My Top Books from 2020

One of my reflections every year is to spend some time reviewing the books that I read during the year. It gives me a picture of what I was processing and being challenged by. It’s a great catalogue of new thoughts taking root and new ideas that are percolating. The early Christian leader, Paul of Tarsus would say that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. I have become convinced that unless we are allowing ourselves to think new thoughts, being challenged in the way we think and how we understand the world, we will move towards atrophy. Books are one of the great gifts that are a part of the process of renewing our minds.

This year, one thing that was shocking to me during all of the COVID shutdown is that it actually decreased my reading. I don’t know if it affected you in the same way, or if it had the opposite effect, but I found that my regular reading habits weren’t working as well as they normally do, but I was still able to complete 30 books.

What makes for a good book for me may be different than you, but for me, they’re books that I find myself thinking about for a while afterwards, they usually have stretched or challenged me in new ways and it’s usually one I find myself engrossed in as I’m reading it. And so, with that, I hope that these stand outs for me from this past year can be helpful for you as you consider ways to be renewing your mind over this next year.

Jesus and John Wayne by Kristin Kobes Du Mez

I picked this up after seeing Beth Moore tweet that it was the one book she read in 2020 that she wishes everyone would read in 2021, which was enough of an endorsement for me to pick it up and read it in a couple of days leading into Christmas. For the past 15 years, I have found myself teaching and preaching against Christian Nationalism in various forums, seeing it as a significant problem in the church, which we has especially shown itself to be true over the past year. Du Mez does a great job bringing together a cohesive narrative to make sense of the rise particularly of White Christian Nationalism, alongside the movement of patriarchy and toxic masculinity in the church as well as the effects it’s had on the larger American culture and politics.

If you have been baffled by things like the overwhelming percentage of white evangelicals that would not only vote for Trump, but would overwhelmingly support his behavior, the support for white supremacists, the attitudes towards refugees and immigrants, and abuse coverups in the church…and you want to try and make sense of how we got here – I can’t recommend this book highly enough. If you’ve spent any time reading on the history of evangelicalism, the integration of anti-communist sentiments during the Cold-War, purity culture, and racial injustice in the church, this won’t be entirely new content to you, but the way that Du Mez puts it together will help to give context to how we got to where we are today.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

I don’t read a ton of fiction, but when I find one that grabs me, it sucks me in like a good binge on Netflix. I found myself constantly looking for opportunities when I could sneak in a few more minutes of reading this book, which won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Whitehead tells the story of a young Black man who ends up in juvenile prison in Florida during the Jim Crow era, which is based around a real reform school and the stories that have surfaced from that school.

This book caused me to consider racial inequities, systemic injustice as well as criminal reform, without being direct and utilizing stories that were based in reality. I usually don’t like books that win awards, they often feel to me like they are self-indulgent writing that doesn’t connect with me personally. But this one was very different. It’s a great way to bring yourself into a world that may have been outside of your experiences.

Shining Like the Sun by Steve Wiens

This book helped to bring together two themes that I’ve been working through in my own life – Contemplative Christianity along with spiritual practices that are a part of the ordinary rhythms of life. Wiens does that in the context of utilizing practices as a way of reconstructing your faith. I find myself in conversations on a regular basis with people who are going through some sort of deconstruction of faith. My experience is that it’s often a intellectual and emotional journey meshed together, but it ends up having implications in so many areas of our lives, including rhythms and practices that had been ingrained into our lives. Wiens draws from the great contemplative tradition to help bring healthy integration to a journey of a renewed faith.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Noah’s story of growing up in apartheid South Africa, where he was literally born a crime as the child of a White father and a Black mother. Sometimes it’s difficult to be confronted by the situations that are a part of our own experiences and lives, and it’s helpful to engage in a situation that doesn’t directly implicate us in order to be able to see a bit more clearly. As the host of the Daily Show, Noah does a great job at combining humor and thoughtfulness in order to expose the reality of life in apartheid South Africa in order to confront the reality of racial injustice that’s a part of the system that you and I exist in. I listened to this as an audio book, and was so glad that I did, enjoying both Noah’s accent, his pronunciation of different South African dialects, and the way he would recount his mother’s voice.

