John Wesley famously quipped to a group of young ministry leaders: “Read or get out of the ministry.” Oswald Sanders, in his classic work Spiritual Leadership, devotes a chapter to the subject of “The Leader & Reading” and insists that “the leader who intends to grow spiritually and intellectually will be constantly reading.” Each year, I read in the categories of theology, leadership, and also some time in some classics. But I also enjoy reading books about the context where I serve or books that can inform a teaching/sermon I am going to give. Here are five lesser known books that impacted me in 2018.
Faith of the Fatherless by Paul Vitz
Paul Vitz is a psychologist and professor emeritus of psychology ant New York University. His book is built on the premise that disappointment in an earthly father often results in rejection of God. Vitz found that the common thread running through the lives of famous atheists was the absence of a father. Fredrick Nietzsche, David Hume, Bertrand Russell, and others lost their fathers extremely young. Voltaire, Sigmund Freud, and others suffered under an abusive father.
Takeaways: Personally, the book reminded me how important my role is a father to my daughters. Pastorally, the book reminded me that it is important and redemptive for the church to offer father figures to those who do not have an earthly father or are suffering through the pain of a neglectful father.
Daily Rituals by Mason Currey
I read this several years ago but read through this again before moving and taking a new role because I wanted to remind myself the importance of a regular rhythm and routine and moving can easily disrupt daily rhythms. In the book, Currey outlines the daily habits and practices of some of the world’s most prolific artists, authors, and composers. What you discover in the book is that while they all worked differently, they were guided by routines that fostered their creativity. The book subtly diffuses the common thinking that creative do not like structure and shows that creativity is fostered within the framework of consistent rhythms and rituals.
Takeaway: Routines help steward energy for creativity because you do not re-create how you will work each day; you simply work.
The Making of Asian America by Erika Lee
Erika Lee is a professor at University of Minnesota and she writes a comprehensive historical book about a growing group in the U.S. – Asian Americans. Often referred to as a “model minority” because of their success (a title Lee believes is problematic and too generalized), Asian Americans are the fastest growing group in the US. Between 2000 and 2010 Asian Americans increased in number by 46%. More than commenting on the current day, the book gives insight into the connected history between the US and Asia.
Takeaway: While each person is unique with their own story, as a group Asian Americans are impacting American culture more and more. I am thankful to be in a place where I daily get to serve alongside Asian Americans.
Orange County: A Personal History by Gustavo Arellano
In the midst of moving to Orange County, I read this book and a few others and learned things such as Orange County is home to 34 different cities with unique cultural backgrounds. Though the book is several years old and Orange County continues to change, I found the book very helpful and fascinating. Arellano is a gifted writer and clearly knows and loves Orange County.
Takeaway: Because ministry leaders serve in specific context, it is wise to read books written about that context and from that context. I encourage you to check out some of your local authors and books written about your context.
Ask by Kenton Beshore
You can’t get this book anywhere. It is one Kenton (senior pastor for 35 years and now pastor emeritus) wrote for leaders at Mariners to help them ask better questions when they lead a meeting or a group. Kenton is the master question-asker and his commitment to asking great questions is a theological one. Kenton believes that because Jesus asked great questions to help people learn and internalize truth, ministry leaders should ask great questions too.
Takeaway and a suggestion: I need to spend more time thinking through the questions I ask. If you are a leader entering a new context, read everything you can from the leaders who went before you. It helps you understand the thinking beneath the surface.