I have had a love/hate relationship with reading in my life. I loved reading as a child, but the further I went in school, the more required readings I was assigned. So, the time left over to read books of my own choosing was somewhere between limited and non-existent.
But over the past couple of years, I’ve come to enjoy non-required reading again. There are so many good ideas out there that can be found in books. I’m particularly a nerd when it comes to anything that has to do with ministry, Christian leadership, or self-help (as you’ll see in the list that follows). But I’ve learned that many of these books are insightful enough to benefit anybody on any walk of life.
With that in mind, allow me to share with you five books I’ve read recently that should be at the top of your list for 2019. These are in no particular order. I’ll link you to the Amazon page for each book in the title should you decide you want to purchase.
1. Finish by Jon Acuff
Summary: “Starting is fun, but the future belongs to finishers.”
92% of people don’t finish the goals they set out to complete. “Finish” is written to anybody who want to be part of the 8%. Studies have shown that the strategies that most help people accomplish their goals are the ones that take the pressure off. In doing this, we eliminate the negative influence of perfectionism. In Acuff’s words, “The goal is not to be perfect. The goal is to finish.”
These are Acuff’s six strategies for finishing:
Cut the Goal in Half
Choose What to Bomb
Make it Fun if You Want it Done
Leave Hiding Places and Noble Obstacles
Abandon Secret Rules
Use Data to Track Imperfect Progress
Five Important Quotes
“When you work on something consistently for 30 days, you get better at it” (P. 4)
“The next time you work on a goal, I dare you to ask yourself these two questions: 1) Could this be easier? 2) Could this be simpler?” (P. 96)
“Perfectionism hates data. Why? Because emotions lie. Data doesn’t. Our emotions will give us a completely false impression of a given situation.” (P. 126)
“If you don’t learn what makes you work best and repeat it, you will never get better.” (P. 161)
“Every kid is one adult away from being a success story” (P. 181)
Why I’m Recommending This Book: Using humor and real-world examples, Acuff has created a useful and practical guide for anyone who wants to ditch perfectionism and reach their potential.
NOTE: Acuff is currently attaching a bunch of free resources for anybody who purchases the newly released paperback. See more here.
2. How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge by Clay Scroggins
Summary: Many people think they must receive authority before they can lead. They say to themselves, “Once I’m in charge, I’ll do things differently.” Clay Scroggins argues that influence, not a position of power, is the key to effective leadership. And good news for people who don’t have titles, corner offices, or large staffs working under them: you can start leading TODAY, wherever you are.
Scroggins identifies a few key factors in our ability to cultivate influence without authority:
Our own perception of our identity
Leading with righteous ambition rather than selfish ambition
Leading ourselves well
Being thoughtful and intentional about how challenging up – but also not being afraid to do so
Five Important Quotes
“A kabash leader is courageous, not because they possess inner strength, but because they know God is the one who controls the destiny of every man and woman. A kabash leader pours out, trusting that God’s new mercies will be enough every day to fill them up.” (P. 84)
“While people will probably tell you that your plan for your life rarely works out the way you think it will, aiming at nothing will take you nowhere.” (P. 103)
“You can take all the energy you’re using to be mad or frustrated and use it to improve.” (P. 129)
“Great leaders know how to communicate critical thoughts in a way that benefits others.” (P. 145)
“Great leaders love what they do, who they do it with, and who they do it for.” (P. 224)
Honorable Mention for Married Couples: “The most common behavior in every great marriage is the decision to believe the best about the other person. Find the most generous explanation for each other’s behavior and believe it.” (P. 197)
Why I’m Recommending This Book: Whether you’re in charge or not (and Scroggins would say that everyone is accountable to somebody else), this is a book worth reading for anybody who wants to better understand God’s design for leadership and how we can grow in our ability to positively influence others while also leading ourselves well.
3. Didn’t See it Coming by Carey Nieuwhof
Summary: Life poses many challenges for leaders, and these challenges often come as a surprise. Nobody sets out to be cynical, disconnected, prideful, or empty, but these things often come when we least expect them. Carey Nieuwhof helps us think through how we can get out in front of each of these issues to guide our hearts back to God and to become the healthiest leaders we can be.
