Whether you are able to fully open your church doors or not is completely out of your control. The number of digital viewers you can garner and members that will fully engage in the life of your church online will continue to vary. 

In the day-to-day activities of running and leading your church, physically and digitally, most things are out of your hands. Outcomes and results continue to remind you of how not in control you are. 

But you can control how much you invest in your own foundational education by reading various books throughout the year. 

As education and learning have evolved throughout history, books have stood the test of time. Fewer things do a better job of convicting you, teaching you more about yourself, and shifting your once stubborn perspective quite like the right book read at the right time. 

Coming out of a year as chaotic as 2020, there’s likely a lot of anxiety to settle, trauma to unpack, and practical leadership guidance needed to lead your church well in 2021. We compiled a list of books we believe will prepare your heart and inform how you strategize in the year ahead. 

Each text spans different topics, subject matter, tone, and author background which is intentional on our part. 

And each book will provoke you toward new actions, fresh strategy, and create a solid ground to stand upon as you lead your church in the new year.   

#1 – When Breath Becomes Air 

Author Paul Kalanithi writes a deeply inspiring and shockingly honest memoir that attempts to answer the question, “What is a life worth living?” 

He writes the entire book in the face of his own mortality as he suffers from stage IV lung cancer. Confronted with death he pens a beautiful reflection on the value of life. 

This book will remind you of your own humanity and the fragility of life itself. It will point you to the very giver of life and breath, and as a personal writer’s note, it will make sure you hug your spouse extra tight. 

#2 – God and the Pandemic 

You may want to escape the global pandemic and you’re likely suffering from “COVID Fatigue” along with everyone else. 

But as a leader of the church, it’s necessary to formulate responses to this global health crisis and its aftermath. 

Classically gentle yet firm, N.T. Wright sheds light on Scripture and how it guides our thinking on what this pandemic means, what God has to say about it, and how we can recover moving forward. 

In less than 80 pages, this book will reveal exactly how Jesus would speak into this situation, its consequences, and its implications. 

Read this book and you’ll be as Peter and John were to the Romans.

“Surely they have been with Christ.” 

#3 – Start With Why

Third most popular TED Talk of all time? 

There’s a reason for that and it’s backed up by one of Simon Sinke’s original works, Start With Why

Throughout the book, Sinek investigates how certain organizations and historical figures, though entirely unrelated, are more influential, more profitable, and more successful than others.

As the title foreshadows, it all starts with “why” and every principle in this book can be applied to how you lead your church. 

Staff members, volunteers, and your congregation will not buy into any direction, vision, or message unless they understand the “why” behind it. 

Make that idea a guiding principle in your leadership this year by reading this book. 

#4 – Dream Big

When you’re a kid, you dream big. But somewhere along the way, fear tends to take the wheel. 

Bob Goff’s third literary installment will remove fear from the driver’s seat and put you back into the driver’s seat. 

As a pastor, you have big, beautiful ambitions for your church. 2021 is the year that those ambitions finally come to life. 

Based on his wildly popular (and successful) Dream Big Workshops, Bob will walk you through a life-proven framework with practical steps that will turn the biggest dreams you have for your church into a reality for you and your community.  

No more hiding your own dreams from yourself. This book can alter the course of your life and your church for the good of the Kingdom!

#5 – Seeing Jesus From The East

The late Ravi Zacharias did so much to bring the powerful message of Christ into the complex conversations of apologetics, world religions, and geopolitics. 

Seeing Jesus From the East is one of his faster reads, but that doesn’t vandalize the integrity of the message. 

Living in the western world, it’s easy to forget—even as a pastor—the Eastern roots of Jesus. To fix your eyes on Jesus is, in reality, to fix your gaze to the East. 

This book will undoubtedly freshen your perspective on the parables you have shared for years and round your approach to the Scriptures as a whole. You’ll have no choice but to remember not just who Jesus is, but where He is from.

#6 – Atomic Habits

Do you think pursuing your New Year’s Resolutions will go differently this year? 

It’s okay to admit that they won’t. 

With Atomic Habits, Author and blogger James Clear will take your eyes off of goals and set them on daily habits that can create massive improvements in your life. 

As one of the world’s leading experts on habit formation, Clear reveals practical strategies that will teach you how to break bad habits, form good ones, and master the little behaviors that create astronomical results. 

Instead of setting yourself up for failure with lofty goals and unfair expectations, spend 2021 making tiny 1% improvements each day that lead to your ultimate success. 

You and your church will be better off!

#7 – Necessary Endings 

Sometimes life demands that progress stems from ending things instead of starting them. 

Put a clear stop to relationships, activities, and personal perceptions that stunt the very growth in your church that you’re trying to foster. 

Dr. Henry Cloud’s book Necessary Endings will challenge you to achieve the personal and professional growth your heart desires by following through with the tough decisions. 

Decisions you don’t want to make and that scare the daylights out of you.  

To not put an end to the right things could put an end to your church. Read this book and put its guidance into action. 

#8 – Deep Work

Imagine a workday completely free of any distractions from social media, email, and random interruptions. 

