Why Church Leaders Should Think “Who” Instead of “What”

Why Church Leaders Should Think “Who” Instead of “What”

Church leaders spend most of their time answering “what” questions.  

  • What is the next teaching series?
  • What are we going to do for Easter?
  • What can we do to get more people signed up for an event?
  • What is the best curriculum to use for kids?

Occasionally, we find time to dive into the “why” questions that help us re-focus on our purpose and mission.

But some of the most important questions we can answer are “who” questions.

This advice is primarily written to business leaders looking to take a company from good to great, but listen to how Jim Collins frames the challenge:

“The executives who ignited the transformations from good to great did not first figure out where to drive the bus and then get people to take it there. No, they first got the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figured out where to drive it. They said, in essence, “Look, I don’t really know where we should take this bus. But I know this much: If we get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus, then we’ll figure out how to take it someplace great.

The good-to-great leaders understood three simple truths. First, if you begin with “who,” rather than “what,” you can more easily adapt to a changing world. If people join the bus primarily because of where it is going, what happens if you get ten miles down the road and you need to change direction? You’ve got a problem. But if people are on the bus because of who else is on the bus, then it’s much easier to change direction: “Hey, I got on this bus because of who else is on it; if we need to change direction to be more successful, fine with me.” Second, if you have the right people on the bus, the problem of how to motivate and manage people largely goes away. The right people don’t need to be tightly managed or fired up; they will be self-motivated by the inner drive to produce the best results and to be part of creating something great. Third, if you have the wrong people, it doesn’t matter whether you discover the right direction; you still won’t have a great company.” 

As a pastor or church leader, this should resonate with you and challenge you. Instead of coming down from the mountain like Moses and attempting to vision-cast your way toward momentum, focus on building a team (even a small team will do) of leaders who are committed to figuring out the answers to important questions.

If you have the right people around you, you can lead your church to change, start the right programs and ministries, and adapt when culture changes. If you have the right people on the bus, they will help you steer it in the right direction toward accomplishing your mission.

Collins goes on to say that one of the most important questions the leader of an organization can ask and answer is this: What percentage of the right seats are filled with the right people?

Let’s talk more about why developing people is worth your time.

#1 – People are more important than programs and projects.

It’s easy to allow the stuff of ministry, things like planning services and running programs, to keep you from relationships with the very people you’re designing those services and programs for.

But just like people development is one of your biggest barriers to growth, developing people provides one of your biggest opportunities.

After all, it’s people who will run those programs.

It’s people who will lead those projects.

It’s people who will plan every service.

You might even argue that people, not programs, buildings, or services, are at the heart of ministry. Dave Rhodes asks a poignant question:

“If 80% of your church's time, energy, and effort goes into making Sunday morning happen, is it a church or a production company?”

Every service is an opportunity to lift up the name of Jesus. Every small group is a chance to help someone take the next step. Every event affords us the opportunity to minister to people.

But let’s not forget that people run programs designed to reach people.

When you have people to lead programs, you can have better programs. When you have the right people leading ministries, your ministries will be more effective.

#2 – You’re equipping the saints for the work of the ministry.

Ephesians 4:11-12 is a familiar verse for pastors and church leaders, describing how Christ gave the church leaders in order “to equip his people for works of service.”

Pastors and church leaders are not supposed to do all of the work of the ministry; they are supposed to develop, disciple, and equip others to do so.

These words from Paul were actually modeled by Jesus, who invested the best years of his ministry into developing a small group of disciples who would ultimately spread the gospel beyond the region.

This seems counter-cultural today, where the fastest-growing churches are recognized by the size of the crowds.

It was counter-cultural in Jesus’ time as well.

“When other rabbis then and teachers now build a platform, Jesus built a pipeline, and his impact was inconceivably greater,” writes Will Mancini in Future Church.

In a world of social media followings and YouTube sermons, there’s something refreshing about pastors and church leaders who invest in people. It’s almost as if that is the preferred strategy.

Most pastors agree that developing leaders is a big opportunity and that a lack of leaders is hindering the ministry. Whenever we ask pastors to list their top challenges, this is always in the top three. Usually, it’s right at the top of the list. It really is a constant struggle to find, train, and empower leaders.

One of the reasons this remains a challenge is because while we want to see more leaders get involved, we don’t have a system for leadership development, and these tasks never appear on our calendar.

