Books Recommendations for Young Leaders

I got this question the other day on Facebook and it made me think, so I thought I’d share it as you may wonder the same thing. The question was:  Could you recommend a few books for emerging leaders. The focus would be on foundational truths etc. that one would need to truly be qualified as a leader. The folks who have not been raised in the church or who may have missed the essential fundamentals are the main concern.

Here’s what I’d suggest young leaders read:

What would you add to the list?

Favorite Books of 2011

Every year I list out my favorite books of the year. This year, my goal was to read 50 books and I’m happy to say I did it. For me, one of the ways I relax is reading. I’ve also learned that when it comes to being a great leader and communicator, you have to read. In case you are curious about years past favorites, you can check out my favorite books from 2009 and 2010.

What makes this list different from the music list is that I had to read the book in 2011, it didn’t have to be published in that year. To make this list, I look for books that challenged my thinking and are shaping me as a man, father, husband, leader, pastor and communicator.

Here they are (in no particular order):

  • Rumors of God by Jon Tyson & Darren Whitehead. This book looked at how God is moving in our world and how to see evidences of God’s hand and how faith is playing out in our world. This was a book that didn’t have a lot of things to take from it, but one that I thoroughly enjoyed and found myself feeling really encouraged at the end. Here is my review.
  • What Good is God?: In Search of a Faith that Matters by Philip Yancey. Very similar to Rumors of God, but different enough to make it worth reading. Yancey shares 10 stories from 10 trips he took around the world. After telling the story of seeing pain, tragedy, suffering and faith, he shares the sermon he gave at that place. A great, great book. Here is my review.
  • The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo. I’ve become a big fan of Apple and Steve Jobs over the last few years. This book is a great look at what made Jobs a great communicator. This has huge implications for pastors. Here is my review.
  • Barefoot Church: Serving the Least in a Consumer Culture by Brandon Hatmaker. Don’t read this book unless you want to be convicted and see God challenge you to go to new places when it comes to how you think about money and the world around you. I read this book in 1 evening, it was that good and found myself having to repent of several things in my heart. Here is my review.
  • Great by Choice by Jim Collins. Jim Collins is another author that if he writes it, I’ll read it. So much research, so much for leaders to learn. While this book was not as good as Good to Great, it was a close second. Here is my review.
  • A Work of Heart: How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders by Reggie McNeal. If Reggie McNeal will write it, I’ll read it. This book, though a few years old, had so much in it. I remember reading this book at the beginning of the year and finding myself highlighting almost every line. Quite possibly the best book I read all year. Here is my review.
  • The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan. Rest is not something I always do well. Sabbath has a lot of meanings, I have young kids, life is busy and the excuses mount up. If you are looking to be challenged and move towards more rest in your life and enjoying the presence of God, this is a great book to read. Here is my review.
  • Moneyball by Michael Lewis. I’m not a huge baseball fan, but I wanted to read this before seeing the movie. Haven’t seen the movie yet, but the book was awesome. Great look at some of the science of baseball, and a fascinating story of one man and one franchise. If you are a baseball fan, you should definitely read this book. Here is my review.
  • On the Verge by Alan Hirsch & Dave Ferguson. A great look at what is ahead for church leaders and how they move forward to have an impact for the gospel. This is one of those books that every pastor who wants to see their church make an impact needs to read. Here is my review.

Top Post of 2011 – #5: Practicing Greatness

Over the last 11 days of 2011, I’ll be posting the top 11 posts of 2011. Here is #5: Practicing Greatness.

Over the weekend I read Reggie McNeal’s book Practicing GreatnessI had it on my shelf for years and for some reason Friday night Katie was out so I made some coffee, put on some music and started reading. I was grabbed immediately.

Here is the short review:  If you are a leader of any kind, you need to buy this book. I would easily put this in my “Top 10 leadership book” list. It is that good.

Still not convinced? Keep reading.

