The Best Books of 2017

When it comes to choosing a good book to read, the possibilities are (almost) literally endless.

The Library of Congress, in Washington D.C., houses almost 18 million books. To add to this, almost 200 hundred thousand more titles are added every year.

This means that in 50 years, there will be another 10 million works available to read.

Adding the 18 million and the 10 million coming in the next 50 years, there will be 28 million books for the modern reader to peruse over the next fifty years!

If you were a particularly voracious reader capable of reading about 2600 books in your lifetime, for every 1 book that you read, there are another 10,000 you are not reading!

If you are an avid reader, I understand the emotional turmoil this causes. Isn’t it obvious? You don’t have time to read bad books!

So, with the paralysis of choice, what books would I recommend to you?

Here are my 5 favorites of 2017:

5. The Power of People Skills by Trevor Throness
Sure, I have a little bit of a bias with this choice.

Trevor is my uncle and coaches Executive Leadership Teams in fast-growing, successful companies. He has coached me over the past few years and has added immense value to my leadership skills on the topics of team leadership, strategic planning as well as building and keeping high capacity teams.

I believe that marketplace leaders have much to offer to church leaders, and Trevor does not disappoint with his book. He offers practical ways to help assess your team, get the right people in the right seats and create a culture in which you attract and retain the best people.

Keeping your dream team together is one of the most difficult aspects of church leadership, and Trevor offers ways forward to navigate these tough situations. For instance, do you know how to challenge the underperformers on your team? Or, how to get the best out of your star employees? Trevor addresses these important topics in the book.

If you lead teams, I would recommend buying a few copies and going through the book together.

4. Sources of the Self by Charles Taylor
This is by far the densest read of this list. Taylor, a Catholic philosopher from McGill University, expounds on the location of the moral good for the modern person.

How did we get to the place where our search for the moral good ends with ourselves? Taylor offers an intellectual history of the building blocks of the modern identity.

This book helped me understand modern worldviews and brought precision in diagnosing the dominant ideas and worldviews of our culture. For example, Taylor traces how we have gone inward to find the moral good. He says, “We go inward, but not necessarily to find God; we go to discover or impart some order, or some meaning or some justification, to our lives.” This inward journey is the mantra of our culture.

It is a demanding read, but one that I often cite, either directly or indirectly, in my preaching and teaching opportunities.

If you take the time to thoughtfully engage, you will be invariably enriched.

Interested in more of Taylor's thinking? I summarized another one of his books here.

3. Making Sense of God by Tim Keller
I don’t think I have ever read a poor Tim Keller book, and Making Sense of God lived up to my expectations. Keller has a masterful way of combining deep scholarly research and content with practical and devotional applications.

Keller comments that Making Sense of God is the prequel to his best-selling book The Reason for God as it deals with all the underlying assumptions and questions of the secular person. The Reason for God deals with the intellectual stumbling blocks to Christian belief, like reconciling God and the reality of evil, while Making Sense of God focuses on the emotional and cultural components such as the belief that science is eclipsing religious belief.

I found this book to be thoughtful, thorough and convincing. Not only is Keller an introspective author, he is also a trusted voice. His character, leadership, and passion for the Church and its renewal in North America is inspiring.

This book should be on your shelf.

2. Reformed Theology by Michael Allen
This is the best theological book I read in 2017. I finished my Master’s degree in July of 2017, and as an elective, I took a course on Reformed Theology, Spirituality and Thought. This book was the required reading.

Allen, the instructor for my class and a current Professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, does a remarkable job articulating a clear synopsis of Reformed thought.

I found the book helpful as I interact with people who have questions about Reformed theology. The thinking of the 16th-century Reformers, unfortunately, gets reduced down to acronyms, which does an enormous disservice to the breadth of thought from the leaders of the Protestant Reformation.

If you’re interested in Reformed theology or just looking for an accessible theological work to sharpen your understanding of this pivotal time in theology, this is the book for you.

1. You are what You Love by James K.A. Smith
This book takes the top prize without a doubt. Smith, a philosopher from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, outlines how the practices and habits of our lives have more to do with our affections (what we love) than anything else. He has helpful chapters on family life, children and youth, cultural liturgies we all are shaped by (often unconsciously), faith and work.

So, while you may have a desire to be a spiritually healthy person, he asserts that you need to recount the habits of your life (or liturgies as he calls them) as they shape you more than anything else.

Driven by the Augustinian thought that what we love the most shapes us the most, Smith helps spread light on some of the reasons why you may be feeling spiritually dry.

For instance, one habit I had in my life that was contributing to my spiritual malaise was the incessant noise of the television. Every morning, while eating breakfast, the morning news would be running in the background while my family would eat breakfast together.