These are the seven challenges or pitfalls Nieuwhof discusses (each followed by a brief paraphrase containing my summary):
Cynicism – “Cynicism doesn’t happen because we don’t care. It happens because we do care and we get burned. The solutions to cynicism are to find hope in the Gospel and to cultivate genuine curiosity.”
Compromise – “Character, not competency, determines how far you will go in life. So intentionally work on your character.”
Disconnection – “Although our world is the most connected that it’s ever been, we often feel isolated and disconnected. To solve the problem, we must embrace others through confession and slowing down (eliminating hurry) and take a genuine interest in others by loving them and putting them first.”
Irrelevance – “It’s easy to fall into irrelevance because change never asks for permission. Change is hard to embrace, but we must become accustomed to changing methods while staying true to our mission.”
Pride – “Pride is one of the single greatest threats to our faith and well-being. Simply put, pride is any obsession we have with ourselves. To beat it, we must cultivate humility and gratitude as we kill jealousy and selfish ambition.”
Burnout – “In order to prevent burnout, take care of yourself, know your limits, and REST. Live today in a way that will help you thrive tomorrow.”
Emptiness – “Most appetites lead to cravings that can never be fully satisfied and will never fulfill you. The solution is to know our greater mission, pursue self-care rather than self-medication, and put others first.”
Five Important Quotes
“The curious ask broad, probing questions – and then sit back and listen.. If you listen longer than most people listen, you’ll hear things most people never hear.” (P. 28)
“I want the people who know me the best to love me the most. Character matters more than anything because you bring who you are into everything that you do.” (P. 41)
“God’s transformation in our lives is the solution to our relationships. Conversations – even frustrating ones – are exercises in humility and spiritual growth. When you take an interest in others more than yourself, it’s a small form of dying to yourself, something very close to the heart of Christ. When you give your life away, something greater rises.” (P. 80)
“Gratitude fosters humility because it moves you out of the role of star in your story. Express your thankfulness regularly. Fall more in love with the giver than his gifts. And never claim full credit for your story. Acknowledge the role of grace and providence publicly when you talk.” (P. 134)
“God’s favorite people to use are the broken ones. Broken people get to the point that they realize the poverty within and have to look beyond themselves for renewal and strength. You become more responsive to God when you realize there is less of you.” (P. 167)
Why I’m Recommending This Book: I’m only 25, but I’ve been in ministry long enough to realize that there will be challenges along the way. The roadblocks that Nieuwhof writes about are all too real for many people. This book is for anybody who wants to be prepared for potholes that may lie ahead. These principles will also help you become more self-aware and attuned to the needs of others around you.
4. Letters to the Church by Francis Chan
Summary: “Imagine you find yourself stranded on a deserted island with nothing but a copy of the Bible. You have no experience with Christianity whatsoever, and all you know about the Church will come from your reading of the Bible. How would you imagine a church to function? Now think about your current church experience. Is it even close?”
Francis Chan wrote “Letters to the Church” out of a belief that the church, in many places, has drifted away from the values that God once established as vital. In order to help us re-embrace God’s model for church, Chan spends these chapters thoughtfully reflecting on Scripture and calling us to a greater vision for the future of God’s church. Each chapter represents a responsibility or area of importance in the church that Chan feels that God has called us to focus on:
Sacred – Are we giving the things of God the reverence they demand?
Order – Have we followed God’s design and instructions for his church? Are we doing what is commanded or what is expected? Are we prioritizing what gives us pleasure or what gives God glory?
Gang – Are our churches truly family, or have we reduced church to a meeting that takes place during an hour each week?
Servants – Do we lay down our lives to truly serve others?
Good Shepherds – What does Godly leadership look like?
Crucified – What cost have we paid to follow Jesus?
Unleashed – Are we Christians that live in a zoo, or Christians that live in the wild?
Church Again – What advice do people need to hear in order to best set up the future church for success?