You might think from the title that the idea of being great and being a spiritual leader shouldn’t or don’t go hand in hand. Shouldn’t leaders be humble? Obscure? Especially spiritual ones? What McNeal points out is that “greatness in the kingdom of God is a journey toward humility.” The problem that McNeal points out and I agree is that too many spiritual leaders and churches are mediocre. They don’t aspire to be great. They don’t aspire to use all the gifts and talents that God has given them. And that is a sin. Greatness is not just about character. It’s also about effectiveness.

So what is a great spiritual leader?

Great spiritual leaders bless people. Depending on their sphere of influence, this blessing may extend to those in their organization, their spiritual tribe, a region, an entire nation, the whole human race – whoever populates their leadership constellation. Great spiritual leaders are not just given to great issues; they are given to people. In the end, this capacity to bless is the deciding category that elevates them to greatness in spiritual leadership…Leaders who achieve greatness are not only blessings; they feel blessed. They count themselves blessed by those they lead and serve. They are blessed by their colleagues. They are blessed by their leadership team. They are blessed by their friends. They often enjoy the blessing of family. Most of all, they feel blessed by God…These leaders are marked by gratitude. They consider leadership a privilege. Not unaware of its burdens, they are grateful for their assignment. Even though the price of greatness may and often does include emotional, physical, and spiritual stress, they count themselves fortunate to have the opportunity to partner with God in his redemptive mission in the world. Though the road to greatness exacts even their lives, they would not swap the journey for any lesser pursuits. They cannot imagine, in the end, doing anything else.

But how do you choose greatness? Does every leader choose it?

You are faced with the option of greatness as a spiritual leader. You can choose, as countless others have done, to settle for less. If you do, you die a premature death. And you rob others of the chance to live a better life. If you decide to go for greatness, it will cost you everything you have and are. You will have to surrender your life. You will no longer belong to your personal dreams and petty agendas. Your days and years will belong to the One who believes in you so much he has risked his agenda on you. You will die first, only to discover this is the way to life.

What McNeal does it he lays out what we need to do to be great leaders. He pinpoints 7 practices, disciplines as it were:

  • Self-awareness:  knowing what you are good at and not good at. Knowing how to maximize your strengths. Knowing why you react to things a certain way, why some people rub you the wrong way, why you are prone to certain sins or certain things attract your attention.
  • Self-management: How you manage your life, health, marriage, mind, learning, body, sexuality, relationships, time. No one but the leader can manage it. Whenever you say, “I don’t have time for that, it is because you haven’t made time for that.”
  • Self-development: If you are going to develop and grow, what is the plan. The old adage is true:  “Leaders are learners.” Who will you learn from? How will you learn? What will you learn and grow in? For me, I set a goal of reading at least 1 book a week. When I run or have long drives, I listen to podcasts, sermons, etc. Maximize your time. Too many people waste time and don’t manage themselves and they miss out on growth. Great leaders differ from good leaders, in part, because of the degree to which they have developed and built on their strengths. These leaders have figured out that their best shot at making their greatest contribution to the world is for them to get better at what they are already good at. So they have decided to focus on their talent – identifying it and developing it.
  • Mission: For many leaders this is the “call” on their lives, but that isn’t it. This was one of the most helpful points of the book. Your mission is that thing you can’t stop talking about, as a pastor it is the thing you always preach about. That is the thing God created you to do. Do it. He called you because he wired you that way. Great spiritual leaders can articulate their passion. They know what makes their heart beat faster. They know what they do that enables them to feel the smile of God. They move toward their passion. They feed it. They are intentional and alive!
  • Decision making: Pretty self explanatory, but the questions he asks in this chapter are crucial in terms of making decisions and evaluating decisions to make better ones of the future. The bottom line is that great leaders are not paralyzed. They are able to make decisions, often with little information, but they are not paralyzed. Great leaders know how to make decisions, when to make decisions, and what decisions need to be made. They also, and this was profound, they make sure they are answering the right question. Too many decisions solve the wrong problem.
  • Belonging: Leadership is lonely, but it doesn’t have to be as lonely as leaders make it out to be. Relationships and community take work, time and effort. It won’t be easy, it might hurt along the way, but you have to belong to thrive as a leader. You must belong in your marriage and family as that is the life blood for a leader if they are married.
  • Aloneness: This is choosing to set aside time to be alone, to refresh, to walk through tough times and deal with the junk in your life. He highlights the wilderness experience of many leaders in the Bible. In fact, he has a whole book on this discipline called A Work of Heart, which is also worth reading if you are in a wilderness time of God shaping you and working on you and you are struggling to have clarity about how to move forward with something. No leader goes through wilderness unchanged. The transformation may be in the leader’s mission or person, or both. Usually, both life and ministry are altered. Great leaders would not exchange the wilderness experience for anything. It is often in the wilderness they come to their truest understanding of who they are and what they want to accomplish. In the end they find themselves grateful that God would grace them so profoundly.