Your calendar is full of planning meetings, counseling sessions, and study time. But the leadership development kind of tasks are hard to quantify and difficult to plan. We hope it happens organically, but it never does.

It’s time to move leadership development from something we desire to something we do.

We have to put it on the calendar. And we have to specifically define what “it” is.

Leader Pulse combines ready-to-use leadership development content in a calendar-based approach. It will give you the structure and the content you need to actually develop your staff and key leaders.

Learn more about Leader Pulse here.

#3 – Ministries without leaders will not have the desired impact.

Not only is people-first ministry a Biblical approach, but it will also actually help your church grow at a sustainable pace.

And this sustainable pace is something church leaders aren’t talking about enough.

The impact you want to make on your community isn’t dependent on a single service, a special event, or a specific ministry. You’re looking for compound interest, serving consistently over time.

The flip side is starting ministries only to see them slowly fade away into irrelevance because there are no leaders to sustain them. You’ll start, stop, start, stop until everyone is simply worn out.

If you don’t develop leaders, your church will struggle to make a long-term impact in your community.

That’s why we advise pastors to never start a new ministry in their church until it has a committed and trained leader and is aligned with the overall church strategy. 

You’d be better off waiting. Or going without.  

But when you have committed and aligned leaders, your church will be set up well to grow healthy.

That’s why it’s always wise to start with people, not programs.

Take the Next Step

Leading people is one of the most difficult tasks of pastoral leadership. The Senior Pastor’s Guide to Leading Staff will help you lead yourself so that you can better lead the people on your team.

Download the free guide today.

Five Things Pastors Can Do to Re-Energize Tired Teams

Five Things Pastors Can Do to Re-Energize Tired Teams

Your team is tired.

Staff, leaders, and volunteers have lived with Covid complexity for a while with effects that will linger for years to come. Much of how they have done ministry has changed dramatically.

People have new roles and responsibilities. Leaders have navigated choppy waters. Your team has balanced ridiculous expectations.

It’s no wonder they are tired.

And if you’re not careful, feeling tired takes the next step to exhaustion. That’s a step beyond “a busy season” like Easter, Christmas, or a big event.  

Feelings of exhaustion can lead to burnout which can have rippling detrimental effects personally and organizationally.

Here are some things pastors can do right now to breathe fresh life into your team.

#1 – Schedule some social time.

One of the biggest signs of job satisfaction in any career is having a friend at work. This is true for church staff, too. Invite people to your home for a cookout. Borrow or rent a lake house for a family day. Go to Top Golf. Find an environment where your team can connect outside of work and have fun. 

#2 – Have pastoral conversations.

In church, it’s surprisingly easy to forget that we need to pastor our team, not just lead them. Your team needs a pastor right now. Are you shepherding their soul and pastoring them like a church member? Don’t let it always be about work and goals.

#3 – Add personal development to your meeting cadence.

Serving in a church takes a lot out of a person. Repurpose some of your meetings and regular rhythms to add back into their life and faith. When people get better, there’s a collective benefit. When you invest in people, they feel valued.

#4 – Reset expectations.

If you’re the leader of a staff or ministry team, you’re the Chief Clarify Officer. In this season, casting clarity is every bit as important as casting vision. It’s okay to scale back if needed. If you’re clear, meeting a lesser goal is still a win. Does your team know what’s expected of them? Are those expectations written down and agreed upon?

#5 – Double down on communication.

In times of stress, average communication feels like bad communication. If successes aren’t shared, challenges aren’t discussed, and ideas aren’t heard, people will feel like they are working alone. No matter what system or tools you use, perfect them. Learn how to use them properly. Commit to communication, knowing it’s nearly impossible to overdo. 

Take the Next Step

If you really want to dive into this topic, we have a resource called The Tired Team: A Toolkit to Improve Staff Morale.

It comes with a video for leaders, a video for team members, and six practical exercises to help you re-energize your team. Learn more here.

How Church Staff Can Use Church Fuel

How Church Staff Can Use Church Fuel

As a staff member of a church, you’re in a unique position.

You may not get to decide the mission, but your job is to make it happen.

You have a lot of responsibility and a lot of influence, even if you’re leading from the second chair. 

