The pool is open, and summer is almost upon us! Whatever stage of life you may find yourself in, I hope the next few months for you will give you the opportunity to rest, take a break, and enjoy some good weather and even better company. But I also want to encourage you to use some time this summer to grow and challenge yourself in new ways. One of the best ways to do that is through reading. Not only do you expose yourself to new people and ideas, but you also become a better reader of Scripture, which in turn can help you become like Jesus.
If you’re looking for good books to read this summer, allow me to recommend to you 10 books that I think would be of great value to you. While anyone could benefit from these books, I have the church members in mind who I have the privilege of pastoring at Shady Grove Presbyterian Church. Each of these books can be loosely categorized under a broad heading of community. For those of you who call Shady Grove your home, I want us to grow together in becoming a family that can only be explained by the gospel of God’s grace to us in Christ. I believe these books can help us do that.
I do have your summer vacations in mind with these books! I’ve tried to choose books that won’t take you too terribly long to read, that are engaging and well-written, and will leave a lasting impact on you. So whether you’re having a staycation or heading to the beach, take one or two of these books along.
- The Gospel Comes with a Housekey by Rosaria Butterfield
This is a book that I have been promoting for some time. While these books aren’t in any particular order, this might be the one I wish all of our church members would read.
You might be familiar with Rosaria Butterfield’s testimony of God making her come alive. This is her third book where she makes the argument that if Christians are going to reach our post-Christian culture, they’re going to have to begin to practice what she calls radically ordinary hospitality.
This book will move you but also challenge you. It will cause you to see just how much of your life has been more discipled by the American Dream than Jesus. And it will help you see how the ordinary practice of opening your home to the neighborhood is the basic ABC’s of what it means to be a Christian. God never gets the address wrong. I would love for our church (and other local churches) to get a vision of using our homes and our resources to bless this small corner of the world where we live.
- Everybody Always by Bob Goff
Bob Goff is the founder of an organization called Love Does, a nonprofit that operates schools and safe houses as well as pursues justice for women and children in areas such as Uganda, Somalia, and Iraq. He is a brilliant story teller that has a gift for using story to bring the teachings of Jesus alive. Each of the chapters are short and mostly independent of one another, which makes this a great book to pick up and read in 15 minute bursts. But I don’t think you’ll want to put it down.
This book will make you laugh and cry. It will also inspire you. Bob will show you what it looks like for a follower of Jesus to become love. One of our greatest problem is that we making loving others a lot more complicated than Jesus did. Do you want to grow in your ability to love other church members? Your neighbors? Your coworkers? Read this book. You won’t regret it.
- Work: Its Purpose, Dignity and Transformation by Dan Doriani.
I know you may be thinking, “Ben, why would I want to read a book about work on vacation?” But what better time to grow in your understanding of the calling God has put on your life? Most people see summer as a time to escape from work. What if you saw this summer as a time to grow as an employee and coworker? That might make a statement.
D.A. Carson says this is the best book on the subject of the Christian view of work. One of the things Doriani is responding to is this idea that “all work matters and is equally valuable” that is often promoted in churches. He pushes back on that to help us see what kind of work God values and how we go about doing it.
Many of you work in highly educated fields – STEM, corporate finance, or for the federal government. You’re often presented with new opportunities of employment where you have to decide what is best for you and your family. This book will help you work through your career and any future opportunities that might come your way.
Doriani is blunt and to the point. He’s going to make you think. But I also think he’ll make you a better worker – no matter your calling. If we’re going to make a gospel impact in this place we call home, for many of us it will begin in the place where we’re spending 40 or more hours every week.
- The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby
This next book requires you to read with a humble and open heart. The Color of Compromise is a quick, well-written history on the American Evangelical Church and its responsibility for racial injustice. Tisby argues that the American Church has helped create racist ideas as practices. It is also the institution which has worked against racial justice for centuries.
History isn’t over. The story in this book is just the prologue to a story that is still being written. You may not agree with every assessment or conclusion that Tisby makes. But it would be good for us to wrestle with this history and its implications on our church community today. If we want to grow in our ability to be a welcoming and engaging community, we need to listen to this history, feel the pain in its pages, and talk about what we can do as a church to write a better story in the present.