Instead of having the opportunity to spend time talking and reading Scripture together, we would be attentively taking in the nonsense that dominates cable news broadcasts. This liturgy, or habit, instead of drawing us closer together and to God, would drive us further from Him and each other.

This is an insightful book that should find its way onto your bookshelf.

Which books will you read 2018?
With one year gone, comes another and new opportunities to read broadly, thoughtfully and vigorously.

Which books are on your list to read in 2018?

4 Ways Leaders Needlessly Spend Their Chips

I can confidently say that I am one of the worst poker players you will ever meet for two specific reasons.

As my wife would attest, I have a terrible poker face; she can read every emotion. Also, the game just takes too long for my restless personality. I end up going “all in” on a 2-7 off suit hand, thereby losing the buy-in cost.

However, I understand the basic premise: the more chips you have to play the better. Effective poker players build a stockpile of chips by winning hands.

The same principle can be used in leadership. Effective leaders build a stockpile of “chips” after wins. What are these wins? Consistent godly character, sincerity in caring for people, courageous leadership in the midst of challenge, and passion.

Leaders want to amass a stockpile quickly, but it’s highly unrealistic and the effort can be exhausting. Rarely do you gather thousands of chips at a time; however, the small and often unnoticed wins will add up with patience and perseverance.

As difficult as it is to collect leadership chips, unfortunately it is easier to spend them unwisely and often unintentionally.

What are some of those unwise and unintentional expenditures? Here are 4:

1. Indifference…over the small sins
I don’t know many leaders who are actively pursuing murder or fraud, but I do know some who are playing with gossip and coarse language.

I am one of them.

As like all disciples of Jesus, leaders have blind spots, i.e., the ways in which we can’t see ourselves and the small character deficiencies we are comfortable with.

Blind spots have consequences in our relationship with Jesus. But they also affect the people we lead because they see them when we can’t.

[bctt tweet="Blind spots have consequences in our relationship with Jesus. But they also affect the people we lead because they see them when we can’t." username="christhroness"]

The most important quality leaders need to develop is not their competency, but their character. So, the off colored joke amongst your leaders, the not-so-bad Christian swearword or your underlying competitive attitude with the church down the street seep out of us and spend our leadership chips.

You don’t notice them, but you can be sure that the people that spend time with you do.

Regular time in the Word, authenticity in community and people in your life who are willing to give you honest feedback are all ways you can ensure that this isn’t one way you are needlessly spending your chips.

2. Unavailability
While it is true that there are too many ways people can access you (email, phone, text, Facebook etc.), consistent inaccessibility erodes people’s trust in a leader.

Hear me: you need boundaries around when and how people can contact you. But you also need to be available. Whether it is a reference form for a volunteer, a phone call from someone in crisis or a teammate who simply needs 5 minutes of your time, people must have access to you.

Absent and unreachable leaders rapidly lose their influence and spend their leadership chips.

How to check if you’re unavailable:
• How many unread emails does your iPhone icon say you have?
• Any dust collecting on texts sent from colleagues or volunteers?
• Can you remember the password to your voicemail at work?
• Is there a running joke amongst your peers of your propensity to be missing in action digitally or personally?

If it’s true that trust is the currency of leadership, how can you build trust when people can’t connect with you?

3. Disorganization
The chasm that separates competent leaders from extraordinary leaders isn’t massive. The good news is that this chasm can be bridged with a few conscientious steps.

One of the simple ways to be exceptional is to be organized.

I don’t mean that you have to be an all-star administrator, but people need to know they can rely on you to deliver what you promised.

For instance, does your leadership team trust that your 7 pm meeting will actually start at 7 pm (and finish would you said it would)? Or do they show up expecting to see you frantically photocopying meeting agenda’s and finishing off the PowerPoint presentation?

Does your team covertly, or maybe not so covertly, roll their eyes when you excitedly cast vision for a new initiative because they know that no execution follows your impassioned ideas? The execution of a vision happens because you formulate a realistic plan, and a vision without a plan is a dream.

Rolled eyes and wasted time are small ways that your unorganized leadership are unnecessarily spending your precious leadership chips.

4. Unawareness
It may be hard to accept, but you’re not a perfect leader. I know I am not. The quicker you come to this realization, the better it is for you and those you lead.

Acceptance of this truth is not enough: a further step needs to be taken.

Leaders, you need to be able to answer a hard question: in what ways are you imperfect? The answer to this question will empower you to lead more effectively.

The obvious, humbling and terrifying truth about leadership is that those who you lead are downstream from you. They get the good and the bad. An oblivious leader doesn’t understand how the people downstream from you are negatively impacted by your weaknesses.

