• Beth Jones

book recommendations, for Christians & fellow pastors, from faithful not-a-celebrity pastors

Updated: Jun 6

Once again, I've got one of my favorite things for you: book recommendations! You're going to want to add a lot of books to your reading list.

I've asked an assortment of pastors to each recommend one book for fellow pastors and one book for all Christians. It was especially fun to see that some folks recommended the same books; in fact, three times, I found the same book recommended by two pastors, back-to-back.

Stephanie Lind Schlimm

14 years in ministry, presently pastor of St. Luke’s UMC in Dubuque, IA

Recommends for pastors: Renita J. Weems, Listening for God: A Minister's Journey Through Silence. "I read this book in a season of doubt. It reassured me that there are times when even pastors feel distant from God’s presence. Yet, it is possible for a pastor to be a human, to suffer crises of faith, and to continue to shepherd through it." Also, Craig Barnes, The Pastor as Minor Poet: Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life. "This book captures the ways that a life/ministry is made up of so many seemingly minor and ordinary moments. In a society that values a highlight reel, this book helps me remember the significance of the unimpressive."

Recommends for all Christians: Kate Bowler, Everything Happens for a Reason (And Other Lies I've Loved). "This book is the antidote to prosperity driven faith. It is heart wrenching, hilarious and poignant memoir about how we show up when the our world, expectations and health are crumbling." Also, Wayne Muller, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in our Busy Lives. "This book is accessible in short chapters with powerful messages about the faithfulness of rest. Contrasting with our Western Culture, these words help me to remember the Source of my life, and the agency of God in all things."

T.J. De La Garza

22 yrs in ministry, middle school/children's/family ministries/spiritual formation pastor, (both urban and suburban contexts)

Recommends for pastors: Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress. "This book simply reminds us we are on the path contending for our souls as well, not just pointing to the path."

Recommends for all Christians: the same! The Pilgrim's Progress. "It's a reminder that the path seems long, lonely, and at times lousy...but it leads to the Lord."

Amy Peeler

6 years ordained as a priest, serves as Associate Rector.

Recommends for pastors & all Christians: The poetry devotional books by Malcom Guite. "They are a wonderful way to reflect on beauty and theology for these seasons of the church year. They have refreshed my devotional life."

Wee-Yeong Eyou

20+ years (lay ministry) and 8 years full time

Recommends for pastors & all Christians: Don Everts, I Once Was Lost: What Postmodern Skeptics Taught Us About Their Path to Jesus. "This book has transformed my thoughts and practice of evangelism in a post-Christian environment. The 'Five Thresholds - Journey to faith' has challenged traditional methods of evangelism and made me realize that some of our methods actually push people away from faith. As a result, we have begun to develop new ways to relationally engage the skeptical and unchurched."

Mark Quanstrom

36 years in pastoral ministry. 16 years in the academy as prof and dean. (they overlapped!)

Recommends for pastors: Richard John Neuhaus, Freedom for Ministry. "Best book on Pastoral. Ministry. Ever. Because he takes the incarnation seriously and yet it doesn't compromise church as an eschatological community. It addresses pastoral identity. Kept me in the ministry."

Recommends for all Christians: N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope. "Soteriology that takes creation and new creation seriously. Soteriology/eschatology that isn't escapist."

Chris Pierson

34 years in ministry; presently pastor at Gary Church Wheaton; former work includes Director of Connectional Ministry for the Northern Illinois Conference of the UMC; Director of Outreach & Witness Ministries for the conference; pastoring in Roselle, Aurora, and Chicago (Englewood)

Recommends for pastors: James Cone, The Cross & The Lynching Tree. "Cone is considered by many to be the father of Black Theology. He connects the cross of Jesus, his death/crucifixion on a tree, with the lynching of African Americans in such a way that the symbol of death becomes a symbol of liberation and hope for all peoples."

Recommends for all Christians: "The book I recommend for 'most' if not all people would be Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer leaves a rich legacy to the church through the condemnation of 'cheap grace,' which is the enemy of the Church, his teaching on all-sufficient 'costly grace,' and a deeper understanding of discipleship."

Jess Scholten

20 years in ordained ministry as a hospital chaplain, associate pastor (First Presbyterian, High Point, NC), interim pastor (PCUSA and ELCA churches), and pastor (serving River Glen Presbyterian, Naperville, IL since 2017)

Recommends for pastors: William C. Martin, The Art of Pastoring: Contemplative Reflections. "This beautiful collection of short reflections, prayers, and poetry is an invitation to God's presence - a gracious (and pointed) reminder when the work of ministry and the calling to relationship with God get out of balance."

