Ten Books Every Pastor Should Own

April 6, 2011 | 11 Comments

While I was on vacation last month, my friend JR Briggs asked this question:

Asking all seminary grads: “Besides the Scriptures, which 10 books would you recommend every seminary graduate own?” What would you say?less than a minute ago via TweetDeck

JR’s question grabbed hold of my attention, but being on vacation, I shelved it to revisit a a better time. This is that time. I guess what JR’s question really boils down to for me is, “What ten books do you think every pastor would engage with?” Below is my list, and the books are in the order that I read them dating from 2004, all the way through a few hours ago.

These books were paradigm changers for me. Some represent the culmination of other reading, while others stand alone as the fulcrum of a shift in my thinking. Few of these were assigned seminary texts for me, though most of the first eight were cited in at least one paper along the way. They are not all academic, but all require the kind of deep engagement that I think those who would lead a church community should be willing to do.

And in the spirit of mythical guitar amps, my list goes go 11.

The Divine Conspiracy, by Dallas Willard ( Hardcover | Kindle )
I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard this book mentioned in conversations about topics like this one. Between my own reading and reading it with others, I’ve read it three times now. It began a beautiful renovation of my understanding of what it means to follow Jesus. The renovation isn’t yet complete, and I hope it never is.

Let Your Life Speak, by Parker Palmer ( Hardcover | Kindle )
Palmer writes straight to the soul, and help the reader listen to their own soul in the process. Every pastor or spiritual leader will benefit from paying attention to their own soul and the calling to vocation that is found within.

A Peculiar People, by Rodney Clapp ( Paperback )
This book helped gel thinking that was being shaped from a lot of the conversations and reading I was in the middle of. As the sub-title says — “The Church as Culture in Post-Christian Society” — Clapp helped me reshape how I saw the church in relationship to the culture it is part of.

The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, by Lesslie Newbigin ( Paperback | Kindle )
Newbigin is one of the earliest and most important voices in the missional church conversation, and this is his primary contribution. I wrote more about his importance in this post.

Theology for the Community of God, by Stanley Grenz ( Paperback | Kindle )
I suppose everyone needs to have some systematic theology on their shelves, so this would be my desert island systematic theology book. I love theology, but don’t enjoy reading systematic theology as much. In this case, I appreciate how Grenz ties his theology together with a common thread of community.

The Healing Path, by Dan Allender ( Paperback )
There isn’t a book that can capture my experience at Mars Hill Grad School, but this book offers some of it. A pastor or spiritual leader in any role has to be equipped to see the pains of the heart in themselves and others. I have a deep respect for how Allender integrates, and lives out, his shared training in theology and therapy.

The Resurrection of the Son of God, by NT Wright ( Paperback | Kindle )
Resurrection is at the center of the Christian faith, and this is the most thorough analysis on the importance of the resurrection for both the original and the contemporary meaning. A primary theme alongside resurrection was a challenge to the dualism that is sometimes subtle, but pervasive, in Western Christianity.

Transforming Mission, by David Bosch ( Paperback )
From my own words: “This book is a classic on mission, and rightfully so. David Bosch traces the history of how mission has been understood, and how that understanding has been shaped by context. When seeing how others have formed their understanding of mission from their context, it helps us to step back and form a more clear image of how we have rightly or wrongly understood mission in our time.”

The Christ of the Indian Road, by E Stanley Jones ( Paperback )
We moved to Austin with the intention of living like missionaries, trying to listen deeply to this city and understand what form Chrsitianity might take in this context. This book chronicles Jones’ attempt at the same thing in India, and helped me think through how to go about it.

Manifold Witness, by John Franke ( Paperback | Kindle )
This book represents, and best pulls together, a broad stroke of other reading and dialogue. A full understanding of God is not to be had apart from dialogue, and certainly will not be contained by any individual or tradition. Franke invites us to learn more about who God is by stepping into dialogue with those who don’t think like us.

God and Creation, by Jurgen Moltmann ( Paperback | Kindle )
Moltmann pairs well with the Wright book above, undermining the dualism of Western Chrsitianity and leaving the reader with fresh perspectives on the work and presence of God in the everyday. Especially helpful is the final portion of the book, devoted to the practice of Sabbath and the experiences with God to be found within it.

