Top Ten Must Read Books on Spiritual Leadership

The V3 Movement is committed to helping you make disciples, plant churches and start a movement. Such an endeavor will, of course, require you to grow in your leadership skills.

But what differentiates a V3 leader from a business leader, military leader, or other kind of leader? V3 disciple-makers, church planters, and movement starters are not simply charismatic speakers or gifted organizers. They strive to be spiritual leaders, leading as Jesus would if he were in their circumstances.

If you want to grow in your spiritual leadership capacity, these ten books will help. 

51qJyhLhH1L._SX349_BO1,204,203,200_The Selfless Way of Christ: Downward Mobility and the Spirit Life

Henri Nouwen

In this book, Henri Nouwen maintains that there is a direct relationship between our ministry vocation and our spiritual life. As we seek to live out our vocation of following Christ on the downwardly mobile road, we will be tempted to take the upwardly mobile road, argues Nouwen. Therefore, we must engage in spiritual formation to be transformed into living Christs. Nouwen warns us that we will have to face the same temptations Jesus had to face. For example, the temptation to be relevant – this is the need to be appreciated by people and make productivity the basis of our ministry (p. 49). The temptation to be spectacular – acting as if visibility and notoriety were the main criteria of the value of what we are doing (p. 56). Finally, the temptation to be powerful – getting some sense of security and control (through money, connections, fame, sills, etc.) in order to strengthen the illusion that life is ours to dispose of (p. 61). This book is a rich and revealing read. Every sentence is crafted in such a way as to pierce through the heart and unveil where we stand with God. Nouwen strips us down until we are left naked, vulnerable, and exposed.

61IjWJhfIJL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness

Eugene Peterson

Too often church leaders uncritically mimic business leaders and then wonder why our churches are filled with passive, needy, consumeristic people and why we as leaders end up malformed in the process of leading. Eugene Peterson, in his prophetic, pastoral way, uses the story of Jonah to show us ways that we seek to go the opposite direction of our calling. Under the Unpredictable Plant reroutes us to the road by which we can recover our true, vocational calling. Peterson alerts us to the fact that we will find dangers in some unexpected places, such as our congregations and institutions, as well as some expected ones, namely our egos. He helps us to see that the most significant thing about ourselves isn’t what we do or accomplish but who we are. He demonstrates through both his life story and scripture how to avoid the temptation of looking at ministry as career advancement and, instead, to viewing it as a vocation of service. At the heart of Under the Unpredictable Plant, Peterson calls us as leaders to develop a “spirituality that is adequate to our calling” (p. 8). I’ve spoken with many pastors and ministry leaders whose lives have been saved by reading this book.

Leading-With-a-LimpLeading with a Limp: Turning Your Struggles into Strengths

Dan Allender

While many leadership books today focus on knowing your strengths and leveraging your power, Allender argues that the best leaders live paradoxical lives – they lead with power because of their weakness, they find success through acknowledging their failures, and they lose their life so that they might find it. Allender makes it clear that living a paradoxical life requires faith and has enormous costs but meaningful rewards. He paints a realistic picture of leadership by telling stories and by guiding us through five universal challenges that every leader faces, calling us to respond in a paradoxical way: (1) When we face crises, we should respond with courage (brokenness and confidence) instead of cowardice (blame and control). (2) When facing complexity, we should respond with depth (foolishness and creativity) instead of rigidity (dogmatism). (3) When confronted with betrayal, we should respond with gratitude (reluctance and humility) instead of narcissism (envy and self-absorption). (4) When faced with loneliness, we should respond with openness (honest hunger and community) instead of hiding (manipulation). (5) When faced with weariness, we should respond with hope (disillusionment and boldness) instead of fatalism (busyness). I found the book refreshingly challenging. Read my full review here.