As I said, a great, fast read. A ton to chew on that I will go back to. I’m taking a retreat day tomorrow and I’m looking forward to working through these practices to see how I can grow in different areas.

Missional Communities: The Rise of the Post-Congregational Church

As part of the Uprising series at Revolution Church I’ve been reading a number of books on missional communities and the 4 identities. One of them was Missional Communities by Reggie McNeal. I have to admit, I’d read anything written by McNeal as it always challenges my thinking.

What McNeal does in this book is a real service to the church at large. He chronicles the story and history of missional communities, how they are playing out in America and Europe to see the variety of how they are being done, and how to transition into them.

Here are a few of the highlights of this book for me:

  • Missional community is exactly what would happen if we had to be real Christians.
  • The scorecard of a missional community is simple – are people of the community experiencing the abundant life Jesus promised and are they sharing it with others?
  • The assumption churches make is that community and individual transformation will result from having great congregations with well-trained clergy and lots of programs.
  • Being missional is the people of God partnering with him in his redemptive mission in the world.
  • You can’t commute to your ministry.

While this book is a great dive into what missional communities are, churches who are pioneering them, what they look like, structure, etc. It is lacking what a transition looks like for this. That has been one of the difficult things for us at Revolution as we have transitioned from small groups to missional communities. Many of the churches who are centered on missional communities started that way. I have to believe many leaders and pastors will read this book, get fired up and get to the end and wonder what to do next. I would love to have seen more about this crucial transition and how to do it without blowing your church up. Thankfully, we’ve been able to connect with a number of churches, learn where they are and map a route to that place. I think many leaders will get excited about this concept but not be sure how to make the leap.

Sadly, this book ended rather abruptly because of that.

Still, if you are like I was 15 months ago and feeling like something is missing, feeling like you as a church or individual could be doing more in terms of mission, community, discipleship and care. This is definitely a book worth checking out. Especially if you know nothing about missional communities. It is a great 30,000 foot look at them and what is happening in our culture and in churches that are reaching the culture.

Reading 50 Books in 2011

I am halfway through 2011 (and so are the rest of you). One of my goals this year was to read 50 books, I figured since I’m halfway through the year, I’d share with you my progress in case you’ve missed some of my thoughts on these books. As I’ve said before, what I love about looking back on the reading I’ve done, I can see how God has worked in my life and shaped my thinking. So, here goes. They are in order of reading:

  1. Missional Community Life by Porterbrook Network
  2. Why Johnny Can’t Preach by T. David Gordon
  3. Exponential: How You and Your Friends can Start a Missional Church Movement by Dave & Jon Ferguson
  4. Reclaiming Adoption: Missional Living Through the Rediscovery of Abba Father by Dan Cruver
  5. Gospel Change by Porterbrook Network
  6. Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes us Just by Timothy Keller
  7. Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip & Dan Heath
  8. On the Old Testament (A Book You’ll Actually Read) by Mark Driscoll
  9. The Message of the Old Testament:  Promises Made by Mark Dever
  10. Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell & the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell
  11. Practicing Greatness: 7 Disciplines of Extraordinary Spiritual Leaders by Reggie McNeal
  12. A Work of Heart: How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders by Reggie McNeal
  13. The Confession: A Novel by John Grisham
  14. Five Ministry Killers and How to Defeat Them by Charles Stone
  15.  The Prodigal God by Tim Keller
  16. Wrestling an Angel: A Story of Love, Disability, and the Lessons of Grace by Greg Lucas
  17. The Drama of Scripture by Michael Goheen & Craig Bartholomew
  18. Speak Like a CEO by Suzanne Bates
  19. How the Mighty Fall by Jim Collins
  20. Redemption: How Jesus Frees from the Idols we Worship and the Wounds we Carry by Mike Wilkerson
  21. The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan
  22. Moneyball by Michael Lewis
  23. On the Verge by Dave Ferguson & Alan Hirsch

