Each year, I post a list of my favorite books, the ones I would call the best books of the year. To see my list of favorite books from past years, simply click on the numbers: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. To me, I love this list because it shows what has influenced me in the past year, where I’m growing and what God is teaching me. If you are a leader, you should be a reader, there is no way around that.
To make this list, it does not have to be published in 2015, I only needed to read it in 2015. As always, this list was hard to narrow down, but here are the top 15 books of 2015:
15. Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership by Ryan Hartwig & Warren Bird
Summary: Teams that Thrive looks at how a leadership team can move to the next level and really make an impact. This was an incredibly insightful book for the leadership team at the church I lead.
Best Quote: “The five Cs of thriving teams: Clear. Does the team’s purpose paint a clear picture of value? Compelling. Do team members view the purpose as consequential? Does it address something that truly matters, drawing people into it? Challenging. To accomplish the purpose, is each member of the team required to contribute in a meaningful and interdependent way? Calling-oriented. Does accomplishing the purpose help members accomplish God’s calling on their lives and pursue their goals? Consistently held. Do the members of a group truly know the group’s purpose and pursue it with fervor?”
14. Taking People with You: The Only Way to Make Big Things Happen by David Novak
Summary: Yum! Brands CEO David Novak shows that in order to lead a great organization of any size you need to get your people aligned, enthusiastic, and focused relentlessly on the mission.
Best Quote: “You have to begin by asking yourself three big questions that will drive your approach to leadership and allow you to take people with you. They are: 1.) What’s the single biggest thing you can imagine that will grow your business or change your life? 2.) Who do you need to affect, influence, or take with you to be successful? 3.) What perceptions, habits, or beliefs of this target audience do you need to build, change, or reinforce to reach your goal?”
13. Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time by Jeffrey Pfeffer
Summary: Leadership BS takes a look at the leadership industry, showing why it’s failing and how it might be remade. Pfeffer looks at the usual prescriptions for leaders to be honest, authentic, and modest, tell the truth, build trust, and take care of others and asks if these prescriptions are truths or myths about leadership.
Best Quote: “Being authentic is pretty much the opposite of what leaders must do. Leaders do not need to be true to themselves. Rather, leaders need to be true to what the situation and what those around them want and need from them. And often what others want and need is the reassurance that things will work out and the confidence that they are on the right track.”
12. How Google Works by Eric Schmidt & Jonathan Rosenberg
Summary: An inside look at Google, how it works, what they’ve learned and how they continue to grow and get better.
Best Quote: “Start by asking what could be true in five years. Larry Page often says that the job of a CEO is not only to think about the core business, but also the future; most companies fail because they get too comfortable doing what they have always done, making only incremental changes. And that is especially fatal today, when technology-driven change is rampant. So the question to ask isn’t what will be true, but what could be true.”
11. Gaining By Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches that Send by J.D. Greear
Summary: Greear looks at how we are not only called to send people out to plant churches, but also to train them as leaders to be involved in our cities, governments, businesses and the arts. The best churches are those that send.
Best Quote: “I want to suggest four reasons why the future of Christianity belongs to churches that send, and why those of us who want to see the world reached will be more committed to raising up and sending out than we are to gathering and counting. Those four reasons are: 1. Increasingly, in a “post-Christian” society, unbelievers will simply not make their way into our churches, no matter how “attractive” we make them. 2. Multiplication beats out addition, every time. 3. The presence of God accompanies those who send. 4. Jesus’ promises of “greatness” in the church are always related to sending.”
10. Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism by Tim Keller
Summary: All that Tim Keller thinks on preaching. Enough said.
Best Quote: “What, then, is good preaching? Let me pull all these ideas together into a single description. It is “proclaim[ing]. . . . the testimony of God” (1 Corinthians 2:1)—preaching biblically, engaging with the authoritative text. This means preaching the Word and not your opinion. When we preach the Scriptures we are speaking “the very words of God” (1 Peter 4:11). You need to make clear the meaning of the text in its context—both in its historical time and within the whole of Scripture. This task of serving the Word is exposition, which is to draw out the message of the passage with faithfulness and insight and with a view to the rest of biblical teaching, so as not to “expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another.” It is also proclaiming to “both Jews and Greeks” (1 Corinthians 1:24)—preaching compellingly, engaging the culture, and touching hearts. This means not merely informing the mind but also capturing the hearer’s interest and imagination and persuading her toward repentance and action. A good sermon is not like a club that beats upon the will but like a sword that cuts to the heart (Acts 2:37). At its best it pierces to our very foundations, analyzing and revealing us to ourselves (Hebrews 4:12). It must build on Bible exposition, for people have not understood a text unless they see how it bears on their lives. Helping people see this is the task of application, and it is much more complicated than is usually recognized.”
9. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen
Summary: How to be more organized, productive and get the right things done to lower your stress level.
Best Quote: “In training and coaching many thousands of people, I have found that lack of time is not the major issue for them (though they may think it is); the real problem is a lack of clarity and definition about what a project really is, and what associated next-action steps are required. Clarifying things on the front end, when they first appear on the radar, rather than on the back end, after trouble has developed, allows people to reap the benefits of managing action…Many people try to get organized but make the mistake of doing it with incomplete batches of stuff. You can’t organize what’s incoming—you can only capture it and process it. Instead, you organize the actions you’ll need to take based on the decisions you’ve made about what needs to be done.”