51izgBDfL6L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Intuitive Leadership: Embracing a Paradigm of Narrative, Metaphor, and Chaos

Tim Keel

The first two sections of this book are engaging, the third section is amazing. Keel’s thesis is that in a postmodern, post-Enlightenment and post-Christendom world, pragmatic manuals for leadership can be “deceptive and dangerous” (p. 24). He suggests that what is needed is a fresh engagement with our context, our theology, and our structures. As we engage these, we will realize the need for new postures as leaders. The book is organized into three sections: Entering Story, Engaging Context, and Embracing Possibility. Keels make a solid case that we need to re-engage theologically, contextually, and structurally. For me, the highlight of the book is when Keel invites us to hold nine postures that cultivate a new way of being: (1) A Posture of Learning: From Answers to Questions, (2) A Posture of Vulnerability: From Head to Heart, (3) A Posture of Availability: From Spoken Words to Living Words, (4) A Posture of Stillness: From Preparation to Mediation, (5) A Posture of Surrender: From Control to Chaos, (6) A Posture of Cultivation: From Programmer to Environmentalist, (7) A Posture of Trust: From Defensiveness to Creativity, (8) A Posture of Joy: From Work to Play, and (9) A Posture of Dependence: From Resolution to Tension – and Back Again. Keel says we have posture problems, but he helps us to re-posture ourselves so that we might be ready to respond to the opportunities that God provides for us.

512am1Kov-L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Eldership and the Mission of God: Equipping Teams for Faithful Church Leadership

J.R. Briggs and Bob Hyatt

My formal endorsement of this book provides a good description and case for reading it: “The church as been in need of an updated understanding of eldership. With seasoned wisdom and theological rigor, Hyatt and Briggs team up to shift the role of elders from being a domesticated business board that focuses on maintenance, to a daring community of servant leaders who equip the whole church to join God’s mission in the world. This is the best book I’ve read on eldership.” In the first half of the book, Briggs lays out the biblical case for eldership, helping us understand mission-oriented elders, the roles of elders, the qualification of elders, as well as how to select elders. In the second half of the book, Hyatt helps us know how to live as elders of a church on mission, looking at the spiritual formation of elders, team leadership, decision making, how to handle difficult tasks, and the crucial question concerning women elders. As you finish this book, you will clearly recognize that the writers are thoughtful practitioners. They also happen to be my friends, so I know they live out what they write.

41tRW-pM2GLThe Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations

Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom

All truth is God’s truth, and this is a great book to read in order to understand the power of decentralization. Brafman and Beckstrom make the claim that organizations fall into two basic categories: traditional top-down organizations (spiders) and leaderless organizations that rely on peer relationship (starfish). They believe that every organization ought to consider the power of the starfish (decentralization). The authors discuss how fragile and inefficient centralized organizations can be and how decentralized organizations – which seem disorganized – are often more adaptable and durable. They provide many examples to support the power of decentralization, such as the Apache’s, AA, Al Qaeda, Burning Man, the brain, and the open-source revolution (Napster, Skype, Craigslist, Wikipedia, the blogosphere, the Internet). The metaphor is simple: a starfish and a spider appear to be structured similarly. However, if you cut off the head of a spider, it dies, but when you cut a starfish in half, you get two starfish. Farily, Brafman and Beckstrom discuss the weaknesses of a starfish’s organization and point to some of the strengths of centralization. They close their work by introducing the hybrid organization and detailing how to find the sweet spot between centralization and decentralization. I found this a powerful read; it helped confirm my thoughts regarding polycentric leadership.

1305716._UY475_SS475_Signs of Emergence: A Vision for Church that is Organic/Networked/Decentralized/Bottom-up/Communal/Flexible/Always Evolving

Kester Brewin

I appreciate how Brewin uses scripture, poetry, and science to intertwine the story of Jesus with our current, post-everything world context in a way that frees us to imagine. Brewin looks to James W. Fowler’s stages of faith, to urban theory and the science of emergence, and to the story of scripture to help us evolve into “wombs of the divine, allowing God to fertilize our creativity and give birth to newness” (p. 67). Brewin calls for evolutionary, not revolutionary, change (p. 43) and suggests that our first step is to stop. As with the season of Advent, we are to pause. To rest. To wait. Just as a woman cannot speed up her pregnancy, the church cannot fix herself with a new program to make everything okay. He suggests that, after this waiting, the church be born again. That is, the church needs to be rebirthed into her host culture and re-emerge from the bottom up. He uses emergence theory to help describe the character of the emergent church, one that dances between the dangers of rigidity on the one hand and anarchy on the other. He then calls the church to discover God in the city, to learn to be a gift-exchange culture in the midst of a consumeristic culture, and to reevaluate our dirt boundaries. I found this a helpful read in how to lead in today’s culture.