A Work of Heart: How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders

I’ve been reading a lot about the inner life of leaders recently. It is great to have the tools of how to cast vision, build teams and lead things, but if your character falls apart, if you aren’t able to handle conflict, criticisms, setbacks, etc. it can destroy your leadership. Recently I’ve been hearing about a number of leaders who have been falling out leadership because of sin, stress, burnout and I want to finish well. Reggie McNeal writes about this better than anyone I’ve seen. You can read my review of one of his other books Practicing Greatness here.

In A Work of Heart, he takes a similar track as Practicing Greatness. In this one though, he looks at Moses, David, Jesus and Paul to see how God shaped their hearts, their inner lives to make them the leaders they are.

According to McNeal, when a leader loses heart, he loses. When a leader does not lose heart, he becomes a champion, not a victim.

He looked at:

  • Family of origin and where they came from.
  • The call on their lives, why they are here.
  • Community, how they connected with others around them.
  • Communion, how they related to God.
  • Conflict, how they deal with criticism, those who difficult to lead.
  • And the commonplaces of their world, the ordinary things we often miss in terms of shaping our lives.
Here are a few things that jumped out:
  • Leaders are driven by causes and willing to personally risk involvement.
  • The leader is an instrument in the Lord’s hand to help others have the opportunity to live their lives with greater significance and in relationship with God.
  • The cauldron of conflict shapes the heart of the leader. Each instance forces a redefinition of the leader’s mission, values, and actions.
  • Leaders content that their life could not be understood apart from their call. The call provides them with their life direction. It informs their decisions by reorienting their priorities and establishing a new set of core values. The call provides a content that becomes their life message.They would not be who they are without it.
  • Leaders who give their best efforts to their current assignments from God are prepared for their next level of influence.
  • Leaders become leaders, in part, because they are willing to wrestle with who they are, who they want to become, how they can overcome some deficit in their own lives.
  • Leaders who create team figure out how to empower others, literally giving power away.

The Addiction of Work (and Being Busy)

All of us have to work. It takes money to live.

I often wonder though and reading Reggie McNeal’s book A Work of Heart got me thinking even more of the addiction of work. Maybe not so much the addiction of work, but the addiction of being busy.

Many of us are too busy, running from work, kids games and practices, church programs, exercise, eating in the car, etc. I will often hear people say, “I’d like to do ______________ (usually something that would enrich their marriage or relationship with God) but I just don’t have the time.” The reality is, we don’t have the time because we don’t make the time.

But why are we busy? You can’t simply fix this without fighting the symptoms. Many of us are busy, work too much, run from activity to activity because we don’t want to stop. We don’t want to be with our family, spouse, alone with ourselves, with friends, whatever because we don’t want to stop. We are addicted to the adrenaline that comes from being busy.

This is a big one:  we also don’t want to stop because of what we will have to do if we stop. It is easier to stay busy at work or run kids to different things than being honest with your spouse, working on issues in your heart or dealing with past hurts. Many people overwork because of the accolades they get from it. This often stems from an approval idol in their hearts. They didn’t get approval from a coach, parent or teacher at a young age, so they will try to get that approval from someone else now. Often, this is one of the main reasons that push young mom’s to work after having kids, it isn’t to get more money for their family or because they like it (although that might be true), but it is often to feed an idol in their heart. Here is how I know, when I will talk with a couple you can see the fear on her face when she thinks about the prospect of being alone.

Men do the same thing, just for different reasons (and idols). We are busy for more power, prestige, control, you name it. Pastors overwork so their church will love them, compliment them, so their church will grow. Mostly Godly reasons, but at the end of the day it is often to feed the idol in their heart.