Cal Newport’s book gives you the tools you need to live in a distraction-free world where you execute deep work day in and day out. If Atomic Habits is an appetizer, Deep Work is the main course.

It’s easy to feel like your life and therefore your work is dictated by distractions. Your screen is bombarded with advertisements and click-bait. 

The intense regimen and call to deep work in this book will ensure that your days are full of productive work that has a deep impact on the world around you. 

Read this book to make 2021 the year of influencing your surroundings instead of another year of letting your surroundings influence you. 

#9 – Loonshots

If you’re tired of team dynamics within your church stifling the growth of your church or the execution of plans, then this is the book for you. 

In Loonshots, Safi Bachal explores and explains the science of phase transitions and how it causes groups of people to suddenly reject what they previously embraced. 

Using an engaging and witty narrative, Bachal is able to unveil the behaviors that cause teams of people to change their behavior and derail an organization’s mission in the process. 

There are structures you can put in place within your own church that will keep everybody aligned on the same mission and this book will teach you how to do that. 

#10 – Ruthless Elimination Of Hurry 

If you have felt the desperate need to slow down over the past 9 months, you are not alone. 

Actually, if you have felt the need to slow down at all over the past 10 years, you are not alone. The evolving digital world can easily make you feel surrounded by damage and destruction. 

And that causes you to hurry from problem to problem, achievement to achievement. 

This is the pain and the problem John Mark Comer address in his book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

Instead of using illusive inspiration as a bandaid for exhaustion, Comer uses sound truth as a salve for your wounds. 

In this book, he reminds you who you are meant to be and provides the roadmap you need to stay emotionally and spiritually healthy in our increasingly chaotic world. 

#11 – Tattoos On The Heart

It’s unfortunate that the past few years have politicized the phrase “lead with compassion.”

Because empathy and compassion are not political characteristics. They’re gospel characteristics. 

Gregory Boyle’s book Tattoos On The Heart serves as a joyful reminder of what God’s compassion looks like when played out here on earth. 

If you want to laugh and cry in one sitting, we cannot recommend this book enough. It’s not exactly Boyle’s compassion that will compel you to lead in the same way, but the stories he shares. 

#12 – The Freedom Of Self Forgetfulness

Everything in our world today makes it seem acceptable to connect every experience and every conversation to ourselves. 

In this super short (49 pages) pamphlet, Timothy Keller shatters right through that very idea. Keller argues that a heart supernaturally changed by God is neither self-hating nor self-loving. 

It is radiantly self-forgetful. 

Drawing from Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, this short pamphlet will rock your world and the way you perceive yourself in it. 

If you want the gift of rest in 2021, first give yourself the gift of self-forgetfulness. 

#13 – Liturgy of Politics

Turn on any TV or open any social media feed and you’ll hear or read about the political division in our country. 

Your church has a role to play in the reconciliation and unification that God has in store for the coming years. 

Kaitlyn Schiess’ book Liturgy of Politics offers practical guidance on how to navigate the choppy waters where church and state collide.

Throughout the book, Schiess’ makes you aware of how your church’s politics are often shaped by practices and habits that you’re not even aware of. 

This book will make you aware of the political forces surrounding your church and offers historical Christian context to shape the conversation moving forward. 

#14 – Prayer: How Praying Together Shapes The Church

It’s no secret that in general, our houses of prayer have become houses of programs. 

In his thought-provoking and convicting book, John Onwuchekwa reminds you that prayer is as necessary to the Christian, and therefore the church, as breath is to the human body.

Prayer is often encouraged in the personal lives of congregants but less often practiced in the local church. 

This one book can turn prayer into the very lifeblood of your church and how your community comes together in 2021. 

#15 – Gilead

You are divinely wired for story, so we couldn’t make a whole list without including a few fiction stories. 

Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead is the type of captivating story that will move you to tears and to dancing all at once. 

She elegantly tells the story of America, our America, through an intimate tale of three generations of fathers and sons. The characters are wrestling with the spiritual battles and changing of times that still rage against us today. 

Read this book for a narrative that will fill any void you have felt throughout this year of discourse. 

#16 – Let The Trumpet Sound

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is often reduced to a handful of quotes on the third Monday in January. This pastor, author, and leader had a complicated life that left a lasting impact on our world. 

In this authorized biography, Stephen B. Oates examines the whole man and challenges you to see our current challenges in a new light.

Biographies are always a good way of altering the way we allow the past, and past figures, to shape our outlook on the present. 

Let this heavily researched book on one of America’s heroes deeply inform and even challenge the way you view the varying tensions in our world today. 

If one of your New Year’s Resolutions was to start your own personal library, this may be your launching pad. 

Read one or a collection of any of these books and witness God move in and through you in ways you’ve never expected.

Take the Next Step

The Pastor's Book Club brings pastors and church leaders notes, summaries, and action steps from the best business and leadership books.

Ministry insights can come from anywhere, and business books are an untapped source of wisdom.

Pastors and church leaders are often well versed in Bible study, theology, and ministry, but are ill-equipped to lead an organization. That’s why The Pastor’s Book Club focuses on bringing the best ministry insights from world-class business leaders.