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10 Helpful Books for Church Leaders

While this list is by no means exhaustive, we think the following 10 books would be valuable for every church leader to read and have in their library. Feel free to leave a comment and let us know which books you would add to the list—we’d love to hear your recommendations.

Gospel-Centered Discipleship by Jonathan K. Dodson

Everyone’s idea of discipleship is different. Some people emphasize evangelism—sharing their faith. Still others promote a hierarchical system for spiritual growth, a way for older Christians to pass on best practices to younger believers. Yet, both ideas are incomplete. Real discipleship is so much more.

Avoiding extremes and evaluating motives, Jonathan Dodson insists on a way of following Jesus that re-centers discipleship on the gospel.

This book helps us understand and experience the fullness of discipleship as God intended. It combines the mess and the weight, the imperfection and transformation, the honesty and wonder of being a disciple who revolves around Jesus. Here is a practical guide to discipleship that is Spirit-filled, Christ-centered, field-tested, and easily implemented.

Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God by Bob Kauflin

Nothing is more essential than knowing how to worship the God who created us. This book focuses readers on the essentials of God-honoring worship, combining biblical foundations with practical application in a way that works in the real world. The author, a pastor and noted songwriter, skillfully instructs pastors, musicians, and church leaders so that they can root their congregational worship in unchanging scriptural principles, not divisive cultural trends. Bob Kauflin covers a variety of topics such as the devastating effects of worshiping the wrong things, how to base our worship on God’s self-revelation rather than our assumptions, the fuel of worship, the community of worship, and the ways that eternity’s worship should affect our earthly worship.

Appropriate for Christians from varied backgrounds and for various denominations, this book will bring a vital perspective to what readers think they understand about praising God.

Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis

“Church is not a meeting you attend or a place you enter,” write pastors Tim Chester and Steve Timmis. “It’s an identity that is ours in Christ. An identity that shapes the whole of life so that life and mission become ‘total church.’” With that as their premise, they emphasize two overarching principles to govern the practice of church and mission: being gospel-centered and being community-centered. When these principles take precedence, say the authors, the truth of the Word is upheld, the mission of the gospel is carried out, and the priority of relationships is practiced in radical ways. The church becomes not just another commitment to juggle but a 24/7 lifestyle where programs, big events, and teaching from one person take a backseat to sharing lives, reaching out, and learning about God together.

In Total Church, Chester and Timmis first outline the biblical case for making gospel and community central and then apply this dual focus to evangelism, social involvement, church planting, world missions, discipleship, pastoral care, spirituality, theology, apologetics, youth and children’s work. As this insightful book calls the body of Christ to rethink its perspective and practice of church, it charts a middle path between the emerging church movement and conservative evangelicalism that all believers will find helpful.

Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson by D. A. Carson

D. A. Carson’s father was a pioneering church-planter and pastor in Quebec. But still, an ordinary pastor-except that he ministered during the decades that brought French Canada from the brutal challenges of persecution and imprisonment for Baptist ministers to spectacular growth and revival in the 1970s.

It is a story, and an era, that few in the English-speaking world know anything about. But through Tom Carson’s journals and written prayers, and the narrative and historical background supplied by his son, readers will be given a firsthand account of not only this trying time in North American church history, but of one pastor’s life and times, dreams and disappointments. With words that will ring true for every person who has devoted themselves to the Lord’s work, this unique book serves to remind readers that though the sacrifices of serving God are great, the sweetness of living a faithful, obedient life is greater still.

Am I Called?: The Summons to Pastoral Ministry by Dave Harvey

Many men have the skills to lead a church, but only some are called. Dave Harvey helps men considering pastoral ministry to see God’s active role in the process of discerning their calling.

God’s Word offers a clear framework for evaluating one’s call, especially within the context of community. Harvey offers six diagnostic questions to help prospective pastors process their calling, and what they should be doing now if they aren’t sure. Illustrated with personal and historical stories, Harvey explores biblical and practical principles for determining the pastoral call.

Over the past twenty-four years of ministry, Harvey has enjoyed assisting many men in discerning whether they are called into ministry. This book will guide you through that all-important process with wisdom and confidence in God’s faithfulness in your life.

Counsel from the Cross: Connecting Broken People to the Love of Christ by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Dennis E. Johnson

Given the evermore apparent failure of modern psychotherapies and a growing discomfort with pharmacological strategies, many churches are reaffirming the sufficiency and power of the Scriptures to change lives.

