As this year winds down I thought I would share my favorite books of 2011. For whatever reason, I felt somewhat frustrated by my reading this year. Several books I read left me rather empty, and as I finished them I wondered why I had even bothered to read them. I usually judge a book by how many nuggets I highlighted, and some, quite frankly, had very few highlights. But, these ten are not in that category. These were books that were enjoyable, informative, and gave me much to think about. That is why I want to share them with you. In true Dave Letterman fashion I'll start with number ten and work my way to the top.
#10 - Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate by Juan Williams. Williams was the news analyst who was fired by NPR for comments he made on Bill O'Reilly's program. The outcry after his termination led to the removal of those who made the decision to fire him. Williams is an African-American who, in my opinion, is one of most honest analysts on TV. On some issues he takes a more liberal approach, and on other issues he is more conservative. The thesis of this book is that it is increasingly more difficult today to have a debate on any issue without it leading to a personal attack. Discussions too often turn into shouting matches that seldom lead to any positive outcome. Sound like any church business meetings you've attended? I really enjoyed this book and found Williams' honest comments about this problem refreshing.
#9 - Practicing Greatness: 7 Disciplines of Extraordinary Spiritual Leaders by Reggie McNeal. McNeal acknowledges that we have many good leaders in the church, but he believes one of our greatest needs is for great leaders. He also believes greatness is not accidental but is experienced by those leaders who seek to be great, and this book is to help leaders develop themselves into great leaders. I agree with McNeal and often quote John Maxwell in my workshops: "Everything rises and falls on leadership." If that is true, then our churches will never rise above the level of the persons leading them, and this is why every pastor and lay leader should aspire to become a great leader. This book will help you achieve that.
#8 - Steering Through Chaos by Scott Wilson. Everything today is changing at a rapid rate. Everything that is except many of our churches. We are living in a time of chaos as change is impacting everything we have known for years, and if we are going to lead our churches to have any kind of effective ministry in our communities we will have to embrace change. Wilson gives the reader some tools to help them to do and to lead through the chaos that will result. He admits there will be pain involved in leading churches through times of transition and growth, but the pain will be worth it for the difference you will make in the Kingdom of God.
#7 - Has Christianity Failed You? by Ravi Zacharias. This year I re-read several of Zacharias' books as part of my devotional reading. While I enjoyed all of them I found this one especially helpful. There comes a time in every Christian's life when he or she feels that somehow their faith has not produced the results they were hoping for. Some become bitter and turn away from God; others simply decide that perhaps they can't trust Him as they thought they could or perhaps something is wrong with them and they are being punished for their misdeeds. With great sensitivity Zacharias addresses this issue in this book. This will be a book that will help you during those times of questioning in your life, and it will be a valuable resource when you are ministering to others who are going through dark times in their lives and wondering where God is in the midst of their suffering.
#6 - Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink. What things motivate you? How do you attempt to motivate others? How can we move from extrinsic (external) motivations to intrinsic (internal) motivations, and does it matter? If Pink is right and external motivations can become entitlements in some people's minds, we cannot continue to dangle the carrot out there as our primary means of motivation. I found this book to be a very interesting read about motivation and how a lot of what we thought we knew about motivation simply isn't true. I will caution you that this is not a quick read, but I think you will find it helpful as you lead volunteers in your church.
#5 - Recapture the Wonder by Ravi Zacharias. As many of Zacharias' books as I read this year it is not surprising that two of them made my favorite's list. Let me ask you a personal question...are you as on fire for God as you were when you were first saved? Does your call to ministry continue to burn within you, or are there days you wish you were doing anything but ministry? In time, most believers lose that initial sense of wonder and excitement of being a child of God and serving Him. In this book the author challenges us to recapture that wonder and gives us some means by which we can do that.
#4 - Weird: Because Normal Isn't Working by Craig Groeschel. I've heard from some pastors that this book became the foundation for a sermon series they preached this year, and I can understand why. Most Christians are content to live normal lives that look much like the way everyone else is living, and we wonder why so few people are attracted to the Christian life. Groeschel challenges us to begin to live differently than the world. I know you may be thinking about some really weird people who attend your church, and you might be thinking you don't want to become those people. You're right...no one wants to become those people, but that isn't what Groeschel is talking about. He is challenging us to begin to live our lives according to the the red letters in our Bibles, the words Jesus spoke. If we just starting living like Jesus taught, that would be weird, and it would give us opportunities to share our faith with others. I think you'll like this book.
#3 - On the Verge by Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson. The authors challenge us to begin to think of the church as an apostolic movement rather than as an organization. This will require a paradigm shift that will not come easily to many people, but they believe as I do that such a shift is necessary. While many churches still struggle with introducing change into their church, such as music styles, the authors believe that such changes really won't amount to much. They view such changes as cosmetic and insist that only deep changes in the culture of the church will bring about signficant change. One comment I especially enjoyed was "In the church Jesus built, conversion was commission or baptism is ordination, take your pick." In other words, God has called each believer to ministry; there are no spectators. If we could introduce only that shift in our thinking into our churches it would revolutionize many of them.
#2 - Dangerous Church: Risking Everything to Reach Everyone by John Bishop. Why do many church members not invite their friends to attend church with them? This is only one of the questions Bishop asks in this book that is both uncomfortable but necessary. Another one is how much is your church willing to risk to reach the unchurched? In this book the author is calling the church back to becoming the church Christ called it to be, a church that is willing to risk everything to reach the world for Him. This book will help you look at your church through new eyes.
#1 - EntreLeadership by Dave Ramsey. Ramsey built a highly successful business from a table in his dining room after going bankrupt. Best known for his books on financial principles, his radio program, and Financial Peace University Ramsey released this book in 2011 to help develop entrepreneurial leaders. Although it is written primarily for business owners and leaders, many of the principles you find in this book are easily transferrable to church leaders. I believe most bivocational ministers are entrepreneurs so I think you'll find this book to be especially helpful to you. This was easily my favorite book of 2011.
There's my top 10. I realized as I was compiling the list that all but two of these books were read on my NOOK. The two Zacharias books have been on my bookshelf for a few years and had been previously read, but the other eight were downloaded and read as e-books. That certainly represents a paradigm shift for me! The Ramsey book came with embedded videos with him briefly commenting on some item he had written which made for an interesting change in reading. I have downloaded several new books on the NOOK and have purchased some "real" books that are sitting on my shelf, so I'm ready to start my reading adventure in 2012. I hope you will find some books in this new year that will inspire you to grow and think.