By Bud Brown
It has been my privilege to mentor pastors who want to see their churches become more effective at winning people to faith in Jesus. I’ve read countless volumes, journal articles, and academic papers on this topic. At one point, over twenty feet of my library shelves bulged with these materials. I have culled them down to a handful of books I find especially helpful for pastors.
Whether you seek to cultivate greater spiritual depth or more effective evangelism in your church, these five volumes will reward your reading. One is a delightful, informative, and thought-provoking introduction to “mission” as a theme that organizes the Biblical narrative. Another shows how all churches stay on mission throughout their life cycles. Two suggest a new paradigm to enhance church leadership. Finally, there’s a “tool box” many will find helpful with the daily issues of pastoral ministry.
Mission as Hermeneutic
Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission. Zondervan, 2010. 301 pages.
Wright’s helpful manual explains how a church can stay on mission at every point in its life cycle.
My colleagues and I have learned that we can accurately predict several things about any church stuck on a plateau or trapped in a death spiral. Invariably, the pastors of these churches struggle to explain how their churches connect to and advance the Biblical narrative.
As a result, they lack compelling arguments in favor of beneficial change. Discussions about proposed changes—intended to help the church minister more effectively—devolve into arguments over taste and preference.
Christopher Wright’s book approaches the Biblical narrative from the Biblical theologian’s perspective. He uses the concept of “mission” as his unifying theme to organize his theology. Although his view of the current nature of the kingdom of God differs from mine, I find that his work makes it much easier for pastors to connect the purpose of the local church to God’s initiative in creation.
This is especially needful in low functioning churches because it provides objective Biblical means for assessing a church’s ministry and reallocating its resources into more effective work.
Gary L. McIntosh, Taking Your Church to the Next Level: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Baker, 2009. 215 pages.
A lot has been written on breaking the 200 barrier. A few books are actually beneficial.
McIntosh’s book is extremely helpful in two ways. First, it provides useful insight into the organizational dynamics which cause churches to stall at various congregational sizes. He observes that “the diminution of consensus about organizational values and goals is a normal consequence of growth…[due] mostly to the brute fact that as an organization grows, its relationships to its members and to the environment necessarily change.”
How many churches get stuck on a plateau because the pastor doesn’t realize he must change the way he relates to church members?
Second, McIntosh specifies how a pastor’s leadership behaviors must change as the church grows. He gently tutors pastors through several
paradigm shifts—e.g. from “chaplain” in the family-sized church to managerial leader in the mid-sized church—that keep the growing church a growing church.
This book will reward you with a detailed task list and a workable plan if you read it with pen and paper in hand.
New Leadership Paradigms
This brings us to the most fundamental (and often most difficult) change required to move a church off plateau. The single most important
change occurs in the heart and mind of the pastor. The ability to lead a stagnant church to new life and effective mission rises or falls on how the pastor thinks about himself, his role in the life of the church, and whom he thinks he is leading. Pastors we’ve worked with have found three books particularly helpful.
Jack Shitama, Anxious Church, Anxious People: How to Lead Change in an Age of Anxiety. Charis Works, Inc., 2018. 153 pages.
This insightful and helpful guide will change the way you answer the question, “Who is it that I’m leading as pastor of this troubled church?” Shitama’s adroit, lucid explanation of the application of systems theory to the church provides a global perspective on church leadership. Pastors will gain significant insight into why churches invariably react to anxiety in predictable patterns.
Reflective reading and thoughtful consideration will reward you with insight on how to lead difficult churches or respond to challenging
issues. You’ll find tools that will help you develop reasoned responses based on principle. As you become proficient with this new leadership style, you will avoid unproductive reactivity based on emotional pain.
In time your church will enact beneficial changes that move the church to higher levels of function, more effective ministry, and conversion
growth. Along the way you will find yourself maturing in Christ and becoming more confident, better able to handle criticism, and find greater satisfaction in your service.
Lavern Brown, Gordon Penfold, Gary Westra, Pastor Unique: Becoming A Turnaround Pastor. Westbow Press, 2016. 310 pages.
Okay, I admit that this one is a bit self-serving. But apart from my personal interest in the book, the fact remains that this volume represents groundbreaking research into the leadership behaviors that result in church revitalization. Gary McIntosh, the dean of church growth research, has written that “each year thousands of books are written, published, and distributed. Few are really significant works. Pastor Unique is, in my view, a significant book.”
Rather than using typology, which is grounded in Jungian archetypes, this research employed a statistically reliable and valid instrument (the Birkman Method™). This enables us to delve into the underlying needs that are manifested in leadership behaviors and stress responses. Several chapters apply the research findings to such crucial challenges as leading change and managing conflict.
Practical Ministry Help
George G. Hunter, III, Leading & Managing a Growing Church. Abingdon, 2000. 156 pages.
The research literature is replete with evidence that pastors often fail in ministry due to a lack of two things: a lack of training in managerial skills and counterproductive relationship management skills. Hunter’s book addresses the first problem. (The two books in the previous category address the second).
Extensive research and years of experience inform this insightful and Biblical approach to church management. He specifies church management processes that most books on leadership take for granted. The result is a practical guide and a proven paradigm for leading a growing and changing church.
Pastors face many interesting, occasionally difficult, challenges these days. Whether your interest is in improving your church’s evangelistic ministry or cultivating greater spiritual depth, these books will guide you as you think carefully about how you lead.
Bud Brown is President and Co-Founder at Turnaround Pastors. He is the co-author of Pastor Unique: Becoming A Turnaround Pastor.