Confession: Most of the books I read these days include rhyming and come in a cardboard format. (Look for me at your local coffee shop doing my slam poetry version of Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See—it’s off the hook.)
Although parenthood has altered my current literary choices, I have been and know I will continue to be shaped by the inhabitants of my library. Books of all varieties have impacted my understanding of myself, God, and others. While by no means comprehensive, each of the following books has in some way helped to develop my pastoral identity and my approach to ministry.
Guerillas of Grace by Ted Loder- Pastors are in the business of words. Whether written or spoken, we are all about words. I work so hard to find the right words for God’s people in the pulpit, at retreats, over coffee, in a hospital room. But in moments of solitude, my eloquence fades. Speaking about God seems so much easier than speaking to God. Ted Loder’s prayers meet me in all my stumbling confusion and uncover words I didn’t even know were buried deep in my heart.
Sustainable Youth Ministry by Mark DeVries- The first time I read this book, I started underlining things I thought were powerful and worth remembering. Eventually I put down my pen because I realized I was going to underline the entire book. Complex theories and theology are great, but when you feel like you’re on the verge of sinking or burnout they aren’t much help. Tools to help you put one foot in front of the other and get a new perspective on the situation are like springs of water in a desert. I discovered tools I needed as DeVries invited me to engage concepts like structure, climate, culture, vision and leadership. It’s a book I’ve been grateful to share with senior pastors, youth committee chairs, and colleagues.
Please Understand Me by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates and Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton- Ok, I know this is two books, not one. They’re on my list not because either has been particularly life-changing, but because they’ve encouraged the development of self-awareness. How do I best relate to others? What do I value in a team? What disappoints me or causes me to thrive? Admittedly, such questions could be asked and answered without having to pull out a copy of Please Understand Me in the middle of Starbucks or a staff meeting. But I’ve found these books initiated great personal reflection and community conversations.
Almost Christian: What the Faith of our Teenagers is Telling the American Church by Kenda Creasy Dean- At a recent presbytery meeting I attended, a consultant started the gathering on a high note by reminding us about the current state of the church in North America. Many of my peers in ministry express longing for a church renewed, a church not held captive by what Kenda Dean calls the “cult of nice”, but a church deeply rooted in the radical love of God in Jesus Christ. We want to serve churches that are “known for lavish grace, reckless hospitality, [and] utter devotion to Jesus”. Dean is honest about the state of the church today, but her goal isn’t to wag a shaming finger. Rather she invites us to take risks that will lead to transformation.
Whale Rider by Niki Caro- Number five isn’t a book; it’s a movie. Sorry about the curveball. If you didn’t want to go to New Zealand before watching this film you will. If you already wanted to go to New Zealand you’ll pray they have a continuing ed conference there soon. Aside from the beautiful scenery, Whale Rider is worth watching because it looks at grief, loss, identity, tradition, and family dynamics. I’ve referenced this film in seminary papers, sermon illustrations, and youth Bible studies. It is more than a poignant and beautiful story; it is a tool for theological reflection.
As the kids on Reading Rainbow said, “You don’t have to take my word for it” on these books (cue 80s synthesizer beat), but thanks for listening.