And while Senior Pastors will find a lot of value in the courses, resources, and community, other leaders on staff might even find more help.

That’s because the practical nature of what we discuss applies to everything that happens in the church.  We don’t live in the land of vision; we dive into the operations and strategies of real-world ministries.

It’s also why every Church Fuel membership comes with unlimited logins for team members. We WANT church staff to have access to everything in the program.

Here are three ways you can use Church Fuel as a staff member.

#1 – Use Church Fuel for Personal Growth

As a leader on staff, you take direction from your leader.  But a lot of people look to you for guidance and support.  A lot of responsibility rests on your shoulders.

Leadership is hard.

But the hardest person you lead is yourself.

Church Fuel will help you invest in your own growth. Think of it like professional development, a resource to help YOU get better.  As you’re out there investing in so many others, Church Fuel gives you a way to invest in yourself.

  • Sign up for a live class on a topic that interests you, put it on your calendar, then show up ready to learn.
  • Download a resource like the Personal Growth Plan and create a real plan to get better. Share it with your leader as an FYI and watch your value increase.
  • Go through one of our on-demand courses on your own schedule.

Church Fuel is a great tool for your own personal and professional development.

#2 – Use Church Fuel to Make Your Ministry Better

As a church staff member, you wear two hats.  On one hand, you care deeply about the overall mission of the church.  You know every ministry and program is important.

But you also provide leadership to a specific ministry. 

When you tap into Church Fuel resources, you can go through them with both angles in mind.  Sure, you’ll hear about things that could help the church.

But you’ll learn practical ideas and strategies to help you right where you are.  Apply the lessons from The Follow Up course to your ministry.

Use the Ministry Action Plan from the Resource Library to help you clarify your ministry plans and goals.

Take a live class on a relevant topic, even inviting a few volunteers to join you.

You will find plenty to help you lead in your specific ministry area.

#3 – Use Church Fuel to Lead Up

One of the toughest things to do in leadership is leading up – influencing those who technically are in charge.

Church Fuel will expose you to ideas and strategies that you can share with other leaders in your church.

By learning and growing, you’ll get ideas that will help others.

Remember, one membership covers everyone in your church who wants access.  If you’re paying for Church Fuel from your ministry budget, you can add others across other teams or departments. 

As you can see, there are a lot of practical ways you can actually USE Church Fuel.

Like most things in life, the power doesn’t come from signing up.  The power comes when you sign up, show up, and actually use the tool.

9 Realities for the Post-COVID Church

9 Realities for the Post-COVID Church

Like Nehemiah prayerfully inspecting the city walls before calling people to rise up and build, leaders need to be aware of their surroundings, paying special attention to how things are changing. 

And they are changing fast.

But as we look to the future, here are some of my thoughts about what has changed and what will keep changing in the post-COVID church.

#1 – You must think beyond Sundays and streaming.

Before COVID, pastors loved to preach that the church was not a building. Now more than ever, our people need to realize that ministry isn’t limited to Sunday and how we show up in culture must move beyond a stream.

In many ways, we have MORE opportunities to reach people – at home, at work, and at non-Sunday times.

Let’s stop creating content exclusively for Sunday or live streams and start creating multi-channel content to use intentionally throughout the week.

#2 – It’s going to be tough to re-engage your volunteers. 

There are a lot of volunteers who aren’t ready to come back to serve. Maybe they are at risk.  Maybe they are acting in someone’s best interest. Maybe they are risk-averse. It is what it is – and piling on the guilt isn’t going to change their minds. It will just make it worse. 

But there are others who have just gotten used to not serving on Sundays. They have created new patterns. You’re going to lovingly have to help them adopt new patterns. And this will challenge your leadership skills more than you can imagine.

Don’t think that everyone who served in your children’s ministry before is ready and willing to come back to the children’s ministry when it’s time.

Some aren’t ready to come back to serve. Others have gotten used to not serving.

Even though this course was created before COVID, the three-step framework in it (recruit – train – pastor) will help you engage and re-engage your volunteer base. You can get it included with membership.

#3 – There’s a new front door.

Your church service used to be the front door, the way most people experienced your church for the first time. This is why “invite a friend” worked so well. 

Then, we realized people visited our websites before they ever visited a service, and we made changes there. We shifted the point of our website to be focused on new people and added “plan a visit” language, which was a good step.