Here is Real Magic by Nate Staniforth

I was shocked at how much I liked this book. In fact, I find myself thinking about it again every once in a while and will likely reread it this year. It’s Magician Nate Staniforth’s story of recapturing wonder after becoming burned out by the profession that once captured his imagination. One friend after reading it described it as the male version of Eat, Pray, Love, which is probably a good description. It’s one of those books that I don’t know that I left it with any specific thing that I would do or learn from it, but found myself inspired as I read it and left with a renewed sense to pursue wonder.

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

I found myself regularly sharing something I had learned from this book during dinners with the family. So much so, that it began to become a family joke that I began all my sentences with, “I’m reading a book about the bombing of London during World War 2…” I read this during the early days of the COVID stay at home order and it gave me a very small sense of solidarity with what was happening in London during the bombing of the city and it gave me a needed perspective at that time that we would be able to make it through. Churchill is a fascinating leader through that time and you’re able to get a bit of a biography on him, while not being specifically a biography on him. I often say that if I had to read history books that had been written like this during high school, I would have enjoyed history a lot more.

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

It’s crazy to me how controversial this book has been, and particularly by people who have never read it, but have read a sentence or two out of context. A friend who has been helpful to me over the years on been understanding racial injustice, being confronted by my complicity and has offered helpful challenges of normalized narratives in my life – said that this is the one book he was asking all of his White friends to read – so just from that, it seemed important for me to engage it. While I read several books on this topic this past year, I think this is the one that gave some language and framework to be able to appropriately hear and receive the others that I read.

There’s been a lot written and said about this book over this past year, so I won’t offer more on it, other than to say – it’s important for us to be confronted with ways of thinking that have become normalized, to think about the way we bring who we are into different spaces and how we make room for others who’s experiences are not our own. Growing up as an upper-middle class white male, it’s easy for me to ignore those things, but a part of loving my neighbor and following the example of Jesus who “did not hold onto his advantage” is to be curious and open to being challenged in new and different ways. I’d encourage you to read DiAngelo’s book (or any of the multitude of others that address racial injustice and our complicity in it) with an open, non-defensive posture to see what you need to learn and be challenged by.

Everything is Spiritual by Rob Bell

This is as close to a memoir as we might get from Bell. I found so much resonance with Bell’s own journey, some of what he went through and endured from others (on a much smaller scale) and the way he processed all of that has been helpful for me through the past several years in my own journeys. If you aren’t a fan of Bell’s writing, with fragmented sentences and unique paragraph formatting, you probably won’t like this book, as it’s one long run on chapter. But I found it to be engrossing and a quick read. I’ll be honest though – his whole section on sperm and sex seemed out of place in the book and felt like something he just really wanted to find a way to fit in.

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey

I fully expect to get teased relentlessly for putting McConaughey’s book on this list, but when a friend who I highly respect told me in almost hushed tones that he read it in one sitting, I bought it while we were still on the phone.

First, he’s actually a really good writer. Second, he’s thoughtfully approached the way he engages life. Third, it’ll inspire you to want to recapture adventure. I didn’t read it as quickly as my friend though…it took me two sittings.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

I love Steinbeck, and realized that I had never read this classic of his. I’m not sure I’ve ever put two fiction books on my end of the year book list, but both of the fiction books I have on this list moved me beyond fiction in ways most fiction books don’t for me. It asks questions of providence, human freedom, and gets a little preachy without feeling preachy. There’s a reason this is a classic


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Top Books 2018

Top Books 2018

This year I decided to try something different with my reading, I did my best to track every book I read with goodreads. And while I don’t think I nailed it perfectly, there are some I would forget to include or others that I would forget to update after I finished reading, it seemed to be a pretty handy way to keep track of and review what I read this past year. I’m sure it’s way more powerful than that, but I’m becoming the old guy who doesn’t always understand how to properly use these new hip gadgets.

This year, I’ve read 43 books so far, which puts me at the top end of my goal to read 25-50 each year.

In case you are looking for some suggestions on books to buy for Christmas presents, I thought I’d offer what I thought were the best books that I read this year.

Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler

This was easily, hands down one of the best books I read this year. I met Kate at a writer’s bootcamp a few years ago when she was working through the concept of this book, which made it a joy not only to read but to see it sit on the New York Times bestseller list for several weeks. Kate has done her doctoral work in the history of the faith healing movement in America, and while she was doing her research, became incredibly ill, eventually fighting cancer as a young mom. She wrestles with faith, easy answers and is humorous, thoughtful and vulnerable as she does. If we are friends, I have probably already recommended this book to you this year.