Recommends for all Christians: Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, and Matthew Linn, Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life. "A basic introduction to the transforming practice of St. Ignatius' Examen for individuals, households, and families - regularly exploring where we see consolation (connection to God and others) and desolation (that which disconnects us), so that we can experience more of the wholeness God intends for us." Bonus rec, "for those who want a deeper invitation to connect to God in daily living," Barbara Brown Taylor's, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith.

Brian Bradford

19 years in full time ministry

Recommends for pastors: Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry. "Why? Because now more than ever, the world needs pastors who lead from a relatively healthy soul."

Recommends for all Christians: Jon and Dave Ferguson, BLESS: 5 Everyday Ways to Love Your Neighbor and Change the World. "Why? Because every believer has someone in their life who is far from God, and God wants to use that believer to reach that spiritually unresolved person with His unconditional love and saving and sanctifying grace."

Cynthia Kepler-Karrer

22 years in ministry; ordained in the United Methodist Church (Southwest Texas Annual Conference, now Rio Texas Annual Conference) ; Pastored a 2-point rural charge for the first four years, solo and senior pastor in urban appointments both in Austin and in the Rio Grande Valley for 18 years.

Recommends for pastors: "I find myself recommending the Provoking the Gospel series by Richard Swanson (all four gospels have volumes). Engaging with scripture through performance criticism has enlivened my preaching and has helped me to reckon with Incarnation in ways that pull me out of the head canon that I have about Jesus into a real engagement with the Jesus of the Gospels."

Recommends for all Christians: "I have a wide-ranging list of books that I find myself recommending based on particular needs, but one book that I find myself going back to is The Wealth of Poverty by Rev. Dr. Tina Carter and Rev. Dr. Mindy Johnson-Hicks. The book continually and helpfully challenges me about one of the realities of every bit of my 22 years of ministry, which is how my mostly middle-class congregants will be in relationship with those in both poverty and wealth with the added benefit of providing a framework for other cross-cultural shifts."

Oscar Garcia

16 years in ministry - youth pastor, associate pastor, and currently international worker.

Recommends for pastors: Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the soul of your leadership. (I love that I got this rec twice in a row!) "It’s key that those in ministry can consider our calling to do something out of the essence of our being, our true self, and how we need to slow down to pay attention to our first calling - to belong to God."

Recommends for all Christians: Lisa Sharon Harper, The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right. "I love how she depicts both the goodness of creation and the brokenness brought by sin, all in terms of relationships, and how the very good gospel restores those relationships with self, God, and others."

Sean McGever

20 years on Young Life staff and many years volunteering in various church roles.

Recommends for pastors: Hal Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor's Heart. "I recommend this book because pastors and congregants are starving for genuine pastoral care – this book shows pastors how to do that in a sustainable and healthy way."

Recommends for all Christians: C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters. "I recommend this book because it thrusts the reader into a profoundly relatable story that is thick with theological and timeless wisdom; most of Christianity is lived in our thought-life, this book uses that stage well."

Abi Cyr

25 years in ministry; Youth Ministry; Evangelistic Ministry; Church Planting; Co-Pastoring

Recommends for pastors: Pete Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Church. For churches to foster true spiritual maturity, emotional health must be a priority for pastors and the churches they lead."

Recommends for all Christians: Tim Keller, Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering. "Believers will benefit from a sound theology of pain and suffering and the invitation to life-giving engagement with God in the midst of it."

Tyran Laws

20+ years in ministry. First licensed to preach the gospel at the age of 16; senior pastor of the Christian Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church (West Pullman neighborhood of Chicago) for the last 10 years. Previously, assistant and youth pastor at a church in the Auburn-Gresham community (Chicago) and a youth pastor for a church plant in Birmingham.

Recommends for pastors: Smalley and Cunningham, From Anger To Intimacy: How Forgiveness Can Transform a Marriage. "In addition to saving my marriage, this book has made me more intellectually competent to disambiguate the string of emotions that I carry as a pastor, which has made me a better problem solver for my congregation." Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History How Our Government Segregated America. "This book will help pastors have a robust picture of some of the same issues that are still plaguing our country today and undoubtedly spark impetus for change for the Kingdom-conscious reader."Tyran also recommends Duvall and Hays, Grasping God's Word; "This book, in my estimation, is one of the clearest and most fruitful presentations to make every pastor a better exegete, and I dare say a better preacher."

