theology

The 30 Books Every Pastor Should Read

I love to read! I try to maintain a 1-book per week pace, and because of that, I am often asked "what's the best book you've read lately?" So here you go! Here's a list of the 30 most influential books I've read to date that have helped me as a pastor and a leader. If you click on the title of the book that interests you it will take you directly to Amazon.ca where you can order a copy of your own. Remember, leaders are readers. Enjoy!

My top 30 in alphabetical order:

  1. 7 Practices of Effective Ministry by Andy Stanley

  2. 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell

  3. Axiom: Powerful Leadership Proverbs by Bill Hybels

  4. Becoming a Coaching Leader: The Proven System for Building Your Own Team of Champions by Daniel Harkavy

  5. Church Planting: God's Plan for Transformation by George Hill

  6. Communicating for a Change: Seven Keys to Irresistible Communication by Andy Stanley

  7. Covenant Relationships by George Hill

  8. Cracking Your Church's Culture Code: Seven Keys to Unleashing Vision and Inspiration by Dr. Sam Chand

  9. Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend by Andy Stanley

  10. Goals!: How to Get Everything You Want -- Faster Than You Ever Thought Possible by Brian Tracey

  11. Leadership Pain: The Classroom for Growth by Dr. Sam Chand

  12. Living Your Strengths: Discover Your God-Given Talents and Inspire Your Community by Donald Clifton

  13. No Perfect People Allowed: Creating a Come-as-You-Are Culture in the Church by John Burke

  14. The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Timothy Keller

  15. Passing the Leadership Baton: A Winning Transition Plan for Your Ministry by Tom Mullins

  16. Purpose Driven Church by Rick Warren

  17. Simple Church: Returning to God's Process for Making Disciples by Thom Rainer & Eric Geiger

  18. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek

  19. Sticky Teams: Keeping Your Leadership Team And Staff On The Same Page by Larry Osborne

  20. Surprising Insights From The Unchurched And Proven Ways To Reach Them by Thom Rainer

  21. The 5 Levels of Leadership: Proven Steps to Maximize Your Potential by John Maxwell

  22. The Big Idea: Aligning the Ministries of Your Church through Creative Collaboration by Dave Ferguson

  23. The Leader Who Had No Title: A Modern Fable on Real Success in Business and in Life by Robin Sharma

  24. The Mentor Leader: Secrets to Building People and Teams That Win Consistently by Tony Dungy

  25. One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey by Ken Blanchard

  26. The Richest Man Who Ever Lived: King Solomon's Secrets to Success, Wealth, and Happiness by Stephen K. Scott

  27. Today Matters: 12 Daily Practices to Guarantee Tomorrows Success by John Maxwell

  28. Visioneering: God's Blueprint for Developing and Maintaining Vision by Andy Stanley

  29. Volunteer Revolution by Bill Hybels

  30. Winning on Purpose: How to Organize Congregations to Succeed in Their Mission by John Kaiser

Are Our Traditions in the Way?

I think one of the most entertaining chapters in all the Bible is Acts 15. It tells the story of the one of the early churches first Board Meetings. And you'll never believe what the topic was!

The Apostle Paul was in the height of his church planting ministry and he was traveling from city to city seeing huge results. Many were being added to the church. Many leaders were being raised up. And there were many miracles. However, a group of zealous Jewish believers were following behind Paul and taking it upon themselves to "disciple" the new converts. One of their main objectives was to ensure that all of the believers, Jews and non-Jews, understood that Christianity was a Jewish religion and that it required every believer to adhere to the full Jewish law. And yes, this included circumcision.

What a crazy notion! And yet, it caused such a stir for "the Way" that the leadership of the early Christian movement had to gather together in Jerusalem to debate the topic. Everyone attending was passionate about preaching Jesus and no one was questioning the message of Christ. The major discrepancy was over their methods of discipleship.  There were those on one side, who believed that the Jewish law was the inspired Word of God and was to be adhered to by all men, Jew and Gentile. And then there were those on the other side, who understood the law to be for the Jewish people predating the arrival of the Messiah. And that while it was to be valued, it was not pertinent to salvation and believing in Jesus. After all, Jesus Himself had said He fulfilled the law. So, who was right?

I want you to take a moment to read the minutes of this meeting yourself. (Acts 15)

There is one verse in this chapter that leaps off the page at me every time I read it. Did you catch it, too? It's verse 19. After all of the discussion and the arguments back and forth, James the brother of Jesus, stands up and says, “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God."