Deep Work by Cal Newport

This is another one that I probably recommended to you already as well. Newport is a professor at Georgetown University and has taken to learning to make a science out of developing the skills to focus on significant work, what he calls deep work. He argues that most of us don’t actually engage in that sort of work anymore because of the amount of distraction that we allow in, and he offers larger thoughts about how to do that as well as practical suggestions

Becoming Dallas Willard by Gary Moon

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I have a proclivity towards wanting to learn from Dallas Willard. He was the kind of man that I would want to become and so I find myself more and more drawn to learn not only from his teachings but from his life. This was a great biography by one of Dallas’ disciples that was interesting and insightful. If you’ve been impacted by Willard and his teaching, it’s worth reading.

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser

One of the things that I did this year was to intentionally get books from the library that would be different from what I’d normally read. I used their online app and would only get library books available for download on the kindle, which has limited my selection, but it’s also brought books to my attention that I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. This was a fascinating biography about Laura Ingalls Wilder, who wrote the Little House on the Prairie series. It was an honest look at the realities of the country, homesteading and the move west during that time, how she turned herself into a successful writer and what her family life was actually like. I found myself often telling other people stories from her life as I read it

Robin by Dave Itzkoff

I’ve long considered Robin Williams to be brilliant, but I honestly didn’t know much about him. This was another great biography that felt both honest and honoring.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

Isaac was reading this for school, so Allison and I decided to read it along with him. I had forgotten how good this book is and how much I enjoyed it. If you’ve never read this modern classic or if it’s been a while, it’s a good one to pick up.

Cross Vision by Greg Boyd

Boyd is fascinating in that he lives at the intersection of being a biblical scholar and a local church pastor. The way he processes faith and the Scriptures are always intriguing to me and I often want to learn from him however I can. He had recently finally published his magnum opus work, a two volume treatise on dealing with the violence of God in the Bible, called The Crucifixion of the Warrior God. Cross Vision is essentially the abridged version of that much larger, scholarly work. Greg works to make sense of the pictures of a violent God, with Jesus as his starting point of what God must always look like. He has produced an important work, taking seriously the nature of Jesus and the Scriptures. If you’ve ever struggled with making sense of the violence of God in the Scriptures, this would be a great book. It’s Greg being pastoral with his scholarly work, so it’s very readable and does not feel overly scholarly in its tone or content

High Fidelity by Nick Hornsby

I had never read any Hornsby books, and a friend had chastised me for that this year, telling me I needed to give High Fidelity a shot. I not only really enjoyed this one, but I ended up reading 2 more by Hornsby this year after it. I’m not quite sure how to describe Hornsby and his writing, as I don’t read a ton of fiction, but I found myself drawn in by the characters he creates and like I was being casually told a story by an Englishman in a bar.

I Accidentally Published a Book Today

So, apparently I accidently published a book today.

It wasn’t an accident that it was getting published. We had been working on it for a while. I just didn’t realize it would actually happen…and that it would happen today.

4 years ago, I was tired of the way that I was seeing Christians engage in politics and decided that I wanted to help initiate a different kind of conversation that I wasn’t seeing many people have. I preached a 2 week series called “In God We Trust?” It stirred up more conversations than just about anything else I had preached before.

As this election began to move closer, I began to see some of the same disturbing trends and at times even worse. So, decided to try and take what we talked about 4 years ago and see if we could turn it into a short book. Short enough that people would actually read it, but still with enough substance to invoke conversation.

My hope is not to give final solutions and answers as to how Christians are to engage (or not engage) in the political process, but instead, my hope is to raise some new conversations that not many are having. Sometimes we need a bit of a jolt to the system so we can step back to try and see the forest in the midst of the trees.

If you’re tired of the rhetoric around politics and have this sense that evangelicals are being used as political pawns…then this book is for you.

If you have an uncle who you hate to be around during this political season because of how obsessed he is with politics…this would make a great “Happy Super Tuesday” election present.

If you’ve read the stats of how the younger generation is being driven away from the church because of how politically involved the church is and you want to figure out a way forward…this book is a great starting point.

If you don’t want easy answers and want to struggle through things on your own and have the space to come to your own conclusions while being challenged by others…this book will mess with you a bit without giving a bunch of easy answers.

So, I’d love it if you’d consider buying this book. But here’s the deal, my biggest hope is to in some small way begin to change some of the conversation that at least some followers of Jesus are having when it comes to politics. So, buy one for someone else too.