Recommends for all Christians: Letters to a Birmingham Jail: A Response to the Words and Dreams of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. "Written by pastors from very different social and ethnic backgrounds, this book is a great Christian witness to the Church’s collective efforts of addressing issues of racism that still plague us today." Stephen Covey, The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything. "With applications for business owners, community developers, marriages and people who just care about relationships, this book has taught me the power of building and sustaining the trust of people in my everyday interactions." Final rec: Trent and Smalley, The Blessing: Giving the Gift of Unconditional Love and Acceptance; "I recommend this book as perhaps one of this century’s best written books on repairing emotionally unfulfilled children, and I dare say, adults whose unfulfilled childhoods have spilled over into adulthood."

Joseph Sanford

26 years in ministry; Church camp counselor (program director and site manager), Youth Ministry Director, Children’s Ministry Director, Worship Ministry, Parish Ministry as a Licensed Local Pastor and Ordained Elder.

Recommends for pastors: Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. "Friedman’s philosophy of leadership and structure will help you invest energy into more productive areas of the church and bring confidence to your vision as a pastor." Joe also recommends Richard Rohr, Jesus's Plan for a New World. "Hearing the Sermon on the Mount in its context will bring an earth-shifting revitalization to our understanding of Kingdom ethics."

Recommends for all Christians: N.T. Wright, Simply Jesus. "No book has revealed a more concise and contextual presentation of the meaning of Jesus and his work in his own political, religious, and social situation." Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church's Complicity in Racism. "It’s crucial for all Christians to learn the history of the church in regards to racism. If we are going to be peacemakers and seekers of justice, then we have to know our own story and confront our misunderstandings."

Gabriel J. Catanus

20 years in ministry; Campus minister (8 years), lead pastor (12 years), part-time professor (on and off over 4-5 years), associate director of a global Christianity research center at TEDS (1 year); [Current roles: Lead Pastor of Garden City Covenant Church, Director of the Filipino American Ministry Initiative (FAMI) and Affiliate Assistant Prof. of Theology and Ethics at Fuller]

Recommends for pastors: David G. Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery. "As a pastor, I value this book because its approach to spiritual formation is simple and accessible, compelling the kind of honest self-examination and "shadow side" work that we pastors easily remain blind to-- especially when we're seeing ministry success."

Recommends for all Christians: In the past, my answer would be Dallas Willard, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God. "So many challenges we encounter as Christians relate to our ability to discern God's will and voice, and I've found Dallas Willard's contributions to be both thoughtful and practical. Nowadays, my favorite-- especially for Christians of color-- is Rich Villodas, The Deeply Formed Life: Five Transformative Values to Root us in the Way of Jesus because in it he weaves together Christ-centered spiritual formation, racial justice, and embodiment in a way that serves a diverse, urban church well."

Katherine Willis Pershey

16+ years in ministry. Solo pastor of South Bay Christian Church for 5 years; Serving First Congregational Church of Western Springs as an associate pastor for almost twelve years.

Recommends for pastors: "It's hard to narrow my recommendations down. I do believe that all pastors should read Eugene Peterson's pastoral theology series, especially The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, but the recently-published books I most wholeheartedly recommend are the Ministry in a Secular Age trilogy by Andrew Root, beginning with Faith Formation in the Secular Age."

Recommends for all Christians: "I recommend The Love That Is God by Frederich Christian Bauerschmidt. It's beautiful and accessible theology that transcends so many divisions in the church. I loved rereading it in conversation with members of my congregation."

Jackson Wu

24 years in church ministry, missions, theological training

Recommends for pastors: Michael Goheen and Jim Mullins, The Symphony of Mission, "because it offers a robust, balanced, practical, and engaging perspective about how local churches can participate in God’s mission in the world."

For missionaries and theologians: Wu also recommends David deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship, & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture "is an accessible, systemic game changer for opening eyes to cultural dynamics shaping the biblical text."

Recommends for all Christians: Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel "helpfully reorients us to what the Bible itself sees as central to the gospel."

Bonus recommendation: Will Storr, The Status Game: On Social Position and How We Use It "is my top recommendation in new books that won't likely come across many people's radar; a constructive non Christian look at an issue affecting everyone."

Michael Agapito

Residential Director, Baptist Student Foundation (University of Illinois): 2018-2021; Associate Pastor, First Baptist Church in Mattoon: 2021-present

Recommends for pastors: Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary. "With the recent scandals that have rocked U.S. evangelicalism, I feel that there needs to be more emphasis on spiritual formation and especially character formation among clergy and in our seminaries, and this is one of many books I would recommend that has helped me approach each day thoughtfully and contemplatively." (Runner up: Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation by Ruth Haley Barton.)

