Recommended Books and Articles
“Great leaders are great learners” as the saying goes.
There is certainly deep truth in that statement and in that same spirit, we share books and articles that we have found to be of value to Christian leaders in the following categories:
- Christian Leadership
- Spiritual Formation
We hope that this list might either confirm what you have been reading, or provide a few recommendations if you’re looking to make your book stack even bigger! We will be updating this list over time, so check back as time goes by. Happy Reading!
Many of the books listed below are best-sellers and/or highly recommended by leadership experts and leading practitioners. Below these leadership books are articles that we’ve also found to be exceptional when it comes to understanding leadership. We hope that should you choose to invest the time in these resources, that you will find them valuable as well.
Good to Great, by Jim Collins. Harper Business Publishers (2001). New York, NY. This book, written by the co-author of the bestselling book Built to Last, became an instant classic. Like Built to Last, it reads well, and provides research-based insights into what enabled companies that were on the average side to become…great! Jim Collins is an excellent business and leadership development writer. His thoughts in Good to Great on the fundamental characteristics of exceptional leaders, exceptional leadership teams and exceptional organizational cultures are invaluable for today’s leaders.
Leadership from the Inside Out, by Kevin Cashman. Executive Excellence Publishing (2000). Provo, Utah. Cashman’s book is rich in insights and opportunities to reflect on what leads to genuine development for leaders. Cashman takes a holistic approach to leadership development emphasizing concepts such as personal mastery, change mastery and purpose mastery as crucial to being a truly effective leader. His style is highly readable and he is an engaging, authentic writer.
Leading Change, by John Kotter. Harvard Business School Press (1996). Boston, MA. This is another time-tested book on leading and implementing a significant change in an organization. John Kotter is a Harvard leadership guru who has written a number of highly regarded articles and books on leadership and leadership development. From Kotter’s experience, most leaders tend to underestimate the number of critical variables involved in implementing significant change and how long it actually takes. He also highlights how vital genuine growth can be for a leader during his or her forties to truly become an exceptional leader.
The Fifth Discipline, by Peter Senge. Currency Doubleday (1990). New York, NY.
This book is owned by literally hundreds of thousands, and likely read by just hundreds. It is a big book, but so remarkably worth the read. This book is the established classic in the business world on understanding systems thinking in organizations. Consider starting with the chapter on Personal Mastery or the chapter on Shared Vision to get hooked on the stunning insights and exceptional writing that Senge brings to the table.
The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive, by Patrick Lencioni. Jossey Bass (2000). San Francisco, CA. Patrick Lencioni is one of today’s outstanding business writers. He’s written a number of excellent business books. What’s fairly unique about Patrick is how he develops realistic, compelling business scenarios in his books to highlight his message, followed by a concise summary of the model he’s recommending at the end of the book. In this book, he does a stellar job of communicating the vital importance of organizational health, a strong leadership team, and genuine clarity about the primary focus for the organization. The ideas aren’t new, but how he communicates them is powerful.
Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within, by Robert Quinn. Jossey Bass Publishers (1996). San Francisco, CA Robert Quinn is a remarkable author. His level of candor and depth of wisdom make him an invaluable resource for someone genuinely committed to growing as a leader. Quinn does a wonderful job weaving together illustrations and insights drawn from his personal experience, teaching experience and consulting experience to illuminate vital leadership truths. His clear delineation of the key distinctions between technical, transactional and transformational leadership styles is worth the price of the book itself.
Fierce Conversations, by Susan Scott. The Berkley Publishing Group (2004). New York, NY. At the risk of overstating, this national bestseller is an incredible book. Scott’s unique wisdom and stellar coaching on creating transformational conversations at work and home is straightforward and compelling. Her succinct truisms, captured in notions such as “your relationship is only as strong as your last conversation,” “a problem named is a problem solved,” and “follow the bread crumbs to the CEO” (relating to how the leader shapes the culture), are just glimpses of how good this book is. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in becoming more adept at building a high performance organization or strengthening their most important relationships.
Crucial Confrontations, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. This honestly ground-breaking book captures the essential skills that are absolutely vital if a person is going to lead in a substantial manner. Why? Because a leader’s ability to skillfully confront in a way that maintains performance standards and strengthens relationships is really the only way for an organization or team not to eventually slide into mediocrity and dysfunction. Clearly this book is highly germane for Pastors and Christian leaders. (The authors also wrote the bestseller, Crucial Conversations, another excellent book.)
Change or Die by A. Deutschman. Fast Company. May, 2005. This is a thought-provoking article on what it takes to sustain long-term change. The author actually tracked medical patients who needed to maintain lifestyle changes post surgery or else they would die. The author connects the insights from successful interventions to ways businesses can successfully sustain significant change efforts. Certainly germane for today’s leaders.
Managing Yourself, by S. Ghoshal and H. Bruch. Harvard Business Review. March, 2004. This is a stellar article. In studying hundreds of managers in varied business settings, the authors discovered that the most effective leaders found ways to manage demands, generate resources, and recognize and exploit alternatives. Ghoshal and Bruch provide vital insights into incorporating those qualities. One insight in particular was the key role that slowing down and reflecting played in developing more effective and strategic responses to work demands.