If you’re a part of Parkcrest, we will have copies available on a Sunday, sometime in the future. I’m not exactly sure when, but it won’t be for at least another 3 weeks. Because, like I said…I accidentally published a book today.

If you’re a church leader and want to utilize this for groups in your church or use it as a way to have a larger conversation about faith and politics as the election season continues to heat up. Let me know and if you’re buying more than 25 copies, we can offer them at a discounted rate.

If you have an event at your church or organization and need a panelist or speaker regarding faith and politics, I’d love to be a part.

I (obviously, since I didn’t even realize it was being published today) don’t have a marketing plan. So, I would love it if you would help me out and help get the word out. We’ve got to start having a better conversation about faith and politics. Lets get that ball rolling.

For my friends who already tweeted, instagramed, facebooked, sent me pictures of their receipts from purchasing it. Thank you! I had no idea you would do that and I’m so grateful!

And thanks to my friends Ashley Miller who helped me edit it and actually make it readable and Brent Otey who did a killer cover design.

Here’s to having a better conversation about faith and politics

Thinking About Politics: Resources

Several times at Parkcrest, I’ve teased it that we’re going to spend a couple of weeks preaching on politics towards the end of October, at the height of the political season. Every time I bring it up, I’m shocked by the response and the discussions I end up having with people in the hallways and during the week. I get the sense that we’re really looking for some way to have some kind of thoughtful dialogue about this, and to honestly wrestle through what it looks like when the Kingdom of God and politics collide. 

For those of you that are intrigued by this, I thought I’d point you towards a few resources since we won’t be talking about this for another month. These are books that I’ve found helpful in thinking about this discussion. A few disclaimers first: As with any book, I don’t agree with everything the authors write, but I did find each of these thought-provoking; Also, a more robust theology needs to be developed outside of books specifically about politics, but these are only ones that approach things from that framework. 

Descriptions for each of these books can be found on Amazon. If you end up reading one, I’d love to hear your thoughts…

The Myth of a Christian Nation by Greg Boyd

Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne

Blinded by Might by Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson

The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder

And finally, when you’ve got a spare hour :), you may enjoy watching this discussion between Chuck Colson, Greg Boyd and Shane Claiborne on how evangelicals engage politics. It’s a great, respectful dialogue, between differing views…

Three Degrees of Separation from On Being on Vimeo.

Glorious Mess is Free on Kindle Today

Mike Howerton is a stud. Seriously, he’s one of my favorite people and has spoken into my life in significant ways over the past 12 or so years. I’m not blowing smoke when I tell you that I wouldn’t be who I am in ministry today without some wise words of counsel from Mike and people like him along the way. 

Mike’s newest book, Glorious Mess, is free today on Kindle. Even if it weren’t free, it’s worth picking up a copy. If you buy it and don’t like it, let Mike know and he’ll give you your money back (actually, I don’t think that’s true, but I’d love to see you try, plus it makes for good advertising).

Mike let me post a portion of his book here for you to get a vibe of what it’s about. Read it, get a copy on kindle for free today and then buy a copy to give away…

I am a pastor. 

I work in a church.

I am also a mess.


I went with a buddy to Gold’s Gym one time. One time. Everyone there looked like Ahhh-nold. Even the women had muscles and a gap in their front teeth. Each one bronzed, glistening, cut, and lifting more than I could wrap my mind around. (I understood there would be no math at the gym.) I went over to the pink weights, looked in the mirror, and was startled to realize that someone had replaced my biceps with those of a third-grade girl. I didn’t belong. This gym was for the Big Dogs. I wasn’t even a dog, really. More like toy poodle, which science reveals is predominantly rodent. I never went back, opting instead for an intense workout program that consists of wrestling (on the floor with my kids) and surfing (the internet). 


I wonder how many times this experience happens in a church setting. A spiritually interested person decides to go to church. When they get there, they are overwhelmed with the fact that no matter who they look at, they don’t measure up. The teaching is from a guy who apparently hasn’t wrestled with a single sin issue in his life since he became a follower of Jesus, at age 5, when he had to repent of making a frowny-face after his folks asked him to clean his room. Everyone seated around them is dressed to the nines, votes with a clear conscience, drives a paid-for Volvo, and has children who probably smile demurely from homes that look snipped out of Better Homes and Gardens.  Better than whose home and garden? Mine, for one.


Who can measure up? This is an obvious exaggeration, but the view from the outside is very one dimensional, unless we take the pains to change it from the inside. 


