Pastors buy a ton of books, according to a new survey by the Barna Group. On average pastors purchase about forty-five titles a year, considerably more than the general population. How many books are we talking about? Protestant congregations number about 315,000 in this country, Catholic and Orthodox another 25,000. That means pastors buy about 15 million books a year, more or less.
As a publishing professional, let me just pause and say thank you to all the pastors out there. My family eats because of you.
It’s a modest gesture, but I thought I might reciprocate by offering a short list of titles that pastors of all traditions will find beneficial. It’s a mix of theology, practicum, and history, but each of these books rewards even a brief reading. In no particular order:
1. Gregory the Great, The Book of Pastoral Rule. This little volume has helped train and form countless pastors in the fifteen hundred years since it was first written. Devoted to helping pastors lead their people and offer spiritual direction, it reveals the heart of a good leader and provides a wealth of insights that easily bridge the centuries.
2. Brian Godawa, Word Pictures: Knowing God Through Story and Imagination. We read the Bible. We read books. We sing lyrics on sheets or slides. We build arguments. It’s easy to forget the more imaginative side of the faith and its expression. Godawa is a filmmaker, and his book rollercoasters through scripture and tradition looking at how stories, images, metaphor, and art are used to communicate the Gospel. An essential perspective for communicators.
3. Art Lindsley, Love: The Ultimate Apologetic. If you need something longer and more detailed than 1 Corinthians 13, this is it. Unlike other systems of thought and religious expression, the most important aspect of Christian witness in the world is love. It’s better than books, sermons, community outreach, and pubic debate. And if love doesn’t inform, infuse, and enliven our books, sermons, community outreach, and pubic debate, then like Paul said we’re just noisy gongs.
4. Robert Louis Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God. This is the single best book I know for capturing the spirit and intellectual drive of the early church. It looks at doctrine and practice in the first centuries of the church and gives us a window into how believers understood and lived their faith. Scripture, sacraments, poetry, apologetics, attitude — it’s all here.
5. Patrick Henry Reardon, The Jesus We Missed: The Surprising Truth about the Humanity of Christ. What could be more foundational? We published this title at Thomas Nelson, and it’s a gem, presenting our Lord in his full humanity, “in every way like us, except sin,” as Hebrews says. It’s a joy and inspiration to follow Reardon’s journey through the gospels. Reardon is one of the most capable exegetes around.
6. Skye Jethani, With: Reimagining The Way You Relate to God. As pastors and laypeople, it’s remarkably easy to get our orientation toward God wrong and live with all the dysfunction that such an error brings. By creatively looking at several prepositions — under, over, from, for, and with — Jethani’s book (another we published at Nelson) shows that God’s real desire and our real need is communion. More than anything, he wants to be with us. Rather than pursue its own agendas, the church’s mission is to facilitate that union.
Who else should be on this list? Feel free to recommend others in the comments below. And be sure to share the list with your pastor.
Side note: Reader recommendations
Several readers and have made suggestions for additional resources. I’ve collected most of them here. Enjoy:
- Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth (Julie Silander, blog comments)
- John Chrysostom, Six Books on the Priesthood (Constantine Demakis, Facebook)
- David Hansen, The Art of Pastoring (Adrianna Wright, Twitter)
- Abraham Joshua Heschel, Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity (Rabbi Evan Moffic, blog comments)
- Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son (Kevin Kirkpatrick, blog comments)
- Eugene Peterson, The Pastor (Matthew Hansen, Twitter)
- Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (John Pattison, Twitter)