The Imperfect Pastor by Zack Eswine. This book is by far one of the most honest pastoral ministry books I have ever read (Dangerous Calling by Paul David Tripp would be another one of those). In this book Eswine helps pastors see that despite what the “celebrating pastor” culture is telling them, pastoral ministry is more about walking with Jesus and serving Him in the local context He has placed you in. Throughout this book Eswine uses the example of Jesus to show what pastoral work looks like. From this approach it’s easy to see that our current model of pastoral work doesn’t always match up with what Jesus had in mind. This book was refreshing for someone like me who during college and seminary was influenced heavily by what we may call “celebrating pastors.” Reading and listening to guys like Mark Driscoll and Steven Furtick often times left the impression that if I didn’t serve at a big church or had as much influence as them I was a failure in ministry. At times it feels like I came out of college and seminary more prepared to climb the “ministry ladder” rather than serve Jesus daily in pastoral work in whatever context He put me in. This book helped me leave some of that baggage behind and focus on what really matters, which is following Jesus daily and serving Him daily in the church context He has placed me. I would highly recommend this book to pastors, especially younger guys in pastoral ministry.
Vertical Church by James McDonald. This is a book that had been on my list to read for quite some time. I decided to grab it and give it a read after hearing both good and bad things about it. In this book McDonald argues that churches should be “vertical.” By that he means that churches, particularly in their weekly worship services, should be about the glory of God and helping people experience that glory. The bottom line seems to be that churches should be more about God’s glory and not cultural relevance or anything else that drives churches and directs what they do. The first half of the book deals more with a Biblical basis for the “vertical church” model and the second half is more practical in that it explains how a church can be “vertical.” In the second half of the book, McDonald goes through several pillars of a vertical church – unashamed adoration, unapologetic preaching, unafraid witness, and increasing prayer. Overall I enjoyed this book. However, there were a few things that didn’t sit well with me. First, McDonald seems to have a “my way or the highway” approach. This makes sense when you realize McDonald argues that the “vertical church” model is Biblical. He has a deep and strong conviction of that, which leads to his dogmatic tone. But at times it came across a bit much. Second, his chapter on worship (unashamed adoration) seemed to make the case that expression in worship is the end goal and when one lacks expression in worship they lack true worship. I like his heart behind this chapter – that true worship seems to show itself in expression (we see that in the Bible, especially in Psalms). But true worship (which we need to be careful not to just consider singing in church as worship, worship extends beyond just singing), doesn’t always show itself in outward expression. Tim Challies shares more about the weakness and danger in this chapter as well as some other chapters in this book in his review.
When Trouble Comes by Phil Ryken. I read this book in preparation for a series I did with our students called “Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering.” This book not only gave me some nuggets for that series but also helped me understand how to respond when troubles comes into my own life. This book works off the premise that trouble is a part of our lives in this fallen world. Life is tough and trouble comes our way more than we would like. In this book, Ryken uses various Biblical characters and their troubles to show us how we can walk with God when those kinds of troubles come at us. Each chapter is very practical and easily to apply to your life, especially if you’re going through the same type of trouble that Biblical character is going through. This is an easy read that I would recommend to everyone.