others to challenge themselves to step up and pay a greater price in ministry and leadership. I thought it would be helpful to pass along what I have been reading and make any recommendations I can. Perhaps something will stick out and you’ll find what you’re looking for. Consider me a simple coffee filter. I will share with you the books I read in April and May, filter out any meaninglessness and provide quick take-aways I have from them. If I get around to it, I’ll post another blog of the books I’ve been reading since. I hope you find something to help inspire you, grow you, and expand your perceptions of God. Many of you have probably read most of these books, but I had never been challenged to do so, so I didn’t! In some respects I felt I was playing catch-up with the rest of you. If you haven’t read these, I hope you find what you’re looking for.

1. Ready, Set Grow (Scott Wilson) 4 StarsImage

This was the book that started me on my journey. It’s based on the 3 year plan Scott Wilson put his staff through in order for them to grow personally as well as to push through the ceiling of growth they’d experienced at the Oaks Fellowship. I felt like a fly on the wall of their staff meetings. A fantastic story that kept me fully engaged. I took the challenges Scott Wilson gave to his staff very personally. A big takeaway for me was that staff members at a church are one of these three, “a worker (who is concerned with to-do lists), an equipper (who is equipping others to lead), or a multiplier (equipping others who are now equipping others). I realized I was a worker and things needed to change. So I took on the challenges his staff came up with, modified them for myself, and took off running.

2. Knowing God (J.I. Packer) 4 Stars

This is an oldie, but a goodie. I have come to understand it’s sort of a foundational Christian classic. It may be a bit difficult for some because of its size. It is definitely one I’d say to buy in hard copy because you’ll want to reference it later. Packer’s first section on what knowing God looks like, what it is, what it is not, is some of the most practical teaching in the book. Wow! I was deeply challenged! One of the other big take-aways I had was how much he describes God’s wrath, jealousy, and judgment. He makes the case that if we fail to understand these, then we can never truly embrace God’s love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, and sacrifice. In our modern culture of grace, grace, grace with very little talk of God’s wrath – it was quite eye opening.

3. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t (Jim Collins) 5 StarsImage

Jim Collins has quickly become one of my favorite authors. This book has been read by most and rightly so. You could write a whole blog just about this one book! But here are a few takeaways. He talks about having a ‘hedgehog concept.’ A hedgehog is basically good at one thing and one thing only: defending itself. So what is the one thing that you can be the best in the world at? Don’t become distracted by something you can’t be the best at. Another takeaway was the flywheel illustration. We look at great people or great companies and ask, “What’s the one big push you did that made you great!?” But it wasn’t just one push. It was a lot of little pushes that slowly built momentum! So don’t give up after a few small pushes. Stay focused and keep pushing.

4. Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? (Seth Godin) 3 Stars

I was a little disappointed with my first Godin book. I found it quite repetitive and full of zing words like “art” – which he didn’t really define until about half way through the book. But I loved his central idea: are you a cog or are you a linchpin? Are you indispensable to your company or organization? What is it that you bring to the table that sets you a part and makes you unique? That was right where I was at when I read this book. If you identify, you’ll love this book!

Image5. Circlemaker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears (Mark Batterson) 2-3 Stars

I was very disappointed when I read this book. Of course, coming off of greats like Knowing God and Good to Great, Circlemaker lacked a lot of substance for me. Full of Christian cliches and stories, I found it lacking and certainly not the best book on prayer I’ve read. I even questioned some of the premises. That being said, I still would recommend it depending on the person. If you have been a Christian your whole life, and you’re looking for an in-depth study of prayer: skip this one! If you’re struggling with prayer, if you need a shot of encouragement, or you are unfamiliar with prayer: this would be a good start.

6. The Social Church: A Theology of Digital Communication (Justin Wise) 3-4 StarsImage

I really enjoyed this book! In fact, our media team is currently reading it together. The only reason I give it a possible 3-star is because if it’s not something you’re interested in, you probably won’t enjoy it. Justin Wise is a sharp guy when it comes to utilizing social media in the church. If your church is involved in social media (which it ought to be) someone on your staff needs to read this book. A big takeaway was “the medium is the message.” The way we communicate says just as much as the content we communicate. Good stuff!

Image7. Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service (Disney Institute) 5 Stars

I was given this book years ago, but because I had no context for it, it was irrelevant. I couldn’t put it down now! You might wonder, “What does customer service have to do with church ministry?” Well, do you want greeters to have a smile on their face? Customer Service. Do you think they should open the door for folks as they walk in? Customer service. Are the restrooms easily to find and are they clean? Customer service. Is the temperature of the room comfortable? Customer service. That’s just a start! Yes, customer service matters in churches. I’m not saying it’s the answer to everything, but it may be a start for you and your organization. I highly recommend this book!

8. Coaching Life Changing Small Group Leaders (Bill Donahue) 3 Stars

Buy this book in hard copy. I bought mine digitally and I regret it. In fact I plan to buy it again…in hard copy. There are lots of bullet points and step by step conversations to have with people. It had some really good stuff in it if you are leading small group leaders. However, it’s not the best small group book I’ve read. So if you’re looking for a quick reference guide, this will be the book for you. If you’re looking for a more in-depth look at small groups, stay tuned to a recommendation I’ll make later.

Image9. The Leadership Challenge (James Kouzes & Barry Posner) 5 Stars

This book is like the bible of the leadership world! Not only does it form an incredible foundation for leadership, but it seems everybody quotes it in their own leadership books. lol When everyone else is quoting a single book, you know it’s probably one you need to read. It’s a monster to get through, but it is clearly one of the most comprehensive works on leadership I’ve ever read. Big takeaway was the idea of “Modeling the Way.” The best leaders always model the way for their followers. Leadership is a relationship. A relationship between the leader and the follower. And if you want to be a great leader, you need to become a person worth following.

10. Elijah: A Man of Heroism and Humility (Chuck Swindoll) 5 Stars

What can you say about Church Swindoll? Elijah is an older book I’ve had for a while but never picked up. Swindoll just has a way of walking you through the Bible and drawing out incredible application to everyday life that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Elijah goes before King Ahab of Israel, proclaims it will not rain until he says so, and then…is led out into the wilderness. Oh, and the brook that gives him water there, dries up. Ever felt like God directed you to do something and then the brook dried up? This is a short read, but a very powerful study of the life of Elijah.

I hope you’ve found the information on these first 10 books to be helpful. I’ll add the other ten soon.

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