With three elementary school kids, a dog, multiple sports teams and dozens of neighborhood friends, my home is continually in a Defcon 5 state of disarray. I’m personally bringing the harried, wrinkled look in, praying it catches on. My children are wonderful gifts from God Himself, and I wouldn’t trade them, but they have rarely nodded demurely. They tackle demure kids. It’s pretty messy where I live.


The truth is, no matter how it looks, most everyone is a bit of a mess. 


When I first moved from California to Washington I drove a ’79 suburban. It had no heater. Mostly I think a car is perfect if it gets me from point A to point B, but now I am convinced that a heater is also essential. One night that first winter, I walked out from my office late, and the entire truck was iced over. I tried to get in, but the driver’s door was frozen shut. If you’re from someplace warm (and sane), take a moment to let that sink in. Frozen. Shut. So I walked around the car, and yanked the passenger door open. The frozen handle literally broke off, so the door opened but would not stay closed. This did not improve my mood. I noticed my fingers had become icicles. I was carrying a cup of coffee that I brought to keep my hands warm (since my heater wasn’t functional) but then I noticed my windshield was iced over, impossible to see through. I poured the coffee onto the windshield to melt the ice, because I didn’t have an ice-scraper. And I didn’t have an ice-scraper because I’m from Southern California and I hadn’t used an ice-scraper on my car out of necessity in a long, long time. Like never. So coffee was my plan. 


It was a dumb plan. The whole cup froze instantly on the windshield. The passenger door was yawning wide open. My fingers felt brittle, ready to fall off any moment. I crawled into the driver’s seat, fixed the loop of my backpack over the passenger door lock, and I drove with one hand holding it closed, with my head out of the open driver’s window because the only thing I could see through my windshield was the brown liquid that was supposed to keep my fingers and my belly warm on my cold ride home, but instead it was frozen solid, like my fingers, like my face quickly became except for my eyes which were bleeding rivers of salt joy down my face, and forming tiny icicles off of my chin. But hey, I was making progress. A mess but moving toward home.


We live life like that. We limp along. We tolerate ourselves. We survive our foibles. We put up with our stupidities, with the messes we make and we roll our eyes at ourselves, swearing under our breath, wishing we didn’t make things quite this messy. Personally, relationally, and spiritually messy. I wonder if we aren’t missing something profound. I wonder if we don’t see that in that moment, in that mess, just there where we’re stuck, frustrated, or otherwise not all that impressive…I wonder if that’s the place where God is free to bring His glory. I wonder if that’s exactly where His grace is sufficient.


I don’t know where you are in all this…how you view your life, your struggles, your trials, your sin. Do you view your imperfections as a canvas for God’s glory to be on display?


All throughout the Scriptures, you see examples of God loving imperfect people, forgiving imperfect people, and using imperfect people for great and glorious things. God’s love for imperfect people is unrelenting. In fact, the bigger the mess, the more glory God seems to get. And of all the glorious messes in the Bible, few are messier than Jonah.


Everywhere I go, people grab me and say, “Pastor, give me some Jonah! I need more Jonah! I’ve got a fever, and there’s only one cure…Jonah!” 


Ok, not exactly. And there’s probably a reason for that:

It’s one heck of a fish story. 

It’s a whopper of a tale.


The flannel board Sunday School story of Jonah smacks of the incredible, the miraculous, and the supernatural. Because it has been viewed in that light, the Book of Jonah is too often dismissed as an ancient fable with little practical value for our lives. I “bing”ed the word “Jonah” and the top ten sites were for children’s books and ancient biblical commentary (well, and Jonah Hill, the actor).


How tragic.


It’s tragic because one way or another, Jonah’s story is our story. He’s a mess, just like us. I’m a Jonah. You are too.


When God calls us, many times we run from the thing we know He is gently prompting us to do. When we run, the storms hit. When the storms hit, we turn back to God. When we turn back to God, we see an absolutely incredible return on our obedience. And even after we’ve experienced God’s grace, we need to be reminded again to share it. 


God loves both the reluctant prophet and the repentant people. 

God has a plan for us, even in the midst of our mess, to showcase His glory. 

And God has given us the book of Jonah to learn all about it. 


In the five acts of Glorious MESS you will encounter no new evidence that the Book of Jonah records fact…no scientific studies proving a grown man can actually utilize the oxygen from giant gills to survive; no bizarre but true tale about a sperm whale that was caught and opened up to reveal a family of four living comfortably inside with their twin hairless cats.


