By Ben Mandrell
Many pastors are book-ish. Showing off their library sometimes seems as natural as showing off their kids! If you love staring at shelves of books, then you are my people. I even recently rotated my desk so that books would be in the background on my Zoom calls. I need help, I know.
A long time ago, I heard Pastor Adrian Rogers say, “Become friends with your books.” I took that advice to heart, and have drawn close to the printed pages over the years. Here are five of my closest friends.
Why Don’t We Listen Better? By Jim Petersen
The book is off the beaten path, but it has helped me tremendously in dealing with heated emotions in ministry. Pastors must learn the skill of receiving and absorbing the emotions of staff, leaders, volunteers, laypeople, and even members of the local community.
Passion for ministry can create tense moments, and it’s vital to handle them with care. By reading Petersen, I discovered practical ways to diffuse tension and to serve those “inflated” with passionate feelings. The communication principles are game-changing for marriage and parenting as well.
2. The Master Plan of Evangelism, by Robert Coleman
As a pastor, I’d rifle through the old pages of this classic once a year, remembering the one-liners. Skimming through this old book always felt like catching the tail end of Shawshank Redemption on TBS (for the 32nd time). Coleman never gets old and the opening lines still draw me in:
“It all started by Jesus calling a few men to follow him. This revealed immediately the
direction his evangelistic strategy would take. His concern was not with programs to
reach the multitudes, but with men whom the multitudes would follow.”
3. Preach the Word Commentary Series, Edited by R. Kent Hughes
The argument rages on: does sermon prep count as devotional time? I see the wisdom on both sides of the age-old debate. For me, however, the Preach the Word series accomplished both as I prepared the weekly message for the flock.
The series strikes that beautiful tension between exposition and application. A diversity of commentaries is essential for balanced preaching, but this set seemed to grow me as a person while also growing the sermon.
4. The Reason for God, by Tim Keller
Who do we most often fail to address in our preaching? The skeptic. Keller hit me between the eyes on this. While I usually have to read Keller’s books several times before they sink in (his brain is the size of Texas), I must say that the return on the investment of this read is immeasurable.
By reading and rereading this book, I felt my antennas rising as I preached. I developed eyes for those who are struggling to believe the Bible, but longing to find God. Like every other preacher, I easily default to preaching to the choir. Keller provides the wake-up call we all need in this one.
5. Surprised by Joy, by C.S. Lewis
I’ll never forget the day I walked the sand of Orange Beach, Alabama, riveted by the audio of Lewis’ life story. He opened some doors I didn’t know existed. He taught me what longing means.
As a pastor, I often found my “joy tank” depleting. When it comes to full-time ministry, disillusionment is as easy to find as a Starbucks on a street corner. Lewis gave me back the childlike wonder of Christianity—the longing to be at home with God while slogging through this broken world.
He grew my love for God and increased my zeal for learning. “A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.”
In closing, as my friend Devin reminded me: “Every Christian testimony has a bibliography attached.” I agree. These are just a few books from mine. I’d love to know—who are your “friends,” the books that have helped to shape your ministry?