If you are curious about what the idol in your heart is, here is a short list of questions to look at.

The sooner you can identify what pushes you, what idol you are feeding and worshiping with your life. The sooner you can have an honest conversation with yourself, spouse, friends, etc. and see how the gospel replaces that idol.

Practicing Greatness: 7 Disciplines of Extraordinary Spiritual Leaders

Over the weekend I read Reggie McNeal’s book Practicing Greatness. I had it on my shelf for years and for some reason Friday night Katie was out so I made some coffee, put on some music and started reading. I was grabbed immediately.

Here is the short review:  If you are a leader of any kind, you need to buy this book. I would easily put this in my “Top 10 leadership book” list. It is that good.

Still not convinced? Keep reading.

You might think from the title that the idea of being great and being a spiritual leader shouldn’t or don’t go hand in hand. Shouldn’t leaders be humble? Obscure? Especially spiritual ones? What McNeal points out is that “greatness in the kingdom of God is a journey toward humility.” The problem that McNeal points out and I agree is that too many spiritual leaders and churches are mediocre. They don’t aspire to be great. They don’t aspire to use all the gifts and talents that God has given them. And that is a sin. Greatness is not just about character. It’s also about effectiveness.

So what is a great spiritual leader?

Great spiritual leaders bless people. Depending on their sphere of influence, this blessing may extend to those in their organization, their spiritual tribe, a region, an entire nation, the whole human race – whoever populates their leadership constellation. Great spiritual leaders are not just given to great issues; they are given to people. In the end, this capacity to bless is the deciding category that elevates them to greatness in spiritual leadership…Leaders who achieve greatness are not only blessings; they feel blessed. They count themselves blessed by those they lead and serve. They are blessed by their colleagues. They are blessed by their leadership team. They are blessed by their friends. They often enjoy the blessing of family. Most of all, they feel blessed by God…These leaders are marked by gratitude. They consider leadership a privilege. Not unaware of its burdens, they are grateful for their assignment. Even though the price of greatness may and often does include emotional, physical, and spiritual stress, they count themselves fortunate to have the opportunity to partner with God in his redemptive mission in the world. Though the road to greatness exacts even their lives, they would not swap the journey for any lesser pursuits. They cannot imagine, in the end, doing anything else.

But how do you choose greatness? Does every leader choose it?

You are faced with the option of greatness as a spiritual leader. You can choose, as countless others have done, to settle for less. If you do, you die a premature death. And you rob others of the chance to live a better life. If you decide to go for greatness, it will cost you everything you have and are. You will have to surrender your life. You will no longer belong to your personal dreams and petty agendas. Your days and years will belong to the One who believes in you so much he has risked his agenda on you. You will die first, only to discover this is the way to life.

What McNeal does it he lays out what we need to do to be great leaders. He pinpoints 7 practices, disciplines as it were:

