A friend recently asked me to post some resources I would recommend for laymen in leadership position in the church. Essentially, those who are doing or assisting in the shepherding of the body but who also work full time and may not get the opportunity to “deep dive”, take seminary courses, etc… I thought it was not only a great question, but an excuse to write. Any excuse will suffice. The headings below represent a subject that is pertinent to those in these kinds of situations, and then underneath that is a suggestion or two of a book/resource that addresses that subject. Feel free to leave any of your own recommendations in the comments.
You may think this should go without saying, but the Bible should be your primary source for all that you do. I cannot tell you the number of conversations I have overheard where all sorts of authors were quoted, except the guys who wrote the Bible. When my dad was young, he worked for this pastor who read one entire gospel and the rest of the New Testament daily. Nothing beats knowing the Word. Nothing.
Your ministry will not rise above your worship of God. Furthermore, a right knowledge of God will cover a multitude of ministry errors. If you get God “right”, it’s a lot harder to mess everything else up. Conversely, a failure to properly understand the God you serve will result in a lot of pain and loss. So above all else, think rightly about God.
My first recommendation for this s Knowing God, by JI Packer. For a thorough and yet readable text on the nature and character of God, I don’t think anything else is its equal. Published in 1973, I doubt anyone would have predicted that a straightforward teaching of theology would become a best-seller. But it did, because nothing is more interesting than God. Along with the book, invest in the study guide and get a small group together to work through it.
My second recommendation is Michael Reeves’ Delighting in the Trinity. The tri-une nature of our God is what so often distinguishes Him from other fancies of mankind, and yet it is an often neglected doctrine. This short book is well worth spending some time reading.
If you are a leader in your church, you really need some kind of understanding of progressive sanctification, which may also fall under the name of discipleship, growth in Christ-likeness, etc… Whatever term you use, your job is to help people walk through life in such a way that they reflect Christ and become more like Him. Soon after my own conversion, I was given Watchman Nee’s The Life that Wins. While I have come to disagree with him in some key areas, I will always be grateful that this little book challenged me to seriously deal with sin in my life in such a way that Christ would be glorified.
One type of resource you might use is a book like How Does Sanctification Work, by David Powlison. David was a leader in the biblical counseling movement and had spent a lifetime listening and helping people. This books really shows the diverse ways that God uses to bring His children into conformity to the image of Christ.
But another type of book you might choose is a book that challenges you to be holy, and I can think of no better one than Jerry Bridge’s The Pursuit of Holiness. It’s been a while since I read this book, but just thinking about it makes me want to re-read it.
Ecclesiology / Practical Church Ministry
As someone who is leading in the church, it would behoove you to know more about the church. If you go to a Christian bookstore, you will find a huge section of books telling you how to “do church”. There are conferences dedicated to this type of thing. I think most of them are about as useless as a one legged man in a butt kicking contest.
One great resource for this type of thing is 9Marks. This organization exists to equip church leaders with a biblical vision for building the church. They have a quarterly journal with great articles, they have books, study guides, podcasts, and all that good jazz. No bad jazz there. Just the good stuff.
One other book I might mention is The Trellis and the Vine, from Matthias Media. I think Matthias puts out good stuff in general, but this may be (to date) their most impactful book from the standpoint of helping churches develop a biblical ministry mindset.
One of your responsibilities as a leader in the church will be to interact with visitors and unbelievers. You should be able to articulate the gospel and answer some basic objections that people might have. There are entire ministries dedicated to apologetics, but it isn’t necessary to become an expert on creationism or post-modernism or anything else. I would find a book that shows you how to present the gospel well. My advice for that is CS Lewis’s Mere Christianity. My favorite is Orthodoxy, by GK Chesterton, but Lewis is more accessible and the issues he addresses still pertinent today.
If I could teach a course at Bible College, I might request to teach this one. Since graduating from college, I have spent a lot of time education myself on the great characters of church history. As you study church history, you are studying theology, evangelism, God’s providence over time, etc… A good start is Bruce Shelley’s Church History in Plain Language.
Sometimes you just need fuel. I confess that I sometimes read just for enjoyment and never feel guilty about it. The believer is to fight with joy. I am fueled by various authors and genres, from theology by puritans (although this is rare) to satires by Doug WIlson to absolutely anything GK Chesterton ever wrote about anything. Sometimes biographies are what I crave. Other times I go back and read Tolkien for the 100th time. Find what fuels your heart and makes you love God more. If you pick something by Joel Olsteen…just get out of the ministry.
Here’s my advice: if you have a limited amount of time, don’t use it learning Greek (or Hebrew) unless you have some very significant interest. The odds are you will not learn it well enough to do any good with it. But that’s just my opinion.
There you have it, my friend. The only additional comment I would make is that I purchase the vast majority of my books on my Kindle, which saves a ton of money and space. The best place to find Kindle deals on Christian books is here, where a guy named Tim Challies collects deals every deal. For example, at the top of his list today is Knowing God. Sounds like Providence, to me.