To aid churches in ministering to broken and hurting people, the authors of Counsel from the Cross present a counseling model based on Scripture and powered by the work of the wonderful counselor, Jesus Christ. Through careful exegesis and helpful case studies, they demonstrate how to provide consistently biblical, gospel-centered counseling and explain why it is important to do so.

The authors’ combined backgrounds—one, a woman trained in biblical counseling and the other, a male professor of practical theology—bring balance to this work, making it relevant for those who counsel as part of pastoral ministry and for all involved in mentoring or discipleship.

Leaders Who Last by Dave Kraft

If the Christian life is like a race, we must admit that too many Christian leaders stumble, burn out, or veer off the track. Clearly it is not automatic that a leader will finish well.

Based on Dave Kraft’s thirty-five years of leading, teaching leadership, and coaching dozens of Christian leaders, Leaders Who Last moves through three stages of leadership: foundations, formation, and fruitfulness. Concise, anecdotal, and packed with wisdom, this book will help you aim your ambitions, refine your character, and position yourself to be an effective leader who endures.

Kraft’s brief, down-to-earth guide to Christian leadership will inspire readers to finish the race well-to hit the tape in full stride with an energetic burst of speed and receive their commendation from God.

Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons by Thabiti M. Anyabwile

Every church leader knows the qualifications for elders and deacons that are spelled out in the Bible, but actually finding other leaders who fulfill the biblical qualifications can be difficult.

Thabiti Anyabwile writes from his expertise as a pastor and elder, showing how to identify and reproduce legitimate leaders and willing servants throughout the ranks of the local church. Balancing thoughtful analysis of pertinent passages with thorough application for practical use in a contemporary context, Anyabwile answers the questions, “Who should we look for to lead and serve in the church?” and “What should they do to fulfill their calling?”

Economy Bible

With the ESV Economy Bible it’s easier than ever to impact lives through the distribution of the Bible. The most affordable Bible on the market, the ESV Economy Bible features the clear English Standard Version text, making it compelling and readable to those receiving a Bible for the first time.

This paperback edition of the full ESV Bible is ideal for bulk distribution. The ESV Economy Bible has a suggested retail price of $2.99, but is available for only $1 per copy when ordered in a minimum of five cases of 48 copies each. The ESV Economy Bible features not only the full text of the ESV Bible, but also an article on What the Bible Is All About, a reading plan, and a plan of salvation. Highly affordable and designed especially for outreach, the ESV Economy Bible is a great resource for reaching the world with God’s Word.

Coming Soon from Crossway:

Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry by Paul David Tripp (Forthcoming – October 2012)

After traveling the world for many years and speaking at hundreds of churches of all kinds, Paul David Tripp is concerned about the state of pastoral culture. He is not only concerned about the spiritual life of the pastor, but with the very people who train him, call him, relate to him, and restore him if necessary. Dangerous Calling reveals the truth that the culture surrounding our pastors is spiritually unhealthy—an environment that actively undermines the wellbeing and efficacy of our church leaders and thus the entire church body. Here is a book that both diagnoses and offers cures for issues that impact every member and church leader, and gives solid strategies for fighting the war that rages not only in the momentous moments of ministry, but also in the mundane day-by-day life of every pastor.

Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis (Forthcoming – September 2012)


ns are increasingly aware that we live in a post-Christian culture. We recognize the need to adapt, but are unsure of the way forward. This book offers practical ideas for engaging with secularized society and does so in a way that is enfranchising, helping churches rely on their members instead of one leader with a dynamic personality or specialist skills. Che

ster and Timmis contend that the solution is an “everyday church” doing everyday mission with no signage except our lives. They organize the book around a missional reading of 1 Peter, since Peter’s first-century readers faced a similar situation as aliens and strangers. Gifted communicators and experienced pastors, these authors have proven their ability to be winsome and enlightening, especially in view of their success with Total Church and You Can Change.

Which titles would you add?

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Training Parrots or Making Disciples?

Does Your Preaching Teach People to Think and Read or Just Parrot Your Conclusions?

by Jim Hamilton, author of God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment and Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches.

Solid exegesis, biblical theology, and systematic theology are necessary for preaching and teaching. We don’t exercise these skills merely for our own excellence in sermon delivery, but because the people in the pews have the ability to think, analyze arguments, read the Bible for themselves, and formulate answers to questions that we may never even address from the pulpit.

Exegesis, biblical theology, systematic theology:

Exegesis is the careful analysis of the meaning of a particular passage. Good exegesis depends on having a text that accurately presents what the author actually wrote and facility with the language the author used to compose the text. Exegetes use the whole context of the book in which the passage is found, combined with comparison of other texts the author wrote, in the attempt to arrive at what the author intended to communicate in the text.

