5 Books Every Christian Leader Should Read in the Next 12 Months

“What books would you recommend leaders read these days?”

It’s a question I’m asked regularly by leaders, most of them faith-based. It’s a question I enjoy answering because I love interacting with leaders who are constantly looking to grow. As the adage goes, leaders are readers.

Above all else, I encourage leaders to read and engage with Scripture on a daily basis. Rooting and anchoring ourselves in God’s Word is an irreplaceable source of guidance, wisdom, perspective, hope, challenge and encouragement for our lives.

But in addition to being rooted in Scripture, I strongly recommend these five books for leaders to read over the next twelve months.


[1] Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

by Cal Newport


WHY deep work?

I’m a huge advocate of this book and tell anybody who will listen about its importance. Why? Because few books have had a greater impact on me in the past few years than this one. It has revolutionized the way I work, how I work and what I work on. It has taught me the immense power of focus and how to be disciplined (and remain in that disciplined space) when I work. Newport is a clear writer who gives many examples of focused work in his own life and the lives of many others. His approach is simple, but certainly not easy. And truthfully, I don’t even agree with everything he writes (especially his chapter on email). But I owe much to Newport for helping me to eliminate distraction and challenging and inspiring me to remain focused in my work without being a workaholic. This is worth its weight in gold. But don’t just take my word for it: many of the leaders I’ve recommended the book to have told me it’s changed the way they work and lead, too; now they are now recommended the book to others.


[2] Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

by Greg McKeown


Why Essentialism?

Similar to Deep Work, this book has helped me gain clarity on the difference between what is good and what is essential. McKeown speaks about the undisciplined pursuit of more versus the disciplined pursuit of less. While “less is more” seems like a well-worn cliché, this book gives it teeth, offering a convincing argument why it’s so significant—and, most importantly, gives practical and reasonable ways to live out this less-is-more way of life. McKeown challenges reader to regularly engage what he calls Quarterly Personal Off-Site days—something I’ve done religiously and frequently the past few years. These QPOS days help me to review the past few months of my life, think critically and clearly about what is most important to me, and to discern where and how I spend my time in the next few months. It is such a clarifying practice for me as a leader. It has revolutionized how I approach my year, my month, my week and my day and helps me sort out what are seemingly good ideas and what is absolutely essential to me to invest my one and only life doing—and not doing.



Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stake are High

by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, & Switzler


Why Crucial Conversations?

All leaders face conflict and tension, either from opponents, their own team or both – and yet so few leaders have been equipped with tools to know how to handle conflict healthily. I’ve not read a better book which helps leaders navigate conflict in practical ways than this one. It’s rooted in research, but it’s not dry. It is well written and easily accessible. It’s full of real-life stories, yet also offers numerous specific tools and practical examples of how to navigate conflict individually and as a team. This book has given me courage, perspective, clarity and calm when I need it most. I go back to it regularly and have led teams through it more than once. Since conflict will never be absent in leadership, I see no reason why leaders would not want to be equipped to know how to handle these situations better.


[4] Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory

by Tod Bolsinger


Why Canoeing the Mountians?

This is another amazing book. Bolsinger uses the Lewis and Clark story as a metaphor for the kind of courage and adaptability needed to lead in uncharted territory, especially those in church leadership. The book challenges leaders to draw on their courage, utilize their instincts and experiences, while also drawing new maps of leadership real-time. This sometimes means we have to abandon our canoes and oars in order to move forward. This is well-written, engaging and a pastorally prophetic call for the Church in North America to move away from our pervasive idols of self-preservation and comfort in order to move deeper into an adventure with God in His mission. I loved this book and I continue to hear other leaders share how it was equally encouraging as it was challenging to their leadership journeys. I wish every pastor, elder and kingdom leader would read this book – and soon.


[5] In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership

by Henri Nouwen


Why In the Name of Jesus?

I read this book long ago, when I was in middle school. My guess is many Christian leaders have already read this short, classic book as well. This is such a significant and incisive book, I commit to re-reading it at least once (sometimes twice) a year. The three temptations of leadership Nouwen addresses – to be relevant, spectacular and powerful – are dangerously omnipresent. Because of this, I need this book as a frequent reorientation and jolting reminder of the values and the priorities of leadership in the kingdom of God. Nouwen wrote this thirty years ago yet it’s message continues to remain as important today as the year it was published. If you’ve never read it before, start with this one. If you’ve read it before, commit to re-reading it in the next year. The message of the book is that important.

Have you read any of these five books? What were your thoughts, what did you learn, how did it impact you? Leave us a comment below and share your thoughts.

J.R. BriggsComment