- Everyday Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis
This is a really special book. It has a lot of big ideas that are boiled down to really simple, moving challenges of where the local church needs to grow and be on mission. Using 1 Peter as their primary text, the authors take us through the wisdom of this letter that was written to a Christian community that was living life on the margins of society. They show us the application to our context today in this post-Christian world we live in.
I really love this book. If you want to know how to better understand our context, if you want to know how you can help our church grow in reaching Montgomery County, if you want to be challenged to view the local church in a new and powerful way – please read this book.
Like Rosaria’s book, the authors will show you how God’s plan to see the gospel move forward is not primarily through the work of individual evangelists or missionaries, but from the local church community joining together with a common mission to reach their city. That’s the kind of church I want to be a part of, and I hope you do too!
- The Book Your Pastor Wishes You Would Read by Christopher Ash
This next book is a little awkward for me to recommend to you, but I’m going to do it anyways. Christopher Ash is a great author, and he recently came out with a new book called The Book Your Pastor Wishes You Would Read (but is too embarrassed to ask). It is a short book which basically tells you how to care for your pastors. Do you see now why this is awkward for me to recommend!?
Ash is a retired pastor so he’s writing from a place of experience. He’s pulling from Hebrews 13 vs. 17 which says that church members out to submit and care for their pastors, so their work is a joy and not a burden, because otherwise that would be of no benefit to the church members. He shows in several short chapters the positive impact that caring for church leaders can have on the local church. He also gives you insight into the life of a pastor so you can better understand our work and responsibilities.
Since coming to Shady Grove, I have on several occasions been asked what my full-time job is the rest of the week. Imagine the look of surprise when I respond, “Still a pastor!” If you want to grow in your love for the local church and understanding of the work of a pastor, I think this would be a good book to read.
- Strength to Love by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a man that everyone has an opinion on but very few people have ever spent time getting to know. While there are a lot of biographies out there to help you know the facts about Dr. King, I don’t think there’s any better way to get to know him than to just read his work. It’s the closest we can get to spending time with him today.
Strength to Love is a beautiful collection of his sermons. First delivered in an oratory fashion, Dr. King was hesitant to put any of these in writing for book form. While I’m sure they were incredibly powerful to hear him preach these live, they’re still moving and powerful today in written form. Like Everybody Always, the chapters are pretty short and unrelated which makes this a great book for on-the-go reading.
This book will make you a better Christian. It will help you apply Scripture to cultural issues. And it will help you see why Dr. King was a man the people either loved to follow or loved to hate.
- Anything Brené Brown!
I cannot recommend to you just one of Brené Brown’s books. What I can tell you is that she is an author every Evangelical Christian needs to be familiar with if you want to know how to bring our faith to bear on the lives of your friends and loved ones. Brown does an amazing job at showing what shame is, how it is different from guilt, and the devastating effects it has on people. She combines brilliant research, piercing social commentary, and wonderful writing all into books that are both delightful and necessary for us to read.
She’s written several books now, so if you need help deciding I would go with either Dare to Lead or Daring Greatly. The first is written for those of you who many bear certain leadership responsibilities. I read it when it first came out earlier this year and she helped me see how most of my leadership is in some way driven by shame. Daring Greatly is probably her most well-known book and is a good introduction to her work, even though it’s a few years old now.
- The Art of Community: Seven Principles for Belonging by Charles Vogl
I came across this next book last year and was surprised by how insightful it was. Vogl helps us to see that if we are able to build deep and lasting community, we will have a profound impact on the people where we live. While other some of the other books on this list provide the inspiration for growing our church community, this book has much more of the nuts and bolts. I believe our church would really benefit if our members picked up this book and helped to implement these principles where ever they serve.
While this book isn’t written for churches specifically, this should be an area where every church ought to excel. What purpose do we have if we are unable to build real community where people can love one another and bring others in to share in that love?
- Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
This last book is the only work of fiction on the list. Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry is a difficult book to describe. It is the hauntingly melancholy story of a man who abandons his plans to be a minister and instead becomes a barber in small-town America. This book will leave you aching for a sense of place and community. It will open your heart to valuing your neighbors as people with their own stories and struggles. And it will move you to long for deeper relationships with those whom you love.
That’s it for the list. Let me know if you decide to read any of these books this summer, I’d love to hear from you and discuss them with you!