Five Important Quotes
“The Church has real issues, but Jesus still refers to the Church as His body, His Bride! We must love His Bride, not gripe about her or leave her.” (P. 22)
“Many want to change the Church, but it is often motivated by personal preference rather than biblical conviction.” (P. 23)
“The early church didn’t need the energetic music, great videos, attractive leaders, or elaborate lighting to be excited about being a part of God’s body. The pure gospel was enough to put them in a place of awe.” (P. 44)”
“If prayer isn’t vital for your church, then your church isn’t vital. This statement may be bold, but I believe it’s true. If you can accomplish your church’s mission without daily, passionate prayer, then your mission is insufficient and your church is irrelevant.” (P. 62)
“Jesus’ prayer was not that we would just get along and avoid church splits. His prayer was that we would become “perfectly one.” He prayed this because our oneness was designed to be the way to prove that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus said the purpose of our unity was “so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them.” (P. 77)
Why I’m Recommending This Book: I’ve read several Francis Chan books, and I feel like he never lets me “off the hook.” His words are always highly applicable and challenging, and “Letters to the Church” is no different. This book is important for anybody who has influence in the church to consider and reflect on its God-given purposes and intentions.
5. Divine Direction by Craig Groeschel
Summary: Our lives are made up of decisions, both big and small. In Groeschel’s words, “The decisions we make today determine the stories we will tell about our lives tomorrow.” Many people falsely assume that a successful or meaningful life is the result of a few big or key decisions along the way. However, it’s actually the small choices, the ones we make every day, that have the power to make a real difference. This is more than a self-help book, this is a book for people who want to pursue Jesus and make more Godly decisions.
As Groeschel says in the title, there are seven decisions we make every day that have the potential to set our lives on a different course. Here they are (based on the order that they are presented in the book):
Start – Start a discipline today that will change your story forever. What does God want me to START?
Stop – God may call you to abort, abandon, or abolish something, to stop one thing that helps you live the story you want to tell. What does God want me to STOP?
Stay – When you’re tempted to walk away, make sure you seek God, because you never know what he might do if you have the courage to stay. Where does God want me to STAY, even if it would be easier to go?
Go – To step towards your destiny, you might have to step away from your security. Where does God want me to GO, even if it would be easier to stay?
Serve – One of the quickest ways we forget about God is to be consumed with self. We fight this temptation through sacrificially serving others. Who does God want me to SERVE?
Connect – Often times, we become the average of the five people who we spend the most time with. How are those people helping us become more like Jesus? Who does God want me to CONNECT with?
Trust – Jesus walks with us through all seasons of life, both good and bad. How can the decision to trust God impact the story we will tell after the storm passes? How can I TRUST God more daily?
Five Important Quotes
“If we learn to choose well, we can connect the dots between where we are and where we want to be.” (P. 14)
“God is focused not on your happiness but on your pursuit of Jesus, which satisfies your soul like nothing else.” (P. 21)
“God wants us to contribute rather than to consume. When all of culture says, “Fill yourself,” God tells us to fill others. God didn’t create us to be takers. He created us to be givers.” (P. 120)
“Show me your friends and I will show you your future.” (P. 139)
“Will we trust that God is good even when life is not? Our response to pain and challenges determines so much about our future.” (P. 170)
Why I’m Recommending This Book: Groeschel has done a beautiful job of combining practical life principles with the mission we are called to as followers of Jesus. By making wise, daily decisions in a pursuit of Christ, we put ourselves in position to see God work in our lives, and to experience his presence more often. This book is for anybody who wants to grow in their faith and form better daily habits.
Note: Craig Groeschel also preached a four-part sermon series on Divine Direction that I found enjoyable and insightful. Those videos can be found here or downloaded via the LifeChurch podcast, available wherever you download your podcasts.
Honorable Mention: Alongside by Drew Hill
I made this book an honorable mention, rather than including it on the above list, for two reasons:
It is more of a “niche” book for people who parent teenagers or work with them in ministry. The other five books, in my opinion, have wider-ranging audiences.
I wanted to give this book some extra (and different) attention because I am presenting on it at NCYM next month! I am so excited to be in Colorado Springs with many friends and co-workers in youth ministry. I hope that you’ll join us and that, if you’re there, I might see you in class as I talk about this excellent book!
Conclusion: Now that I’ve had a chance to share, I want to hear from you. What books have you read recently that made a difference? What books are on your wish list? I’m always looking for good reads. Find me on Facebook or Twitter and connect with me. Maybe a book from your 2018 list will make my 2019 list.
Want to read more from Brady Ross? Check out his personal blog at bradyross.com.