But things have shifted again. Now, people first experience your church by what they see and hear on social media. You can influence this, but you don’t control all of it. 

So, what do you do? Start by sharing helpful content online and using it to build trust over time.  Talk about things that are important to people in your community (not just things that are important to you). Build an audience (and an email list) of people who may not be ready to plan a visit but still want personal and practical guidance.

Here’s a tool that will help you do this.

#4 – It’s time to make (or re-make) a strategic plan.

Leaders love to talk about casting vision as a way to get everyone on the same page.

The problem is that people can agree on the destination but disagree wildly on the process. You see, it’s actually strategy that gets people working together toward the same goal.

And since everything is different now, it’s time to create a good plan.  A plan that is short. A plan that is specific. And a plan that has time to work.

#5 – Staff transitions will continue.

Churches will continue to see transitions, some out of financial necessity and others out of opportunity. And nearly everyone working on staff at a church is doing things now that they weren’t hired to do originally.

Keep repurposing people, making sure their actual job responsibilities line up with the current reality. Maybe you need to shift more leaders and volunteers in a digital direction. Maybe you need to intentionally slow down funding some areas or hoping they return to normal. At any rate, embrace change.

All of these transitions will make people tired and could quickly lead to burnout. We have a resource called The Tired Team that will help you create clarity and encourage the people who are working so hard to make the mission happen.

One other quick note on teams that is always true but feels extra relevant: Put your best people on your biggest opportunities, not your biggest problems.  

#6 – Keep building financial margin.

It’s always wise to have financial margin, and I know you already feel this. 

Even if you need to stop doing some things or hold off on an opportunity, margin now will give you more opportunities later.  

Most churches should start with 3-6 months of total operating expenses in reserve. Some need more.  

#7 – Keep the digital pivots.

Some of the changes you’ve made over the last year should stick around, even as people begin to physically return to church. 

Those decisions made out of necessity will turn out to be catalysts for growth in the future.  

For example, an online membership class could continue to be a way to get new people connected. It might be better, more efficient, and more accessible to new people. We talked about this on this episode of the Church Fuel Podcast (available on Apple, Spotify, and Stitcher).

Don’t just go back to the old way if the new way works better.

#8 – Don’t make gathering, regathering, or getting back to normal the goal.

The churches that long to go back to the good old days will not lead their people there.

First of all, it was a largely romanticized view of how well things were working in the past. Secondly, it discounts the new direction and new opportunities God may be giving your church.

Regathering in and of itself is a weak goal. Think bigger. 

#9 – Be willing to change the model.

No ministry model works forever.

The thing you figured out 20 years ago that made so much sense at the time may have run its course. And while the purpose of your church will stay the same no matter what happens in culture, your current mission, strategy, events, and programs should change with the times.

What’s Next?

I’m not a doomsday believer and I’m not prognosticating the end of the church, because God’s church has been around for 2,000 years and nothing will stop it.  

I’m not going to let the stats or trends dissuade me from believing the local church is important and the work you do matters. I’m not out here predicting the demise and fall of God’s plan A for spreading the Gospel.

But as things change, we will continue to equip you with strategy, best practices, and insanely practical resources to help you lead.

One of the best places to start is creating a FREE Church Fuel account, where you can access several webinars, resources, and courses to help you lead your church to healthy growth.

5 Elements of the Perfect Church Staff Retreat

5 Elements of the Perfect Church Staff Retreat

There’s nothing like a church staff retreat to get people on the same page, get excited about the vision, plan for the culture, and contribute to a positive team culture.

A church staff retreat gives everyone the opportunity to work on the ministry, not just in the ministry.

Done right, a staff retreat can be productive, effective, and fun. People will return to everyday ministry energized and excited about the future. But do it wrong and people go back to the office feeling two days behind schedule.

For it to truly work, you don’t just need a bunch of team development ideas or a few vision-filled team dinners. You need the right people with a focused agenda and the right activities.

The Perfect Staff Retreat Agenda

Now is a great time to plan your next church staff retreat, so as you put together the agenda, here are five things to include.

#1 – Your Staff Retreat Agenda Should Include Time for Spiritual Formation

Churches have a lot in common with businesses. 