Biblical theology is canonical exegesis. That is, biblical theology seeks to correlate the meaning of relevant texts from across the pages of Scripture. Comparing the results of the exegesis of one passage with the results of the exegesis of another passage, biblical theologians seek to understand how later biblical authors understood and interacted with earlier biblical texts that they quote, allude to, or are informed by. The goal is to understand and embrace the interpretive perspective modeled by the biblical authors, tracing connections between themes and developments across the salvation historical storyline.

Systematic theology then seeks to bring everything together for a full statement of what the whole Bible teaches on particular topics. Systematic theology combines the results of exegesis, canonical reflection and correlation of those results, and an awareness of trends in the history of philosophy and interpretation. This historical and philosophical aspect of systematic theology is necessary for understanding the extra-biblical factors that have influenced both the history of interpretation and the spirit of our own age. Awareness of the history of interpretation and the temper of our times will produce humility and keep us from being conformed to the world. Done in the church and for the church, systematic theology joins with exegesis and biblical theology in the task of discipleship for the formation of a biblical worldview as the Scripture is read, prayed, preached, sung, and seen enacted.

In Bible Study and Sermon Prep:

We should not think of this is a one, two, three step process, however, as though we “finish” our exegesis before we “start” our biblical or systematic theology. We never arrive, and the more we learn in one area influences how we think about the others. Re-reading particular passages refines our biblical and systematic theology, and it goes the other way, too, as understanding biblical theological development across the canon clarifies our reading of particular passages. So there is a constant dynamic interaction between exegesis, biblical theology, and systematic theology. And all three are necessary for preaching and teaching.

There are points, too, when we will make interpretive or applicational moves that are based on sound exegetical method or on broader biblical or systematic considerations. If we are trying to convince thinking people, trying to sharpen and spur them along, we won’t feel the need to hide our work behind the finished conclusion but will want to show the rationale for our conclusions. We can’t always say everything, but we want to help people read the Bible well, not merely train them to parrot our conclusions.

James M. Hamilton Jr. (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is associate professor of biblical theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is author of God’s Indwelling Presence and numerous articles and essays.

Heart Check: Are You Working for God’s Glory or Your Own?

We all want to feel good about the efforts we make at work. But a healthy sense of accomplishment can quickly turn to smugness when our proposals are well received, our ideas affirmed, our sales made, our clients happy, or our deals done. For those in vocational ministry, the temptation may be the number of seats filled in the sanctuary, a well-received sermon, the number of people who say “thanks”, and the like. It makes us feel good about ourselves and our abilities.

A section in Don’t Waste Your Sports by C. J. Mahaney encourages athletes to do a heart-check, to see whether they are playing for their glory or God’s glory. The same principles apply to those of us who can’t dribble a ball or retired from the field when we received our high school diploma. The following is lightly adapted from C. J.’s thoughts:

There are a few telltale signs that we are working for our own glory instead of God’s glory. We know we are falling into this trap when:

  • We have no higher purpose than succeeding.
  • We are more concerned about improving our skill or accomplishing our agenda than growing in godliness.
  • We use our occupation to glorify ourselves, rather than glorifying God through godly actions.

Unfortunately, it easy to grow in our own abilities and skills while neglecting growth in humility, self-control, or other Christ-like qualities. As Christians, there are things we can do to maintain our humility and make sure we are working for God’s glory:

  • Thank God for the gifts and opportunities he has given you.
  • Recognize your limitations with humility.
  • Welcome correction and the contribution of others.
  • Honor those in positions of authority over you.
  • Put your team’s or company’s interests ahead of your own.

By consciously making these efforts, you can transform an environment that’s prone to pride and selfishness to one that appreciates humility and demonstrates the love of God.

Content modified from Don’t Waste Your Sports. Download a sample chapter.
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April 23, 2012 | Posted in: Preaching and Teaching,Pride and Humility,Vocation | Author: Crossway Staff @ 1:31 pm | 1 Comment »

An Interview with Dr. James Hamilton on “Revelation: the Spirit Speaks to the Churches”


Dr. James M. Hamilton, author of God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment, just came out with the newest in the Preaching the Word commentary series—Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches. If you aren’t familiar with the Preaching the Word series, they serve as excellent devotional as well as sermon prep resources. Hamilton was kind of enough do to a brief Q&A with us:

Why should pastors preach on Revelation?