The Pastor, by Eugene Peterson ( Hardcover | Kindle )
I have about three chapters to go, but this feels like a very important book to me. (And a longer post will be coming.) The term “pastor” is flippantly tossed around in North America Evangelicalism, dropped after a defining, and programming based, modifier for just about any paid leader in a church. Peterson tells of his experience to remind us of what a pastor is.

So there it is. A list than began with 25 books and was painfully scissored down to eleven. And looking back on it, I see one theme is missing that I’m being challenged on — there is little here on the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church and the individual. I suppose that is why this list will never be complete, and why I keep reading.

Would love to hear what books others think would be essential on this list.

  • I have only read 3 of the list. But I would definitely include those three. I have one more that I just haven’t read yet.

    For the Holy Spirit book, I would put in Flames of Love by Clark Pinnock. I know that some would object and I certainly don’t agree with everything in the book, but I simply don’t know a better book about the Holy Spirit. And I think modern Evangelical need more good theology of the Holy Spirit. As Francis Chan’s book suggests, I do think that we often replace the Holy Spirit with the Holy Scriptures as the third member of the trinity.

    • JohnChandler

      Thanks for the comment Adam. I’m curious what other books you might add to this list.

      • Adam Shields

        I think I would add something on spiritual disciplines (foster or Whitney). There are several that are very good but if a pastor cannot see value in pursuing (not necessarily being good at, but at least pursuing spiritual disciplines they cannot speak to a lay person about it).

        And something on prayer. I wish Peterson spoke more openly about this, but I think the lack of prayer among pastors is the greatest sign of ‘lone ranger’ pastors. Probably suggest EM Bounds but maybe Reese Howel Intercessor or Spiritual Secret of Hudson Taylor.

        And I would hate to have two books by one living author, but Practice Resurrection is one of the better books on the role of the church that I have read.

        • JohnChandler

          Yes…I also considered Spirit of the Disciplines, but it had suffered from the same “two books from one author” fate you mention.

          I spread out my reading of Practice Resurrection over a few months as our church community was working through Ephesians. Even then I thought it was great, but I bet it would have a stronger impact to read through it in a shorter timeframe.

  • Erick Bauman

    The Shack! Hands down the greatest work of Christian literature, then anything by Donald Miller. Only because I’m too relevant to know who G.K Chesterton is…

  • That looks like a fantastic list. We’ve read a couple of them in seminary.

    Two of the books we’ve read that are sticking with me are:
    Prophets and the Promise: Being for Substance; The Lectures for 1902-1903 (Willis J Beecher)
    Paul’s Idea of Community: The Early House Churches in Their Cultural Setting (Robert J Banks)

    I’m reading through two books for a formation course right now that I’m enjoying, but it’s too soon to tell whether they’re game-changers or not:
    Becoming Whole and Holy: An Integrative Conversation about Christian Formation (Jeannine Brown, Carla Dahl, Wyndy Corbin Reuschling)
    Transforming Spirituality: Integrating Theology and Psychology (F. LeRon Shults, Steven J Sandage)

    One more that wasn’t for a class, but is having a profound effect on me right now:
    Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions: Engaging the Mystery of Friendship Between Men and Women (Dan J Brennan)

    • JohnChandler

      Thanks for the comments. I’m not familiar with any of the books you mention, but I’ll give all of them a look.


  • TLO

    Definitely not Eugene Peterson after he endorsed New Age philosopher Rob Bell.

    Sort of disappointed by that list. J. Vernon McGee “You’re stranded on an island what 3 books do you take?” 1. Bible of course 2. Bible concordance 3. Bible dictionary.

    The other 7? Not any listed above. Give me the Complete Works of Oswald Chambers, Charles Spurgeon, John Piper, Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley and John MacArthur should be plenty of reading material for a long time.

  • Elizabeth Jackson

    The Drama of Scripture, by Bartholomew and Goheen
    The Shaping of Things to Come by Frost and Hirsch

    Both of these had a huge impact on me when I began my seminary journey.


  • Elizabeth Jackson


    Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation
    by Ruth Haley Barton


    • JohnChandler

      Thanks Elizabeth. I definitely considered Shaping of Things to Come and ultimately didn’t include it because I think it is not quite as timeless as the others.

      Barton is a great idea. I’ve not read that one, but enjoyed other things I’ve read by her.