Even though we use different terminology, we do a lot of the same things that for-profit companies do. Things like…

  • Finance, including budgeting and spending
  • Operations, including planning and strategy
  • Marketing, including advertising and outreach
  • Human resources, including hiring, firing, and developing people.

Your church is much more than a business, but it is at least a business.

In fact, churches ought to be some of the most well-run organizations on the planet because our mission is more important than anything else.

But as you plan your church staff retreat, make sure you lean into the spiritual side of leadership. Don’t make it all business and all planning. Make sure you include spiritual development on the agenda.

If you’re looking for a practical tool to use, here is a free resource. 

These devotions were written for pastors to use in team meetings and team retreats.

#2 – Your Staff Retreat Should Include a Time of Leadership Development

Spiritual formation and leadership development are related, but they are uniquely different.

You want everyone on your team to get better, to keep developing skills that will make them better at their jobs or in their volunteer roles. When you get your leaders together in a retreat setting, make sure you build in some time to help them skill up.

In our discovery phase creating The Leadership Course, we surveyed hundreds of pastors about the skills they wanted to see in their leaders and volunteers. We consolidated all of those skills into this list, which we call “12 Core Skills.”

Imagine if all of your leaders developed or continued to develop these skills in their personal lives.  

They would do their jobs better. They would lead better as a volunteer. They would be better moms, dads, employees, and people.

We created a curriculum around these 12 core skills and it’s a part of that leadership development course. You can access this curriculum (which has both digital resources you can use and video teaching that you can play) immediately when you join Church Fuel.  

Click here to join Church Fuel.  

This curriculum works great as a kickoff to a regular team meeting, or pick and choose topics for your next church staff retreat.

#3 – Your Staff Retreat Should Include Team Building that Helps Create Culture

Team building isn’t all trust falls and personality tests.

In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni writes, “Members of great teams trust one another on a fundamental, emotional level, and they are comfortable being vulnerable with each other about their weaknesses, mistakes, fears, and behaviors.” 

That kind of trust isn’t built overnight, but every time you have a meeting or retreat, you can add a building block.

That’s why it’s important to carve out time to actually build culture and help people understand and trust each other.

Many churches do experience a ton of value by working through Myers Briggs or DISC and talking about interpersonal relationships. Tons of churches have grown together by processing through the Enneagram, perhaps bringing in a coach to help facilitate conversations.

While formal team development exercises can be helpful, don’t forget about less formal activities. Tanys Mosher, Communications Director at Southgate Community Church, says this:

Ziplining, hiking, Spelunking, road trip in an RV – these shared experiences have given us more personal connection and trust-building along with many laughs. We’ve worked through personality tests as well but the above has been far more productive on the human end of team building.

Fun Team Building Ideas for Your Church Staff Retreat

  • Brian Smith, a Church Fuel member, recommends Escape Rooms. “It was fantastic and required everyone’s ability to get out.”
  • Make a playlist. Ask everyone to submit a song that summarizes their life and listen during breaks.
  • Kari Sullivan remembers a staff and family camping trip with lots of time for just hanging out.
  • Make a bio book. Joan Garry suggests everyone write a 1-2 page personal (not professional) bio and put them together in a notebook. Have everyone read and give a quiz.
  • Wii Bowling or a tournament around some other video games.
  • Bill Rose, another Church Fuel member, says: “For some reason, our most memorable was a Scavenger Hunt. It sounds youth groupish but we had 3 teams of 4, ages 31-66, piled in cars driving all over town and solving riddles for 3 hours.

Team building activities aren’t just for fun and games (though there’s certainly value there). But as your team learns about each other and learns to work together, you’re building a culture to support your strategy.

Jenni Catron says leaders are keepers of culture. Your church staff retreat is an opportunity to build and curate a staff culture. It’s much more than an event, it’s an opportunity to build on your values and help everyone learn to trust those who are working together on the same strategy.

#4 – Your Staff Retreat Should Include a Time of Honest Evaluation

When you gather key leaders who care about the future of the church, one of the most meaningful things you can do is look back on what happened. 

When you look back, set aside phrases like “I liked that” or “I didn’t like that.” Your preferences aren’t what needs evaluation.

Instead, you should push hard to talk about effectiveness. Did this program accomplish its intended goal? Is this ministry helping us accomplish our mission? Those are far better questions.