Moments of Greatness: Entering the Fundamental State of Leadership, by Robert E. Quinn. Harvard Business Review. July-August, 2005. This is a brilliant article. With real clarity, Quinn differentiates what leadership looks like in a “normal” context, from how we function in “moments of greatness”. One rich idea is his insight that we perform at our highest levels when we are true to the best in ourselves, not when we are trying to copy a leadership guru. He also highlights the fundamental aspects of exceptional leadership, provides rich examples, and includes proven ways to move toward greatness on a more regular basis. Robert Quinn has also written a number of excellent leadership books, including Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within.
Seven Transformations of Leadership, by D. Rooke, and W. Torbert. Harvard Business Review. April, 2005. This article is exceptional in its ability to clarify what differentiates minimal leadership up to the level they call transformational leadership. Drawing on their extensive experience, Rooke and Torbert classify the levels of leadership, highlight key distinctions between the levels, and make excellent suggestions on how to move from one level to another. They see your ability to examine and discuss your assumptions or action logic in challenging business situations as critical to growing as a leader.
Growth as a Process, an interview with Jeff Immelt, by Thomas Stewart. Harvard Business Review, June 2006. Jeff Immelt is the CEO of GE and successor of larger than life Jack Welch. Five years after taking over GE, Immelt is pursuing aggressive growth goals, namely to grow at two or three times the world GDP. The article is a important read in the way Immelt is framing their growth process, and the way that customer focus, accountability (metrics) and empowerment are at the core of his model. For leaders, Immelt provides an excellent model of “working on the business, and not in the business,” a crucial skill for any leader.
The works listed below we believe are excellent resources written primarily for Pastors and Christian leaders, with the purpose of helping leaders gain deeper insights and stronger skills in their leadership endeavors. Enjoy!
Generation to Generation, by Edwin Friedman. This book is a classic, and is used in many graduate schools and seminaries. It provides a thorough description and detailed understanding of family systems theory in relation to congregational life and leading within a congregation. His chapter on Leadership and Self is in a sense invaluable for the wisdom and strength it can give to leaders struggling to find their way. While a challenging read, it offers excellent perspective and insight for lasting leadership success.
Leading Congregational Change, by Jim Harrington, Mike Bonem, James Furr. The authors provide a stellar framework for pursuing congregational change in a manner that is rooted in prayer, grounded in a well-established models of change, and yields robust and life-giving results when it is followed. This book is used in the field by many pastors and provides rich examples of the tensions, challenges and hazards to watch out for when pursuing substantial change in a congregational system.
Leading with a Limp, by Dan Allender. Allender is a gifted writer who has contributed well on many substantial issues. Known for his authenticity, humor and insight, Allender underscores the importance of being able to acknowledge your vulnerabilities or struggles from a place of strength, and the significant fruit it yields regarding morale, cohesion and health in a system. He also provides an excellent distillation of fundamental leadership styles and the strengths and weaknesses associated with each.
Leading from the Second Chair, by Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson. This book is a stellar contribution to the leadership literature, in particular because it provides an authentic, compelling and insightful delineation of how you can lead and contribute within your role when you’re not the senior pastor! They bring to light three substantial paradoxes or tensions that “second-chair leaders” need to be aware of and manage well to truly be effective in the community they serve. An excellent book.
The Leader’s Journey, by Jim Harrington, Robert Creech, and Trisha Taylor. This book is an excellent leadership text that provides a unique gift by integrating systems thinking, the spiritual disciplines, and the role of emotional maturity in leadership effectiveness in a church setting. The book provides a range of examples and illustrations that pastors can deeply resonate with, and recommendations, which pursued, will lead to greater satisfaction and success in your leadership roles.
Clearly, the deeper we understand spiritual formation and how we as humans are designed, the more wisdom we will bring to bear in our encounters with others, and the richer our spiritual lives will be. The authors below offer rich and valuable insights and we trust they can enrich your life and ministry.
Foster, Richard. Richard Foster is one of the major “pioneers” when it comes to evangelicals addressing the significance and transformational power of the spiritual disciplines. In particular, his book, The Celebration of Discipline, is a great start for people who are curious about the spiritual disciplines or want to take another look at them.
Lewis, C.S. Lewis is often described as the Patron Saint of Evangelicals. He is simply amazing. Some of my favorite works of his would include: The Weight of Glory, which is a commencement speech that is remarkably incisive on our yearning to be pleasing and its connection with glory; The Great Divorce, which provides an amazing glance into many ways people resist grace and the power of surrendering to grace; and Perelandra and Out of the Silent Planet, the first two books of his space trilogy. These science fiction books are a little “thick” and yet richly illuminate important spiritual truths. Perelandra in particular conveys an understanding of Satan’s means and methods like few books I’ve ever read, and also brings to light the beauty and power of obedience like few books I’ve read; The Chronicles of Narnia, of course are filled with rich spiritual insights that I continue to benefit from reading as an adult.
