Leaders read. Period. If you want to lead others, you need to become an avid learner. Work to expand your understanding of your own field of ministry, but also branch out and explore new things. This is important for personal growth. As you consider your goals for the New Year, include a reading or learning goal. What do you want to learn about this year? What books will you read to grow spiritually? Professionally? As a person?
Below is a list of my top ten books from last year. Some of these should be on your reading list for the coming year. I’ll include a short summary of my biggest takeaways from each to give you a taste.
1. Deep Work by Cal New Port
This book is an eye-opener. How much time do we spend on tasks that don’t tap into our most significant unique contribution? Focusing on what has the greatest value and impact first, is critical for leaders, authors, and anyone who cares about making a difference. My take away – prune, prune, prune. Cut off distractions and focus much more time on what matters. For me, that is writing and coaching senior-level movement leaders. This book is one I will re-read every few years and revisit to make sure I’m staying on track.
2. Atomic Habits by James Clear
I loved this book! It had so many immediate and helpful applications for life and leadership. I enjoyed it so much, I referenced it in my Mission Frontiers article called, “Small Disciple-Making Habits Make a Huge Difference.” The basic concept? Like atoms, tiny things we start to do can have a massive effect over time. Getting on the right path and trajectory is more important than doing big things once. Start small, with goals that are so simple, you can’t talk yourself out of doing them. My takeaway was to start some new simple habits that get me into spiritual conversations with people around me.
3. Living a Life of Fire by Reinhard Bonnke
My husband and I listened to this book while driving back and forth from my parent’s house where we went often this year to help care for my ailing mom. It’s a long one (over 19 hours of listening time), but was inspiring! It was definitely my favorite autobiography of the year (I read about six). Bonnke held huge crusades across Africa, a strategy I don’t necessarily encourage. But his passion for God and reaching the lost is contagious. and admirable. My takeaway was to ask God to give me that same passion for obedience to God’s direction, and that same faith for millions to be saved and discipled.
4. Leading Without Authority by Keith Ferrazzi, Noel Weyrich
Ever heard the word “co-elevation”? It was a new one for me. This book is packed with Biblical principles that easily apply to both business and ministry. It takes the responsibility off of leaders alone and shows a clear pathway for moving your organization forward. Even if you have no title or authority. It’s a call to influence through helping others you may be in conflict with or not even like, for the sake of the vision you pursue. This book has the potential to change both you and your organization. My takeaway was proactively and consistently look for ways to serve others and help them succeed, as we co-elevate to serve the vision. It’s a great read!
5. Embracing Rhythms of Work and Rest by Ruth Haley Barton
Barton does it again, with another excellent book to help us with spiritual transformation. In it, she shares her own journey with sabbath and sabbaticals after the stress of recent years. It’s an honest, open invitation to grow in this vital spiritual practice. Not only does she give a compelling challenge to value and take sabbaths seriously, but the book is filled with practical suggestions. My takeaway was to experiment with having the sabbath be a complete break from media input and shopping. This is something I’ve not done before.
6. At Your Best by Carey Nieuwof
I’ve read several books by this insightful author. I also enjoy his podcast. https://careynieuwhof.com/mypodcast/ His stuff on burnout is excellent. The focus of this book, however, was how to give your best by recognizing the ebb and flow of your energy patterns. Like Deep Work, Nieuwhof speaks about finding your green zone and maximizing how you use it to make your greatest contribution. It’s a practical book I’d recommend for anyone in senior-level leadership. My takeaway was to color code my calendar and be sure I was scheduling high-impact work when I had the most energy to give.
7. Rocket Fuel by Gino Wickman & Mark Winters
Someone on our non-profit’s board of directors recommended this insightful business book to me. It describes the role of a visionary and that of an integrator in a company or ministry. Visionaries need to be free to do what they are best at, but that means finding an integrator who will work with you and learning to operate as a team. This book was exactly what I needed to understand the way forward for our ministry as we continue to grow. Finding the right combination of visionary and integrator is a powerful accelerator (rocket fuel) to growth. Though not a Christian book, it contained very valuable insights.
8. What if Jesus Was Serious About the Church by Skye Jethani
Jethani’s cartoon drawings that illustrate each chapter of this book are a fun addition to the important questions this book asks. He challenges many of our traditional ways of thinking. The book gives a clear call to return to a more Jesus-centric, Biblical way of doing and being the body. Jethani is not an advocate of movements but does attend a house church. His perspective on the church was refreshing and thought-provoking.
It’s always helpful to be exposed to someone who is looking at the same problem you are but from a quite different angle. My takeaway was to think and teach more about the centrality of the Lord’s supper in worship.
9. More of God by R. T. Kendall
Rich Villodas recommended this book on Twitter and having read other books by R.T. Kendall, I put it on my 2022 reading list. The title kind of says it all, and resonated with the hunger in my soul for more of God in my life. Kendall challenges the reader in areas like complaining and forgiveness. These are personal spiritual disciplines we need if we seek to have more of God in our lives. His list in chapter eight on how you know if you’ve forgiven or not are worth the price of the book.
My favorite quote was “Getting more of God will mean more joy. It will also correct your blood pressure.” Yep, it’s really that simple! The takeaways were many, but the bottom line was to continue to ensure that knowing God more each day stays number one in my life.
10. Where the Light Fell by Philip Yancey
The last on my list of top ten for the year was this honest and sometimes painfully real book about Yancey’s life. Phillip’s books have impacted hundreds of thousands of people, including me. I’d list him as one of the authors who has shaped my spiritual life the most.
The Jesus I Never Knew, What’s So Amazing About Grace, and Where is God When it Hurts were formative in my understanding of God and His ways. Born into a Pentecostal minister’s home, he writes honestly about his childhood pain. His mother who taught Sunday school to many had a harsh perspective on God. My takeaway? It’s okay to be real, and vulnerable, and to struggle with deep questions about faith while still pursuing an authentic walk with Jesus.
I’m making my 2023 reading list now. Setting aside time in my schedule, and money in my budget to continue to read and grow. My list will be varied. It will include leadership and business books, spiritual and devotional books, novels, and more.
Have you made your reading list yet? Maybe you don’t have access to a library nearby or money to buy books. Download the Kindle app on your phone. There are lots of free books there, or you can just read the free samples they offer. Or check out this list of free online public libraries. Where there’s a will, there will be a way to grow and learn as a reader.
Mention in the comments the best book you read in 2022 and I’ll consider adding it to my list! Thanks for your suggestions.