Recommends for all Christians: Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel (another double rec; seems wise to pay attention!) "Speaking as an Augustinian, Reformed-ish leaning evangelical who strongly believes in penal substitutionary atonement and salvation sola gratia and sola fides, this book provides a helpful corrective to U.S. evangelicalism’s sometimes myopic individualism ('me and my personal relationship with Jesus') and puts the story of salvation within its proper context of King, kingdom, and the cosmic scope of the gospel of Jesus Christ (with implications for things ranging from ecumenism to justice!)."

Rob O’Lynn

In ministry since July 2001. He has served in Associate, Senior and Interim ministries with Churches of Christ or Independent Christian Churches in Arkansas, Texas, West Virginia and Kentucky, and is currently the Senior Minister for the Beech Street Christian Church in Ashland, Kentucky. He has also served as a chaplain for the Cabell Huntington Hospital and Kings Daughters Medical Center. Additionally, he has been involved in some form of teaching ministry, at both the undergraduate or graduate level, since 2007.

Recommends for Pastors:

David Hansen, The Art of Pastoring: Ministry Without All the Answers. "Hansen offers a carefully nuanced meditation on pastoral ministry—focusing on topics such as calling, friendship, and leaving—that reminds ministers that God calls us into ministry and then leads us to our congregations."

Recommends for all Christians: Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation. "Barton offers one of the most accessible discussions of spiritual disciplines and their relation to Christian maturity and discipleship, as well as being one of only a few books to discuss the “rule of life” and how to implement one in daily life."

Courtney Ellis

11 years as an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church, USA; 3.5 years as the solo pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Clinton, Wisconsin; 8 years as the associate pastor of Presbyterian Church of the Master in Mission Viejo, California

Recommends for pastors: Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. "It's thirty years old but has stood the test of time as a reminder to notice, to delight, and to sit still long enough to feel the sacred pulse of the cosmos."

Recommends for all Christians: Daniel Nayeri, Everything Sad is Untrue. "It's a memoir that reads like a novel, weaving in hope, tragedy, hilarity, uncertainty, the tenderness of family, the importance of community, and God's abundant grace."

Kaye Kolde

13 years in ministry; Lead Pastor at The Arbor Church; Bible teacher; Discipleship Pastor; Executive Pastor of Ministry

Recommends for pastors: Eugene Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant. "This book has beckoned me back a few times as I encounter different seasons of ministry, to 'see this immense world of God’s grace which first purges and then forges our vocations in a blaze of holiness' (Peterson p. 196)."

Recommends for all Christians*: Dallas Willard, Hearing God. "One of the most important goals for me as a pastor is for our church to learn to hear the voice of God and obey it, and this book has de-mystified that notion for many people I have recommended it to."

"*I can’t pick just one I’d recommend for all Christians, too many different types of books have been formational for me."

Troy Burns

20 years in ministry (holding various ministerial licenses in the Nazarene, Wesleyan, and Baptist Church). I have served as a youth pastor, minister to families with youth, associate pastor, senior pastor and currently as a co-pastor.

Recommends for pastors: Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer. "A great challenge to engage the culture as a pastor in a meaningful way while being transparent about our own brokenness;" Greg Heisler, Spirit-Led Preaching: The Holy Spirit's Role in Sermon Preparation and Delivery. "A practical and moving guide to exegetical preaching that moves the preacher to preach out of the fullness of his head and in full surrender to the Holy Spirit."

Recommends for Christians: David Fitch, Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines that Shape the Church for Mission. "This book can work as a great tool to teach and equip Christians to enter our culture in a way that allows us to engage people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a meaningful way that connects." Also, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together; "Perhaps the most important book for the Church today apart from the Bible. We desperately need to devour and live out this book!"

Aaron Rooks

7 years in ministry; youth ministry (6 yrs) & church planting (current)

Recommends for pastors: Stephen A. Seamands, Ministry In the Image of God. "This book is a must read for every pastor to understand that we have been invited into the ministry of the triune God, not us inviting him into ours."

Recommends for all Christians: Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms. "As Christians, it is crucial that we center our lives around walking with God. Haley Barton helps us to do that."

Ryan Quanstrom

14 years in ministry, associate pastor, church planter, solo pastor.

Recommends for pastors: Lesslie Newbigin, The Good Shepherd. "This book of short essays reminds clergy of our many callings and the integrity with which we should pursue them."

Recommends for all Christians: Amy Laura Hall, Laughing at the Devil. "Dr. Hall's book on Julian of Norwich provides a vision of God's love and action which accounts for the smallest of things, and it reveals how we can rightly say, 'All shall be well.'"