If you believe in God, who spoke all things into existence, who holds the galaxies at His fingertips, who is intimately involved in human affairs, who is capable of loving even the most stubborn human, then this story is a factual non-issue. I know thoughtful Christians who choose to view Jonah as a potent myth, a fable with a heavenly truth built in. I won’t argue that point here (although I believe in the historicity of Jonah), but I know we can agree on this: to an infinite God, commanding a fish and sustaining life for a wayward prophet are no big deal. It’s harder for me to cook a package of Top Ramen noodle soup than it is for an infinite God to perform a miracle.


Now, if you don’t believe in that infinite God, then Jonah is the wrong book to convince you. Our foundational view of God’s infinite nature is found throughout the Scriptures, but perhaps most clearly stated in Luke. It goes like this:


For nothing is impossible with God. Luke 1:37 NIV


If you believe, as I do, that the Bible has proven itself to be a trustworthy source again and again and again; if you’ve found, as I have, that this dusty desert tome reveals the heart of God and the character of me, then this verse speaks volumes. More than any stat or study I could quote is the realization that God can and does accomplish the AMAZING, whether we are willing or ready to believe it.


That’s good news.

Good Grief

Erica McNeal caught the bridal bouquet at our wedding. You’re probably thinking what do I care who caught the bouquet at your wedding? Well, here’s the deal – when the person who caught the bouquet at your wedding writes a book, let me know and we’ll be even. Until then, I’m telling you about Erica.

In the almost 12 years since I went to college with Erica, she has been through a lot. By the time she was 32, she was already a 3 time cancer survivor and had experienced the loss of 5 children. But one of the beautiful things about her is her deep and resounding faith and the way that it’s guided her through all of those tragedies.

Today, is the official launch date of Erica’s new book, Good Grief, where she not only tells her own personal stories, but shares the insights that she’s learned through her own experiences.

Here’s how her story began to unfold while we were still in college…

In 1999, I was diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer. I was immediately told there was good news and bad news. The good news was the tumor had a name. The bad news was not only had my doctors never treated a patient with this type of cancer before, they had never even heard of it! At this time, the cancer had only been found in the stomachs of men over the age of eighty. I was twenty-two, my cancer was found in my neck, and the last time I’d checked, I was not a man!

And that was just the beginning…throughout the book, she not only gives you glimpses into what she went through, but how she began to process what she was going through and the way people reacted to it. 

I read her book to not only hear her tell her personal stories of tragedy, but to learn to engage better with people in the midst of their grieving and hurt. Speaking through her own personal experiences, Erica gives great practical advice for both those in a tragedy as well as those who are walking it through it with someone. She pushes through tired cliches and helps you to have some tangible ways to engage when you don’t know what to do.

If you’re walking through a tragedy yourself, or alongside someone, let me encourage you to check out Erica’s book…and help out the friend who caught the bouquet at our wedding!


by the way, if you buy a copy of the book this week, send Erica a copy of the receipt and you’ll get a pdf version of the book sent to you and she’ll enter you into a drawing to win a gift card to Outback or Carrabbas

On Becoming a Leader Who Reads

The other day as I was listening to Bill Hybels being interviewed on the Catalyst Podcast, he shared something that I’ve heard him say several times – that all leaders are readers. He’s not the only one to say that. I just googled it and got over 188,000,000 links to people saying that exact same thing. Of course, I haven’t heard most of them say it, but I have heard other people say it too. Plus I figure if I google it, that makes it true.

I was trying to remember when this clicked for me. I used to hate reading. The first book I remember enjoying, or really even reading the entirety of without using Cliff Notes was during my senior year of High School, reading The Grapes of Wrath, but it was quite a while before I read another book after that. My sister used to walk down the street reading books. We would go on vacation, and while we would be in these incredible places, she would have her nose buried in a book. I wasn’t even close to that…that’s probably why she has her PhD and I’ve still got my fingers crossed that someone will give me an honorary doctorate someday.

Somewhere along the way, things changed for me. I never became the person walking down the street while reading a book, but I did actually start to enjoy it and began to read more and more. At one point before we had kids, I was reading close to 100 books a year, but kids change things, and I’d rather be hanging out with them anyways, so now I read around half that.