Look at expectations and reality.  Talk about numbers. Evaluate plans compared to the outcome.

Ed Catmull of Pixar/Walt Disney Animation talks about the Braintrust, a group of people assembled to evaluate every movie and give notes to the director. In Creativity, Inc., he writes:

“The Braintrust is fueled by the idea that every note we give is in the service of a common goal: Supporting and helping each other as we try to make better movies.”

Evaluation isn’t just an activity. It’s a mindset. 

But each time you take an honest look back, you’re helping create a culture of continual improvement, a place where it’s normal to get better, not coast on past success or get used to a steady decline. 

Here is another tool to help you evaluate honestly. It’s a set of 7 distinct evaluation forms to help you look back on a special event, staff performance, a sermon, a church service, your website, and a ministry or program. There’s even a “secret shopper” form you could give to someone you ask to attend your church for the first time and evaluate their experience from an outsider’s perspective.

This particular resource is a part of the members’ Resource Library in Church Fuel.

#5 – Your Staff Retreat Should Allow Plenty of Time to Plan and Look Forward

There comes a time in most team retreats where some people feel like it’s time to start on the real work.  

This isn’t to say that spiritual formation and team development isn’t real work. In many ways, it’s the most important work.  

Team building and talking about the past aren’t good enough for some people. They want to make plans and get to work. While you’ll likely have to pull these people through the first parts of your staff retreat agenda, this is where they shine.

William Vanderbloemen says a staff retreat is an ideal time to cast vision or, “If your team has drifted from their mission, re-direct everyone back.”

At your staff retreat, you don’t want to look to the immediate future. You want to look into the near future and slightly beyond. The staff retreat isn’t the time to talk about this Sunday or even next month. You want to talk through the next horizon and the next milestone.

Dan Reiland says, “Be fierce about making progress, not merely dealing with more maintenance.” 

Our favorite tool for this is the Two Page Plan® – a strategic ministry plan that packs everything important into just two pages. There’s a PDF you can print, an online version where you can create, save, edit, and share, and a course to show you exactly how to use it.

The Two Page Plan gives you the space to talk about the vision for the future but keeps you from spinning off into visionary la-la land. The plan, not just a big vision, is what gets your team on the same page and moving in the same direction.

The Two Page Plan template really can guide your staff retreat planning session. And once you complete it, you can revisit from year to year, adjusting what needs to be changed for the current ministry season and reinforcing what should stay the same no matter what.

Mary Jinks, the Director of Operations at Grace Church in Knoxville experienced positive results as her team went through this planning process. Check out her story.

“Our entire staff went through about 5 months of deep depression. Then we decided it was time to do something about it. Stopped talking about “when things get back to normal” and started a whole new plan. Used church fuel’s ministry plan template. Spent 3 months developing and rolling out a completely revamped ministry plan. The staff is off the charts excited. Our people are re-engaging in new ways. Giving is up. In-person attendance is increasing. Online attendance is gaining momentum. Hang in there. Better days are ahead. Pray and seek. Love and bless. Go and do.”

Change Your Staff Retreat Agenda to Suit Your Needs

The perfect staff meeting usually includes components from each of these five areas.

  1. Spiritual Formation
  2. Leadership Development
  3. Team Building
  4. Looking Back
  5. Looking Ahead

But sometimes, you might need to throw out the perfect agenda and focus on just one or two activities.  

For example, in a normal year, this agenda might hit the sweet spot. But coming through all you’ve been through, you might prayerfully decide what your team needs most is a focus on emotional or spiritual health. It might be more important for you to rest and refresh rather than plan and advance.

Know your people. And pastor your people.

Other churches might find all five things in one event is still too much, choosing to break things into two parts. Something like this might suit your needs:

  • A Retreat focused on spiritual formation, leadership development, and/or team building
  • An Advance focused on evaluating the past and planning for the future

Adapt this agenda to suit your needs. Contextualize this plan to fit your context.

There’s nothing like a great church staff retreat to get people on the same page, excited about the vision and plan for the future, and contributing to a positive team culture.

Use the time to step back FROM the ministry and work ON the ministry.

Free Newsletter

Firestarter: Monthly Tips and Ideas on Church Growth
 

16 Book Recommendations for Pastors to Read in 2021

16 Book Recommendations for Pastors to Read in 2021

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.