NASHVILLE—It’s that time of the year, when I force myself to pick the Top 10 books that I’ve read in the past twelve months. Those of you who read a lot know the difficulty of this task. (Here’s last year’s list.)
Before I present my Top 10 List, I’ll start with a few quotes about the power of reading from people who write words for us to read. I hope these words motivate you to read more books in 2019 than you have ever read in a twelve- month period before.
From the legendary writer who gave us Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer:
The man who does not read good books is no better than the man who can’t. – Mark Twain
From the overly creative mind that gave us Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat, and The Grinch:
The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go. – Dr. Seuss
From the man who gave us Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and James and the Giant Peach:
So please, oh please, we beg, we pray, go throw your TV set away, and in its place you can install a lovely bookshelf on the wall. – Roald Dahl
From the genius who gave us Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and Scrooge McDuck:
There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island. – Walt Disney
Here’s my 2018 Top 10 Book List, in random order:
1. Missionary Methods: St Paul’s or Ours? by Ronald Allen
I read this book over thirty years ago when I was trying to figure out which “missionary methods” might work in Manila. Asbury Theological Seminary required me to read it again in 2018. It is just as relevant today as it was when I first read it in 1986 and when it was first published in 1913. If you want to do mission or be a missionary and you want avoid the mission mistakes of the past, please read and reread this brilliant missionary classic.
2. Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness by Eugene Peterson
A must-read for everyone called to vocational ministry! Many of us start out in ministry as spiritual directors—only to wake up years later and realize that we have become program directors. Early in the book, Peterson makes a confession that many ministers could make: “Being a Christian, more often than not, seemed to get in the way of working as a pastor. Working as a pastor, with surprising frequency, seemed to put me at odds with living as a Christian.” This book will help vocational ministers get back to being spiritual directors.
3. Invitation to a Journey by M. Robert Mulholland, Jr.
This is the best book on spiritual formation that I have read in a long time, and offers the best definition of spiritual formation ever. “Spiritual formation is a process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.” Key ideas are process, image of Christ, and for the sake others. This book really helped me.
4. The Leadership Pipeline by Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter, and James Noel
I must confess that after years of reading piles of leadership books, I have grown tired of the topic. However, I am glad I read this one. It confirmed that I desperately and urgently need to acquire new leadership skills if I want to finish strong as I attempt to prepare the organization I lead for the next 100 years and beyond.
5. A Failure of Nerve by Edwin H. Friedman
One of the most insightful and helpful leadership books that I have read in the past decade, and I have read many. Friedman says that these leadership principles apply equally to a parent leading a family or to a president leading a nation. I would add that they also apply to a pastor leading a church.
6. A Theology of Love: The Dynamic of Wesleyanism by Mildred Bangs Wynkoop
Wynkoop calls Wesley the “Apostle of Love” and writes: “Rather than Wesley representing a theology of holiness it would be more faithful to his major emphasis to call it a theology of love… Wesleyanism, in its most authentic moments, interprets Christian theology in terms of love. It is not authentic when it fails to do so.” This book inspired me to be a better, more loving version of me.
7. The Practice of Prophetic Imagination: Preaching an Emancipating Word by Walter Brueggemann
While prophetic preaching is certainly neither my interest nor my speciality, Brueggemann had me with this analogy—“Prophetic utterance is not unlike the fastball of Bob Gibson, the great pitcher of the St Louis Cardinals. Of such pitches, the commentators say that they pop, they move, they surprise, they overwhelm. Such utterance staggers and offends among the listeners.” If that is what prophetic preaching does, then I need to attempt it more often.
8. Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle
A few quotes to get the gist of the book: “Technology gives us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.” “It is time to put technology in its place and reclaim conversation.” “Among family and friends, among colleagues and lovers, we turn to our phones instead of each other.” “Research shows that those who use social media the most have difficulty reading human emotions, including their own.”
9. RUN: Endure the Pain, Keep the Faith, Finish Your Race by Bishop Ferdie Cabiling
Warning: Most readers reported that they cried their way through this book. In September 2015, Bishop Ferdie Cabiling (aka The Running Pastor) took the first step of what would be a 2,180-km ultra-marathon across the Philippines. This epic run was called RUN50 and attracted national and international media attention. Ferdie’s goal was to run from from the southernmost tip of the Philippines in Maasim, Sarangani, to the northernmost shore in Aparri, Cagayan. He sought to run at least 50 kilometers per day, in less than fifty days. He ran Monday through Saturday, taking Sundays off to preach at churches along the way. He celebrated his fiftieth birthday along the way, and raised P2,885,482 (Philippine Pesos) for REAL LIFE Foundation scholars. This book narrates that run and teaches leadership lessons learned along the way.
10. The Art of Rest: Faith to Hit Pause in a World that Never Stops by Adam Mabry
Adam Mabry is a great writer and this book helped me. I laughed and repented. Thank you Adam. Please keep writing. Check out this video interview of my friend Gordon Robertson discussing The Art of Rest with Adam.