Top Five Books of 2019 (but I mention 9)

2019 has been a good year for reading. And as the year draws to a close, I reflect over my reading list for the year (read my earlier blog on reading lists) and a few books stand out that are entertaining and insightful. So to close out the year, here’s my list of the Top Five books I read in 2019.

Before theTop Five, however, are a couple of books that could have easily been on the list. These two books stretched my thinking and helped shape upcoming sermon series. The first is Why We Need the Church to Become More Like Jesus by Joe Hellerman. We are called to follow Jesus in community, and Hellerman exegetes significant texts to highlight our need for the body of Christ. The second is Saved by Faith and Hospitality by Joshua Jipp. Hospitality is an overlooked priority of Scripture, and though I may not agree with all of Jipp’s applications, he challenged me to think more deeply about welcoming all around me.

Ok. Here are my Top 5:

Leadership Pain: The Classroom for Growth

(5) Leadership Pain, Sam Chand. Leadership requires implementing change. By definition, change includes an element of loss, which results in pain — both for the organization and the leader. The bottom line of the book: you will never grow beyond your threshold of pain. This was a sobering and insightful book to read as I prepared to enter a new season of ministry.

The Haunting of Hill House (Penguin Classics)

(4) Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson. Full disclosure: this is the first horror book I have read. I was not sure what to expect as I dipped my toe into a new genre, but found the book engaging as we followed Eleanor’s journey through the mysteries of Hill House. Jackson is masterful in her prose and storytelling, as is obvious from the opening of the book:

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

Evangelism in a Skeptical World: How to Make the Unbelievable News about Jesus More Believable

(3) Evangelism in a Skeptical World, Sam Chan. I would challenge every follower of Jesus to read a book on evangelism every year, and this is a good one. Chan was especially strong in helping readers craft their personal story of following Jesus. I read a couple of chapters in this book as research for my dissertation, then made a priority of returning and reading it cover to cover. By the way, another book I thoroughly enjoyed is Winsome Persuasion by Tim Muelhoff and Rick Langer, which considers how the church engages our culture.

The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift That Changes Everything

(2) The Trellis and the Vine, Colin Marshall and Tony Payne. I read The Trellis and the Vine several years ago and revisited it this year as our church prayerfully considers our discipleship strategy. The metaphor of erecting a trellis to the neglect of tending the vine is a strong image that moves discipleship to a relational (rather than merely programmatic) emphasis. I have already started The Vine Project, Marsall and Payne’s follow-up book, perhaps it will be on my 2020 list.

(1) Scrappy Church, Thom Rainer. This may be the shortest book I read this year, but it was one of the most significant. This summer, I accepted the position of lead pastor at The Bridge Church in Newbury Park, CA, and this book quickly caught my attention. The Bridge is a scrappy church — though we have been through difficult seasons, we are convinced God is not finished with us, and this small book gives a simple blueprint for moving forward. Rainer observes that revitalized churches share three common priorities: an outreach deluge, become a welcoming church, and develop strategies to retain church attenders. Many of our church leaders read this small book, and we will put implement several of the recommended strategies.

Please comment any books you especially enjoyed in 2019 — and happy reading in 2020!

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