Honestly, here’s what I think happened…I heard enough people who I respected say those exact same words – that all leaders are readers. And while I didn’t have much interest in being a reader, I did care a lot about being a leader, so I figured, maybe if I start acting like one and doing the things that they do, I’ll eventually become a leader. So, I began forcing myself to read. I read books about leadership, ministry, theology…just about anything that anyone would recommend to me. The more and more I began to read, the more and more I found myself liking it. It’s kind of the same way Allison got me to like Grey’s Anatomy, but that’s a different story.

There is no magic formula or secret trick to get yourself to read more. I actually sat down with every intention of writing a list of things to do in order to read more books this year, but somehow this came out instead. The trick to reading more is to just simply read. You don’t like reading? Read more, and eventually, like the vegetables that you learned to like as you ate more and more of them, you’ll find yourself strangely starting to enjoy it. And don’t just read anything – read things that will push you and stretch you. Try the broccoli, because it’s good for you.

What will happen is that as you find yourself thinking more, as you have pre-conceived notions challenged, and as your mind is literally expanded, you’ll want to make more space and time for reading. You won’t have to force it to happen, you’ll want to make it happen.

Maybe that’s a part of the reason that all leaders are readers. Not necessarily because they’re the people who are born with a natural love of reading, and not just because of the insights they gain in their reading, but because they’re the kinds of people who would be willing to discipline themselves to read when they didn’t want to and when they didn’t love it and when they would rather zone out watching celebrities try to learn to dance. Maybe they’re leaders not just because of what they’ve read, but because they force themselves to read.

And by the way, not all readers are leaders, but that’s a whole other thing…

Some of My Recent Reads

I’m pretty convinced that all good leaders are also self-motivated learners. In my experience, one of the most common ways leaders learn is through reading. I don’t know why that’s the case, but whenever I sit down with a leader, I can always ask them what they’re reading, and they’ve got several books to tell me about. I always find out about the best books from those kinds of conversations.

So, with that in mind, here’s a few of my more recent reads that are worth passing on:

The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight

I gave a brief review of the book here. I think this may be one of the more important books I’ve read recently. It will challenge your theology of salvation and the gospel, in really good, healthy and biblical ways. Read this if you want to be challenged in how you understand the gospel and want to develop a more robust theology in your own life.

On the Verge by Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson

Alan and Dave work through what it looks like for a church to actually empower the people of the church to live life on mission. Our Directional Team recently worked through this book and it provided us with a lot of rich discussion, as well as tangible examples to wrestle with on how to not just talk about these things but to do it in our context. Read this if you find yourself having a lot of conversations about creating missional movement, but the reality is that you’re not seeing much missional movement.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

The true story of Louie Zamperini. I loved this book, and couldn’t put it down. After I read it, we ended up bringing in Louie to speak at Parkcrest on September 11. His story will amaze you (someone described him to me as a real life Forrest Gump – you can’t believe all that he actually did and all that actually happened to him), and Laura Hillenbrand is fantastic at bringing it to life. Read this if you’re looking for an easy to read, inspiring, true story and can’t wait for the movie.

The Pastor by Eugene Peterson

Peterson challenges just about every way that we have understood and defined what it means to be a pastor in the past 30 years or so. This is his personal memoir, but you can’t help but to be challenged by how he pastored and want to develop healthy rhythms and to slow down a bit. These are rich words from a wise sage on what it means to be a pastor. Read this if you’re a young pastor, wanting to glean wisdom from those who have gone before us.

Untitled by Blaine Hogan

I have learned that in leading, as well as the message prep process that I have a lot to learn from people who have learned to lean into the creative process well. Blaine is one of those guys. This is a quick, easy to read book on the hard work of creating something. Its at times inspiring and at times pretty practical. Read this if you need help figuring out how to not just have an idea, but to execute it, or if you need to learn how to not just wait for creativity to strike but to make it a more regular part of what you do.

Quitter by Jon Acuff

This is a book specifically about turning your day job into your dream job. And while I’m not trying to change my day job, and actually really love what I get to be a part of, I found it to be a great read. I’ve found myself recommending it, especially to people in their 20’s and 30’s who are discontent with what they’re currently doing, but trying to figure out how to pursue what they feel like they should be doing. Like “Untitled”, there’s parts of the book that are funny and inspiring, but a lot of great practical nuggets as well. Read this if you’re not fulfilled in what you’re doing and feel like you’re supposed to be doing something else.


I’d love to hear from you, what  you’ve read recently that’s worth passing along…