As ridiculous as it seems to us today to be debating over physical circumcision as a requirement for salvation. There's something about this chapter that is eerily familiar. Verse 19 in particular caused me to ask, "What traditions do I hold dear today that are making it difficult for outsiders to believe in Jesus?"

I've moved past the surgery or no surgery part of the discipleship process, but I have my own church traditions that I value. Are any of my "methods" hindering others from entering a relationship with Jesus?

When Mahatma Gandhi was asked how Christian Missionaries could make more of an impact on his nation of India, he replied “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Do you think that is true? What traditions do we, the Church, have that could be hindering outsiders from coming to Jesus? I know our message is sacred, but do you think it's time we start messin' with our methods?

How to Grow Spiritually

When we are children, our bodies physically grow, pretty much automatically. But growth does not happen in the same way spiritually. Spiritual growth isn't automatic with age, it is intentional. So, how do we intentionally grow ourselves? And how do I know where I am at in my spiritual maturity?

John answered many of these questions in 1 John 2 when he addressed his readers in three distinct categories. He addressed them as "children," "young men," and "fathers." It makes sense that he would compare our spiritual maturity to our natural maturing and there are definite characteristics of each age bracket that can cross over from our physical growth to our spiritual growth. To read some of these comparisons check out my last blog "How to Define Spiritual Maturity."

Although there are definite similarities in the process of our physical maturity and spiritual maturity, there are also some very big differences. The biggest difference is that our spiritual growth does not just happen with age, it will be sped up or slowed down based on our ability to face the battles at each level. Let me explain.

Once we become "born again" by confessing Jesus as God, we enter the "little children" stage according to 1 John 2. At this stage, John explains that our biggest battle is the battle over sin. We are all sinful people and fall short of God's standards, but once we accept Jesus as Lord of our lives, we become "saved" from our sinful nature and forgiven of all of our wrong doings. This is God's free gift to us, because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. But there is a big difference from being saved and being free. Salvation, according to the Bible is immediate and automatic. Freedom, however, is a process.

According to the Apostle Paul, this freedom happens through the "renewing of our mind" (Romans 12:2). According to Jesus it is "knowing the truth" that will make us free. We must learn how to think differently. See as God sees and do as God instructs us to do. Some people have received an immediate miracle of freedom from an addiction when they were saved, but most of us had to go through a lengthy process battling against our sin natures to begin living as the Bible instructs Christians to live. This struggle is normal. In fact it is so normal that the Apostle Paul, who wrote two-thirds of the New Testament, penned these words when he was battling his own sin nature in Romans 7.

For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

Do these words sound familiar? Could you have written these exact frustrations? I know his words sound a lot like my own. Paul does a great job of capturing the frustration of this battle against sin. So how do we win this fight?

John gives us a hint in 1 John 2 when he describes the next level of maturity he calls "young men." Look at what he says in verse 14,

"I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one."

Their strength to overcome came from the Word. In other words, once they studied the Bible and deposited it into their hearts, they became strong enough to overcome.

Look at what King David said in Psalm 119:11, "I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you."

David says it! If you get the Word into your heart, you will win against sin! This is the secret that will help you overcome and move to the next level of maturity.

In my next article I will look at how we can specifically use the Word to overcome temptation and therefore gain our freedom!

Question: On average, how often do you read the Bible in a week (not including Sunday morning at church)? Please leave your comments below in the "Leave a Reply" box.

The Three Ministry Spaces

The Apostle Paul was in the midst of his missionary journey. He arrived in Athens 12 days ahead of the rest of his entourage and something very interesting developed over those 12 days.

Acts 17:16-17 (NASB) "Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles,..."

Erwin McManus called Paul's first stop at the synagogue, 1st Space. I heard Pastor Kong Hee describe this concept in more detail at a conference a few years ago. He defined 1st space as the church. He reasoned the church has it's own sub-culture, it's own behaviors and even it's own language. It's a comfortable and safe place for believers and Paul made a habit of visiting 1st space first whenever he entered a new city. However, he didn't stop here.

Acts 17:17b-18 (NASB) "and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present. And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, "What would this idle babbler wish to say?" Others, "He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,"--because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection."

He entered the market place. McManus and Hee call this 2nd Space. It's where we conduct our business, education, arts and entertainment, government, and mass media. It's where you work, live, and get your Starbucks. Although Paul started in 1st space, he immediately went out into 2nd space and began to teach and minister. And then something interesting happened.

Acts 17:19-20 (NASB) "And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, "May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean."

The Areopagus were the elite of society. They were the political, religious, intellectual, and arts leaders of society. It was a powerful group, and one that could only be accessed by invitation. Paul made such an impact in 2nd space that he was invited to share in 3rd space. We have 3rd space in our society as well. It's where the movers and shakers and influencers of our society meet. It's a place where you can only enter through excelling substantially in 2nd space.

