As the new year opens up, I thought it might be helpful for me to go back and visit the books I read in 2016 and provide some kind of assessment of them for myself and others. Often I tweet through books as I read them so you may have a sense of where I’m headed but you may not know if that particular book is a good fit for your needs or interests.
Here’s the list of the books I can recall reading in 2016 and some of my thoughts on what I drew from them. They are grouped by category not by order of importance or completion.
Books I Read for Personal Development
To Be Told (Dan Alleneder) – Our Life Group went though this book together. The premise is that we usually think that we understand our story pretty well but many of us haven’t done sufficient work in order to understand the implications and impact of it. This proved true for our group and fostered some healthy and deeper discussions. This book is best read with a community around you to help you with some of the exercises and explorations (also good is the workbook as it pushes deeper into exercises and areas of exploration hinted at or modeled in the book).
The Book of Forgiving (Desmond Tutu) – I would say this is in my top 3 books for this year. Tutu and his daughter reflect powerfully on their personal, national and international work of peace and justice. This is more than a narrative, however, in that it delves into the actual anatomy of forgiveness. I found it poignantly helpful to use as diagnostic tool to assess some broken or ruptured relationships in my own life to see if there were steps I needed to take to reconcile or release. (I did skip all of the stone exercises, however)
Scary Close (Donald Millar) – This is part autobiographical, part narrative about our contemporary obsession with authenticity. Miller deconstructs his own fears about getting close to people and letting them get close to him. Written with characteristic wit and off-beat characters, it’s worth the read. It can be helpful in defining what authenticity is and is not for you as a leader.
11 Indispensable Relationships You Can’t Be Without (Len Sweet) – This had been on my Kindle for a while but I was drawn to it for the purpose of self-assessment. I thought it might be a good idea to see if I was missing any key relationships in my orbit so that I could make some corrections. I was challenged, surprised and also encouraged that some of my existing relationships could be seen through some of the lenses that the book suggests. Using biblical characters as a template, Sweet suggests that we all need encouragers, mentors, and 9 other helpful types of people in our lives.
Books that Helped Me Be a Better Leader & Preacher
4 Words: A Simple way to Understand the Bible (Jarrett Stevens) – I read this and then reached out to the author to ask if we could use it as a template for a teaching series at Jericho in 2016. While some may say it’s an over-simplification, I think that reducing the message of the Bible into 4 words (OF, BETWEEN, WITH, IN) is a helpful way to see the movement and emphasis shifts in Scripture.
H3 Leadership: Be Humble, Stay Hungry, Always Hustle (Brad Lomenick) – This was recommended to me by Mark Clark at the Village Church. Lomenick gives solid advice on what it means to practice of these things. One critical question he asks that I think is helpful is if contemporary church leaders are actually becoming lazy and covering up a thinner work ethic with language of “family first” priorities. While certainly not against solid priorities, the hustle part is a good challenge to leaders who want to build and do something great for Jesus but may not be currently putting the effort in that big builds require.
Books that Stretched My Faith
God in the Conversation (John Smed) – A journal of sorts of conversations that John has had with people of various background on the topic of prayer. He writes with a down-to-earth style that is refreshing and makes evangelism seems much more accessible and natural that most books on the topic manage. I am excited to press into John’s other projects in 20017 as we host him for training at Jericho Ridge.
Misfits Welcome: Find Yourself in Jesus and Bring The World along for the Ride (Matthew Barnet) – This is the story of the Dream Centre in Los Angeles. Barret writes with a focus on the stories of individuals and not so much on the institution which is helpful. He also draws out principles of leadership to build faith in the hearts of his readers. It’s a quick and light read sure to bring encouragement and inspiration to your heart.
Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith (Sarah Bessey) – This was an anticipated follow up to local author’s debut offering. In it she talks about where we can agree to disagree and what it means to grow and develop in your perspective over time. I find her artistic style of writing and thinking are refreshing. It’s very similar in style and tone to her blog and contains some autobiographical detail that helps you gain a sense of how she has landed where she on a variety of topics.
Books I read Devotionally
On This Day (Robert Morgan) – This was the way I started my day in 2016. The book consists of 365 short historical biographies of an amazingly creative and broad array of men and women from church history. Many of the stories are of deep sacrifice and suffering and it reminded me of how cushy life in the western church really is. I found it drove me to prayer for the global church in a fresh way.
Between Midnight & Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week and Eastertide (Sarah Arthur) – Devotionals for let and Advent are sometimes too heavy or too light. This one found a brilliant balance as it drew from a wide range of poetic source material. It would be one you could repeat as it took you toward prayer and contemplation.