Merton, Thomas. Thomas Merton is an exceptional writer on the spiritual life. His depth and insight supported by his own personal spiritual journey in the context of his monastic experiences, make him a powerful writer on the more existential side of the spiritual life. Three of his works I can recommend would be:, Contemplative Prayer,The New Man, and New Seeds of Contemplation.
Pieper, Josef. Josef Pieper is a Christian philosopher whose training and depth of knowledge and insight yield foundational and robust truths that are invaluable to a richer understanding of personhood, the heart of God, and what we as a people and culture are called to pursue. His works are of course a little on the “thick” side, and yet so worth the patient investment of time and reflection reading him requires. The three works of his I’ve found the most valuable are: Faith, Hope and Love, Leisure, the Basis of Culture, and Happiness and Contemplation.
Schmemann, Alexander. Alexander Schmemann was an Eastern Orthodox priest and seminary professor. While I am certainly not an expert on Orthodox theology, Schmemann’s insights into theology and spiritual formation, in particular around providing a deeper understanding of humanity (theological anthropology) and the role of the spiritual disciplines and a sacramental life in pursuing holiness or wholeness are simply life-giving. Two books of his that are highly recommended are: Great Lent, and For the Life of the World.
St. John of the Cross. John of the Cross was brilliant, intense and completely sold out on obedience, purity and detachment. His Collected Works, including the essays The Dark Night of the Soul, and The Living Flame of Love, are in many ways philosophical and mystical, and bring light to aspects of spiritual development that are lesser known in the evangelical tradition. His writings on spiritual maturity and the level of connection (or union) with God obtainable even in this life are absolutely inspiring. Due to his level of devotion to growth in the Lord and his amazing gifts, John wrote powerfully on the spiritual life. While you may disagree with him on some points, he is clearly worth the work to study to grow in your walk with God.
Willard, Dallas. Dallas Willard is another excellent evangelical writer who has made substantial contributions through his work, one of which is deepening our understanding of the role and impact of the spiritual disciplines on our faith journey. He is a clear writer and a deep thinker. Two works of his that I highly recommend are: The Spirit of the Disciplines, and, The Divine Conspiracy.
How we manage our time, our energy, and our lives is vital to our level of contribution, and to our experience of fullness and wholeness in our lives. The more aware we are of best practices, the better chance of implementing them. And as we actually implement them, the richer our lives will be. The books below are great places to start to take steps in that direction.
The Power of Full Engagement, by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. This book is stellar. While it is written more for folks in the business world, the applications to ministry are easy to make. Loehr and Schwartz provide outstanding research support and illustrate their points very well as the make the powerful case for the significance of managing our energy well—on the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual fronts of our lives. I highly recommend this book.
Calm Energy, by Robert Thayer. Thayer is a professor of psychology and a mood scientist. This book provides excellent information on energy management and the substantial role of eating, exercise, and sleep on our moods. It is a solid compliment to The Power of Full Engagement, if you are looking for a more detailed and scientific understanding of how to manage your energy for maximum life.
Getting Things Done, by David Allen. Allen has also written a book called Ready for Anything, and he is the guru in the world of organizing your work world to enjoy what he calls “stress-free productivity.” His system of getting organized and staying organized has real value. In particular, his insights around the importance of having things written down to free up our “psychic ram” is invaluable when it comes to times of resting and being still, whether that is in a time of prayer, or simply trying to get to sleep.
Time Management from the Inside Out, by Julie Morgenstern. Morgenstern is another expert in the world of managing your time and your life. Her system of creating schedules, including blocks of time for major projects, is insightful. And the examples of lives she’s brought sanity and happiness to by helping them get more organized are inspiring to those who wrestle with managing time and tasks! She also recently wrote Making Work Work, which is also well-recommended.
Eight Minutes in the Morning, by Jorge Cruise. This is an excellent book that provides a solid, and most importantly, doable exercise plan that many have found much easier to maintain over the long run. Jorge’s writing style is supportive, and further, his dietary recommendations are well-researched. As getting or staying in shape is an ongoing call, and one that is important for our long-term effectiveness and health, this is an excellent book to support those commitments.
There is a growing number of excellent books on coaching. Below are those we highly recommend, that are also used in our training programs. Increasingly, leaders are finding coaching skills valuable in their leadership endeavors. While it often takes training and coaching to really know you’re mastering coaching skills, these books provide a good place to start on your coaching journey.
Co-Active Coaching, by Laura Whitworth, Henry Kimsey-House and Phil Sandahl. This book is one of the foundational texts used in most coach training programs or classes. The authors skillfully describe the essence of coaching, illuminating the vital roles of listening and asking questions, following the clients agenda, forwarding the action, and the role of vision and values in strong coaching work. This text can help leaders begin to draw upon coaching skills in their leadership roles and discover the difference deeper listening and open-ended questions can make in bringing subordinates to life.
Coaching for Performance, by John Whitmore. This book provides a unique contribution in how it incorporates coaching skills into a work or superior-subordinate relationship. Whitmore does a great job in showing how coaching skills are so important in leading in today’s world, and then fleshes out his straightforward model, drawing upon multiple examples. It’s a strong book for leaders wanting guidance in incorporating coaching skills into their work role.
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