When Paul enters 3rd space and gets the ear of the influential, he does something really odd. He complemented them on being religious! These were heathens who worshipped multiple gods and idols, and he compliments them!

Acts 17:22 (NASB) "So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects."

And then he does something even more strange, he actually quotes one of their heathen poems and uses it to reference the one true God.

Acts 17:28 (NASB) "for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we also are His children.'"

The problem with this poem is that it was originally written in reference to Zeus.

"They fashioned a tomb for thee, O holy and high one The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies! But thou art not dead: thou livest and abidest forever, For in thee we live and move and have our being." Epimenides of Crete

Paul's use of Greek poetry shows us that he was not afraid to use contemporary art to reach his target audience. And the result?

Acts 17:32-34 (NASB) "Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, "We shall hear you again concerning this." So Paul went out of their midst. But some men joined him and believed..."

The point of this chapter in Acts is that Paul left the comforts of 1st space and made an impact on 2nd space so that he received an invitation to 3rd space. What if the church left the comforts of it's four walls and focused on ministering with excellence in 2nd space? What if the church became a training ground for our true ministers, the business leaders, politicians, entertainers etc. to excel at their craft in 2nd space?

Question: Do you think the church should change it's strategy of waiting for the unchurched to enter 1st space before we can reach them?

What is Spirit Contemporary?

I remember the conversation well. I was a frustrated pastor and I wasn't sure who I could vent to, so I called my dad. "I just don't know what to do anymore. I wish I could pastor a charismatic Mennonite church."

I grew up in conservative evangelical churches. And while I am very thankful for my heritage, I always felt like something was missing. I desired more. I wanted to experience the power of God I read about in the Gospels and throughout the book of Acts.

Late in my teens, I confessed to a friend my hunger for more. He invited me to his charismatic church. While I was very hesitant to go, I decided to give it a try. I was overwhelmed with what I experienced! For the first time in my life I "felt" God and witnessed life altering miracles with my own eyes. It was amazing. It seemed to be exactly what I was searching for. I became "filled with the Spirit" and even attended Victory Bible College, where I learned about faith and healing and how to operate in the gifts of the Spirit. It was awesome.

Shortly after Bible College I moved to Canmore and began pastoring my own church. We were charismatic in every sense of the term. And while we did regularly see the absolute miraculous, that haunting feeling of "something is missing" began to resurface in me. It suddenly dawned on me that although we had witnessed amazing healings and miracles, we had not led one person to Jesus in a couple of years. In fact, we hadn't seen a visitor in months. The talk in the community was that we were the 'weird' church. What were we doing all of this for? I desired to reach the lost, and I knew our 'conservative' churches regularly saw salvations, but I did not want to have to compromise the power of the Spirit to do so. That's when I called my dad.

I desired to see the best of both worlds. I wanted the family atmosphere of a Mennonite church (and the food). :) I longed to see the focus on Jesus and ability to impact a community like the Baptists and the Alliance did. I desired to see the awe and respect of Father God that the Catholics and Anglicans had. And I wanted to experience the power of the Holy Spirit like the charismatics. But how?

During this time I attended a Men's Conference in Lake Louise and the main speaker was Pastor Leon Fontaine. He was pastoring a charismatic church in Winnipeg, the Mennonite capital of Canada, and the church was growing exponentially. At the time of the conference, the church was seeing over 300 salvations per month! And yet, he spoke of the miraculous, the healings, and the power of the Holy Spirit. I was intrigued. I began to subscribe to his weekly sermons and was amazed at how he communicated. He was very matter-of-fact about the miraculous and the gifts of the Spirit seemed "normal" in his church. They weren't weird about it and these gifts were actually attracting the lost, not repelling them - like we see in the book of Acts.

For the first time I was witnessing what I desired the most - a spirit-filled, evangelical church that was enjoying the best of both worlds. This was such an anomaly that church growth expert, the late Jack Whitesell, coined a term just to describe Springs Church. He called it "Spirit Contemporary." They were both Spirit-filled and Seeker Sensitive.

Since that time, I have become friends with Pastor Leon and we have bantered about this "Spirit Contemporary" concept quite a bit. It has caught on in churches all around the world. In fact, most of the fastest growing churches in Canada and around the world are Spirit Contemporary in one form or another. To watch a short video of Leon defining Spirit Contemporary in more detail click here.

Questions: Do you have that feeling something is missing? Is your church experiencing the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit and seeing regular salvations?