Jesus Speaks: Learning to Recognize and Respond to the Lord’s Voice (Len Sweet & Frank Viola) – This was one of my favorite books this year. The writing was shared by both authors and the sections are meant to be read concurrently so that the content layers together. In it, they de-mystify some elements of hearing from God and they properly hold up other elements as mysterious and worthy of better thinking and pursuit. It challenged me to think about my own ways of hearing God speak and to better understand the struggles, objections and joys that other people might be experiencing when I bring this topic up from the pulpit or over coffee. I read some of it aloud to my kids and my neighbour even saw my review of it on Amazon and walked down in a snowstorm to ask if he could borrow my copy (alas, I had it on my Kindle!)
As We Wait: Advent Devotional (MB Seminary) – This daily offering had some gems in it and some thoughts that I would have loved to see further developed. It was great to hear from such a wide range of people in my own church family from across the country. I look forward to the Lent one which will take readers through the book of John.
Books the Grew my Love for God’s World
Saturate (Jeff Vanderstelt) – Picked this one up at the Multiply Conference in the Spring and dove right into it. It’s part handbook, part story but really more of a call to return to the missional roots of the church. Jeff shares the component parts that have gone into his philosophy of ministry in a raw and helpful way. I immediately passed it on to others who are interested in neighbourhood reaching to read.
Surprise the World: The 5 Habits of Highly Missional People (Michael Frost) – On the heels of Saturate, I wanted to re-visit some of the thinking and teaching of Frost as a missiologist. I have found his B.E.L.L.S. acronym (Bless, Eat, Listen, Learn, Sent) to be a challenge to put into practice in day to day life and so I wanted to see if I was perhaps so entrenched in Christendom that I was missing something important. What I found was that the B.E.L.L.S. acronym is a hard one to implement on a weekly basis. The rhythm of life that it requires is very disciplined and may find strongest resonance in dense urban centres (that sounds like a complaint that building a church in the suburbs is hard work… don’t hear what I’m not saying. I am simply wondering if the BELLS practices are workable in a suburban context on a weekly basis) but I think I will need to work at coming up with my own acronym.
Books that Pushed me to think Theologically
Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastors Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace (Brian Zahnd) – I picked this up in the middle of the US election cycle. Something about the way in which church leaders were fawning over candidates has always bothered me and I wanted to understand better the relationship of the western church to the political and social climates in which we live. Zahnd proved an apt guide because he names this coziness for what it is: capitulation to the empire. He takes a strong stand against nationalism and suggests strongly that the gospel of peace means a return to the way of Jesus who took a stand against the powers of His day and paid a price for it. Anabaptists will fund much to agree with here while Americans will find much that will make them uncomfortable.
How Not to be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (James Smith) – This ranks as one of my top 3 for 2016. It was insightful as it names the terrain we inhabit and functions as a bit of a guidebook by asking the right questions. Smith is a capable and well-thought guide to Taylor and he does justice to Taylor’s body of work without minimizing or truncating it (hard to do!). Chapter 3 is worth the price of the book alone.
The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting An Ancient Vision (Gerald Hiestand) – I picked this up to attempt to understand why some pastoral offerings are such drivel and why some are so rich these days. In an age of TED talks and tweets, where have our solid thinkers that are rooted in the church gone? This book explored both some of the challenges of producing solid theological work in the trenches of weekly pastoral ministry as well as offering a challenge to both the academy and the church to focus on helping pastors be the strongest and sharpest thinkers and writers and communicators that they can be.
Books to Read for FUN
The House of Silk: A Sherlock Homes Novel (Anthony Horowitz) – I’m not much of a novel reader but this one jumped out at me since I like Homes. I found that it moved quickly and though the subject matter became a bit gritty, it did come to a thrilling ending that I didn’t see coming (which I like in a suspense novel or movie).
A History of the World in 6 Glasses (Tom Standage) – Fascinating romp through history using 6 beverages as the lens. From wine, beer, spirits, coffee, tea and cola, the author brings insight and unique stories to life from the ancient world to the modern era of globalization. Not deep but an intriguing excursus.
The Mennonite Handbook (Sarah Kehrberg) – Fun and light this frivolous romp through everything from what to bring for a potluck to how to survive an extremely long sharing time is a quick read.
So that was what was on my bookshelf in 2016. What were you top reads or what different categories would you use? My reading goal for 2017 is that I would like to work my way through the complete works of C.S. Lewis because I think that would make a nice blend of history, fantasy, theology and poetry on my bookshelf. What are you reading and loving that you would recommend?