8. H3 Leadership: Be Humble. Stay Hungry. Always Hustle. by Brad Lomenick
Summary: Lomenick categorizes 20 essential leadership habits organized into three distinct filters he calls “the 3 Hs”: Humble (Who am I?), Hungry (Where do I want to go?) and Hustle (How will I get there?).
Best Quote: “Who you are is not what you do. What you do is not who you are. Identity is unchanging. Being comes before doing. Who you are determines what you do.”
7. The Entrepreneur Roller Coaster: Why Now Is the Time to #Join the Ride by Darren Hardy
Summary: This book looks at the roller coaster entrepreneurs go through. The applications of this book to church planters is obvious and incredibly helpful.
Best Quote: “The only constraint of a company’s growth and potential is the owner’s ambition. I am the constraint. The market, the opportunity, everything is there. It’s up to me to set the pace, clear the obstacles, get the resources, and create the conversations to grow the company faster. As CEO, the most important thing I manage is myself. Do that right, and everything else falls into place.”
6. Chess Not Checkers: Elevate Your Leadership Game by Mark Miller
Summary: Written in the style of a fable, this book looks at how a company/church grows the leadership and systems need to change as it grows, but often the last people to realize it are the leaders.
Best Quote: “Most small businesses can be successful with a checkers mindset. That’s actually the game you play when an organization is in start-up mode. The leader does virtually everything in the beginning. That’s checkers. Then, if you grow, you begin to add staff. Many leaders see these additional people as interchangeable pieces, nothing more than hired hands, no need for specialists. Each piece is capable of the same limited moves. That’s checkers. In the beginning the game is simple. That’s checkers. You react, you make decisions, the pace is frenetic—you’re playing checkers. And, it works … for a while. You can win in business by playing checkers until someone sneaks in one night after you’ve closed for the day and flips the board. The game changes, and you don’t even know it.”
5. Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy by Donald Miller
Summary: Miller looks at what keeps us from getting close to people, trusting them and moving past our fears of relationships and intimacy.
Best Quote: “Here’s something I heard recently: Men move toward whatever makes them feel competent.” As soon as I heard that I knew it was true. Every man I know migrates toward something that makes him feel powerful and in control. If it’s work, he puts in more hours, if it’s sports he’s constantly at the gym. I only bring this up because few men I know feel competent in intimate relationships, which might be one of the reasons they don’t sit around talking about how well they do or don’t get along with the people they love.”
4. Yawning at Tigers: You Can’t Tame God, So Stop Trying by Drew Dyck
Summary: Many people have lost a reverence and an awe for God and his power. This book helps you to recapture who God is, how powerful He is, how in control He is and how that brings freedom to your life.
Best Quote: “Many of us say we want to experience God, but we don’t look for his majesty. We travel life’s paths with our heads down, focused on the next step with our careers or families or retirement plans. But we don’t really expect God to show up with divine wonder…Unfortunately, in our efforts to make the Bible interesting and relevant, we try to normalize God. We become experts at taking something lofty, so unfathomable and incomprehensible, and dragging it down to the lowest shelf. We fail to account for the fact that God is neither completely knowable nor remotely manageable. Here’s the beautiful irony: making God strange actually enables us to know him more. Once we have marveled at his magnitude and mystery, we are able to achieve the deep intimacy that grows out of a true appreciation for who God is. Instead of treating him as an equal, we approach him with reverent awe. Only when we’ve been awestruck by his majesty can we be overwhelmed by his love.”
3. Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City by Tim Keller
Summary: Like Preaching, this is all that Keller knows, believes and how he leads his church. So much wisdom packed into this book. He helps leaders lead their churches through creating a theological vision.
Best Quote: “What is a theological vision? It is a faithful restatement of the gospel with rich implications for life, ministry, and mission in a type of culture at a moment in history. A theological vision is a vision for what you are going to do with your doctrine in a particular time and place.”
2. Leadership Pain: The Classroom for Growth by Samuel Chand
Summary: This book looks at the reality that the only way for you to reach your potential as a leader, for your church or company to reach its potential, you must raise your threshold for pain.
Best Quote: “My advice for a pastor who faces any kind of crisis is to give yourself one day to moan, whine, and feel sorry for yourself. Just one day . . . then get up, ask God for direction, and take your people where He leads you. Leaders can’t afford to collapse for more than a day. They then have to seek solutions. We don’t have the luxury to be paralyzed by anxiety and discouragement. We have an obligation to trust God for a workable solution and a plan of action. Begin with the positive assumption that God always has a plan. The price is the figurative blood of leadership: having your sanity or integrity questioned, the uncertainty of taking bold risks, the pain of hard conversations and replacing people (many of whom are friends) who no longer fit the larger scope of responsibilities, and the strain of being publicly positive while dealing with the myriad of private pains of change.”
1. The Imperfect Pastor: Discovering Joy in Our Limitations through a Daily Apprenticeship with Jesus by Zach Eswine
Summary: A look at how God does his best work through broken and flawed humans, not perfect ones.
Best Quote: “To the important pastor doing large and famous things speedily, the brokenness of people actually feels like an intrusion keeping us from getting our important work for God done. Our desire for greatness in ministry isn’t the problem. Our problem rises from how the haste of doing large things, famously and as fast as we can, is reshaping our definition of what a great thing is. Desire greatness, dear pastor! But bend your definition of greatness to the one Jesus gives us. At minimum we must begin to take a stand on this one important fact: obscurity and greatness are not opposites. It is possible for ministry leaders to desire greatness in ways no different from anyone, anywhere in our culture. Attaching Jesus’s name to these desires doesn’t change the fact that they look just like the cravings of the world.”