  • Self-awareness:  knowing what you are good at and not good at. Knowing how to maximize your strengths. Knowing why you react to things a certain way, why some people rub you the wrong way, why you are prone to certain sins or certain things attract your attention.
  • Self-management: How you manage your life, health, marriage, mind, learning, body, sexuality, relationships, time. No one but the leader can manage it. Whenever you say, “I don’t have time for that, it is because you haven’t made time for that.”
  • Self-development: If you are going to develop and grow, what is the plan. The old adage is true:  “Leaders are learners.” Who will you learn from? How will you learn? What will you learn and grow in? For me, I set a goal of reading at least 1 book a week. When I run or have long drives, I listen to podcasts, sermons, etc. Maximize your time. Too many people waste time and don’t manage themselves and they miss out on growth. Great leaders differ from good leaders, in part, because of the degree to which they have developed and built on their strengths. These leaders have figured out that their best shot at making their greatest contribution to the world is for them to get better at what they are already good at. So they have decided to focus on their talent – identifying it and developing it.
  • Mission: For many leaders this is the “call” on their lives, but that isn’t it. This was one of the most helpful points of the book. Your mission is that thing you can’t stop talking about, as a pastor it is the thing you always preach about. That is the thing God created you to do. Do it. He called you because he wired you that way. Great spiritual leaders can articulate their passion. They know what makes their heart beat faster. They know what they do that enables them to feel the smile of God. They move toward their passion. They feed it. They are intentional and alive!
  • Decision making: Pretty self explanatory, but the questions he asks in this chapter are crucial in terms of making decisions and evaluating decisions to make better ones of the future. The bottom line is that great leaders are not paralyzed. They are able to make decisions, often with little information, but they are not paralyzed. Great leaders know how to make decisions, when to make decisions, and what decisions need to be made. They also, and this was profound, they make sure they are answering the right question. Too many decisions solve the wrong problem.
  • Belonging: Leadership is lonely, but it doesn’t have to be as lonely as leaders make it out to be. Relationships and community take work, time and effort. It won’t be easy, it might hurt along the way, but you have to belong to thrive as a leader. You must belong in your marriage and family as that is the life blood for a leader if they are married.
  • Aloneness: This is choosing to set aside time to be alone, to refresh, to walk through tough times and deal with the junk in your life. He highlights the wilderness experience of many leaders in the Bible. In fact, he has a whole book on this discipline called A Work of Heart, which is also worth reading if you are in a wilderness time of God shaping you and working on you and you are struggling to have clarity about how to move forward with something. No leader goes through wilderness unchanged. The transformation may be in the leader’s mission or person, or both. Usually, both life and ministry are altered. Great leaders would not exchange the wilderness experience for anything. It is often in the wilderness they come to their truest understanding of who they are and what they want to accomplish. In the end they find themselves grateful that God would grace them so profoundly.

As I said, a great, fast read. A ton to chew on that I will go back to. I’m taking a retreat day tomorrow and I’m looking forward to working through these practices to see how I can grow in different areas.

Vintage Church: Timeless Truths & Timely Methods

book-cover1Paul and I just finished reading through Mark Driscoll’s and Gerry Breshears book Vintage Church. It came at just the right time as we are thinking through and writing our partnership class (which is Revolution’s membership class, we aren’t fans of the word member).

The book covers what a Biblical church looks like. With so many people questioning what a church should include, it is good to have a book that I believe clearly lays out what a church does and is.

The book addresses leadership and preaching in some strong tones because so many within the emergent conversation have called those into question. While I agree that we need to rethink the pastor as a CEO model, I think it is dangerous and wrong to completely throw out leadership in the name of community (which is something that several have said is the future of the church).

Preaching is another area that has been questioned. In fact, George Barna has gone so far to say, “If a church owns a building, meets regularly, has a paid pastor, or any leader who preaches a sermon is pagan.” This fails to take into consideration, basically everything in the New Testament.

Part of the confusion about what a church is has come from books like Reggie McNeal’s Missional Renassaince where he says, “If 3 guys are meeting in a pub, drinking a beer talking about God, this is a church.” No. This is 3 guys drinking a beer talking about God, not a church. This position always points to Matthew 18:20, but the popular interpretation of that verse does not mean what we want it to say. Matthew 18 has to do with church discipline, not 3 guys hanging out with Jesus drinking a beer.

Chapter 7 on church discipline is worth the whole book. This is something that is often missing in churches. Not because a church needs to be mean or point out sin in each other’s lives. But because a church needs to hold each other accountable, pray for each other, encourage each other to live a holy life and restore those who have sinned.

This was a great look at what Revolution is trying to become.

Our first partnership class will be this August, so be on the lookout for that.

Top Posts of April ’09

In case you missed them, here are the posts that generated the most traffic last month:

  1. Saturday night mind dump… (4/4/09)
  2. John Piper on why we sin
  3. Questions Leaders Need to Ask
  4. Questions Leaders Need to Ask #1
  5. Missional Leadership (Is it different?)
  6. Questions Leaders Need to Ask #2
  7. Saturday Night Mind Dump… (4/18/09)
  8. Missional Renassaince: Changing the Scorecard for the Church
  9. Doubt
  10. Questions Leaders Need to Ask #8