4371_heiftzlinsky_72dpiLeadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading

Ronald A Heifetz and Mary Linksy

This book is for those who have the guts to lead in ways that embrace the daring required for genuine transformation to take place. The authors not only encourage us to put our life and ideas on the line, they remind us of the dangers of leadership and inform on how to respond to those risks in healthy ways. They don’t just answer the question of how to lead; they call us to think about why we should lead. They help us to see that while leading has its demands and costs, leading has the potential to enrich many lives, including the life of those who choose to lead. Because Heifetz and Linsky are fully aware of the scars one encounters in leadership, they help us to anchor our hearts and strengthen our souls so that we can stay alive to celebrate the meaning of our efforts. They help us uncover the dangers we face as leaders – seduction, marginalization, diversion and outright attack, and they give us concrete skills needed to respond to the resistance and dangers of adaptive leadership. They also provide important ways to keep heart when facing the difficulties and stress of leadership. This is a must read.

k2-_d76e2686-9df8-4f4d-9790-e7233a243cc4.v1Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry

Ruth Haley Barton

Barton is seeking to “forge a connection between our souls and our leadership rather than experiencing them as separate arenas of our lives.” She uses the story of Moses and her personal story to remind us as leaders that the most important aspect of our ministry is not our strengths, our wisdom, or our strategies, but our vibrant connection with the divine. As we engage in spiritual habits such as solitude, silence, Sabbath, prayer, and awareness, the ability to discern where God is at work and to join him there is sharpened in us. Barton writes, “Many of us are choosing to live lives that do not set us up to pay attention, to notice those places where God is at work and to ask ourselves what these things mean.” In this book, she moves beyond helping us improve our leadership skills to giving practical ways in which we can develop the soul of our leadership. If you don’t want to “lose your soul” as you engage in ministry, then read this book.

51Cf4aIVK2L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The Permanent Revolution: Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st Century Church

Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim

The Permanent Revolution is the definitive book when it comes to understanding apostolic ministry today and is an imperative read if you want to develop a deeper movemental mindset. Hirsch and Catchim successfully make the case that the Church of Jesus Christ has been designed with “built-in, self-generative capacities” for world transformation. They contend that if we can recapture the dynamics of apostolic movement, built on the fivefold ministry, then we can become a part of the permanent revolution empowered by God himself. The first chapter is an absolute jewel, worth the price of the book itself. As someone who has thought about, written about, and practiced a fivefold ministry since 1998, I found that looking at the fivefold ministry through the metaphor of vocational intelligence brings depth and clarity to it. This vocational intelligence is extremely practical and has the potential to unleash individuals and congregations to live up to their redemptive potential. When you become part of the permanent revolution, you no longer have to hold revivals. Revival becomes a permanent reality. Read my full review here.

Need more book recommendations? Check out these posts:

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JR Woodward
JR Woodward is a church planter, activist, missiologist and author of Creating a Missional Culture (IVP, 2012). He co-founded the Ecclesia Network and Missio Alliance. He currently serves as the National Director for the V3 Church Planting Movement and is pursuing a PhD at the University of Manchester (UK).
JR Woodward

2 Comments

  1. Alan HIrsch Nov 23, 2015 Reply

    Great list there JR. I am deeply honored to be a part of it. Bless you bro.

  2. JR Woodward Author
    JR Woodward Nov 23, 2015 Reply

    The Permanent Revolution is a much needed book, especially if we want to see movement take place in the West. I hope many more read it.

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