1. Because all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable (2 Tim 3:16).
2. Because a blessing is promised to those who read, hear, and keep what Revelation reveals (Rev 1:3).
3. Because lots of people are intrigued by and eager to be taught Revelation.

What’s the best way to prepare to interpret apocalyptic literature in general and Revelation in particular?

I am convinced that the best way to interpret apocalyptic literature and Revelation is by the light of other Scripture. The apocalyptic world view is the biblical world view. We need to soak ourselves in all of Scripture so that we recognize the allusions to other passages in Revelation, and often the meaning of those other passages are crucial to understanding what John is saying in Revelation.

The ancient hermeneutical rule is still the best one: Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture.

If a pastor knows that his congregation takes a very different view of Revelation than he does, how should he go about preaching the book? Should he be trying to convert them to or away from a dispensationalist perspective and why?

As we preach through Revelation we should wrestle through the text and do our best to explain it, and there are appropriate ways to describe how our conclusions relate to the various perspectives. Again and again as I preached through the book, I found myself saying something like this: even if we disagree on how the details of this passage are to be interpreted, we can nevertheless agree on how we are to respond to this text today.

I don’t think we should worry about whether someone comes down as a dispensationalist or not. We want them to heed the message of the book, and we want the text to speak for itself.

What is the relationship between the judgments that accompany the seals, trumpets, and bowls? Are these sequential or recapitulatory?

Here’s my conclusion, the exposition of which can be found in the book: the opening of the seals in Revelation 6 corresponds to what Jesus describes in the Olivet Discourse in the Synoptic Gospels. In my view, this material describes all of church history between the two comings of Christ. The trumpets and bowls symbolize the climactic instance of the new-exodus plagues, pointing to the final redemption of God’s people. I think that the literary structure of Revelation indicates that the trumpets and bowls are complementary depictions of the final judgments that precede the coming of Christ.

What’s with the exodus imagery in Revelation? Didn’t Jesus fulfill the new exodus and return from exile in his death and resurrection? Why are we getting that imagery again in Revelation?

I would argue that we see multiple instances of the new-exodus pattern in the book of Ezra. Thus, Ezra 1–6 depicts a new-exodus at the decree issued by Cyrus, and then Ezra 7–10 depicts another new-exodus at the return authorized by Artaxerxes. The OT, then, sets a precedent for interpreting God’s actions for his people in light of the exodus pattern. The NT authors follow this precedent by interpreting the redemption Jesus accomplished in light of the exodus, the church’s ongoing life in light of Israel’s sojourn to the land of promise, and the final redemption of God’s people as the climactic exodus-style deliverance.

At the exodus from Egypt, God redeemed Israel from slavery in Egypt. At the cross, God redeemed his people from slavery to sin. At the return of Christ, God will redeem his people from bondage to corruption.

Redeemed from Egypt, God renewed Israel’s experience of his presence by giving them the tabernacle, and then he took them to the land of promise where the temple would be built. Redeemed from sin, God made his people the temple of the Spirit (1 Cor 3:16), and we sojourn toward the new Jerusalem (Heb 12:22). Redeemed from bondage to corruption, God’s dwelling will be with men (Rev 21:3), and God and the Lamb will be the temple (21:22) when the new Jerusalem comes down from God out of heaven (21:10).

James M. Hamilton is associate professor of biblical theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and blogs at For His Renown. Learn more about Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches and God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment.

Called to Pastoral Ministry? A Few Questions to Ask:

from Church Planter by Darrin Patrick

How should the church test whether or not a man is called into pastoral ministry from a skill perspective? There are at least two tests a church should consider.

The first test involves the man’s understanding of Scripture. Questions like these should be asked:

  1. Does he have a working knowledge of the whole of Scripture?
  2. Can he articulate the gospel story throughout the Scripture?
  3. Does he understand the controversial verses that have caused division in church history? (Calvinism vs. Arminianism, method, mode of baptism, and so on)
  4. Can he explain the Christ-centered nature of Christian theology?

The second test involves inspecting the fruit of his ministry. Questions like:

  1. Can he inspire the church for mission?
  2. Can he cast vision for the church and inspire people to pursue that vision with him?
  3. Can he organize the church to reach its goals?
  4. Can he set up systems and structures that run apart from his direct influence?

Explore more in Church Planter: The Man, The Message, The Mission.

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January 3, 2012 | Posted in: Church Planting,Leadership,Preaching and Teaching | Author: Crossway Staff @ 8:53 am | 0 Comments »