Don’t get me wrong, we aren’t striving for perfection. But as you continue your education of yourself, you will understand how to manage your weaknesses better.

I see two simple ways forward: ask honest people for feedback and follow through with their recommendations and develop a thick skin for criticism from people that you trust.

Unawareness spends your leadership chips. Awareness earns them.

[bctt tweet="Unawareness spends your leadership chips. Awareness earns them." username="christhroness"]

Steward your chips
Leadership is a harder game than poker. It demands your constant attention and growth, and the losses are more consequential.

Being unconcerned (with your character), unavailable, unorganized and unaware squander your leadership chips quickly.

You will need to cash in your leadership chips at some point: for the new church plant or proposing an extra faith-filled budget. Don’t waste them on these easily corrected leadership slip-ups.

And if you are thinking of inviting me to your next poker night based on my self-assessed poor poker acumen, I’ll save you the time:

No thank you.

Are you a millennial church leader and need some help in any of these areas? I'd be excited to explore a coaching relationship with you.

The Emotionally Healthy Leader

Some time ago, former Pastor and Evangelical leader Rob Bell articulated a painful reality for leaders:

Leadership is “death by a thousand paper cuts."

These metaphorical papercuts are the seemingly insignificant nicks that we occur along our leadership journey, but they add up over time. And they sting.

It’s one little scratch here. Another there. All of a sudden you realize you're bleeding out very, very slowly.

And if you’ve led anything for some time, you’ve probably received a few of them already.

What are these papercuts? They can come in the form of a backhanded compliment that you receive after giving what you hoped was an inspiring sermon: “Pastor, your sermons aren’t nearly half bad as they used to be!” It’s the family that praised you two months ago that has now left your church for the big one down the road. Or, it’s the death of a vision you carried for some time.

So how do you deal with these inevitable wounds? Through my leadership role, I have felt these cuts and learned two important lessons that have aided me:

1. Figure out what you’re feeling
The ability to read your own emotions is an elusive, but vital skill in leadership, one that is difficult for a number of reasons:

First, life in the West doesn’t cultivate emotional reflection. The fast pace doesn’t enable us the time to self-reflect. We continue to work hard to pay mortgages, drive kids to soccer and try to go on dates with our spouses. If it’s not the pace, it’s the incessant noise coming from our devices: text messages, Facebook notifications and the six o’clock news.

Second, the personality of a typical leader doesn’t help either. We are often driven, passionate and focused on the future. It’s difficult to think about what has happened in light of what still needs to happen. Who has time to process when Sunday is coming?

Third, I don’t think being a male makes this easier. It could be just me, but it seems that emotional articulation comes easier to females than males. Most guys only know three emotions: hungry, tired and angry (when your team loses).

Finally, the journey in and down can be a scary one too. It’s the same eerie feeling you get when you know you have to dig out the Christmas decorations from the crawl space; it’s dark, cramped and worst of all, you don’t know what you will find.

Our feelings are indicators of how we are actually doing internally. And for some, the temptation is to remain numb. It seems to be easier – and less terrifying—this way.

For these reasons, it is difficult, if not impossible, to discern how you are actually feeling. But it is important.

Behind every papercut is a story, and in every story, there are often painful emotions.

Take time to fight against yourself and your culture to make some sense of your inner life.

[bctt tweet="Take time to fight against yourself and your culture to make some sense of your inner life." username="christhroness"]

2. What will you do with these feelings?
Once you’ve labeled your feelings, what do you do with them?

The ways in which you deal with the papercuts (disappointment, failure, insecurity, and fear etc.) will either release you to long-term ministry health or will disintegrate your integrity, leadership, and family.

Here are some unhealthy ways leaders deal with emotions:

First, the temptation is to medicate ourselves to cope. It does not matter your track record, upbringing, education, tenure or zeal – no one is immune.

Some favorite medications of Christian leaders are the misuse of power, unhealthy sexual appetites, pornography, substance abuse, food and escapism (usually some form of slothfulness).

Second, we start to vilify everyone we perceive is against us. It can get wearisome, always being defensive. In order to regain some control, we go on the offensive by creating false narratives about the people we interact with.

The good news is that although difficult and painful, each papercut is actually an invitation to make the gospel functional in your life. These painful reminders serve us as they speak of our re-occurring need for grace.

Grace is the cure. It aids the healing of your leadership pain. In His grace, God will meet you in your area of struggle and disappointment and speak words of life, reassurance, and hope.

So, when that power family leaves your church, you are reminded that these people were never yours to begin with. You realize once again that the Kingdom is bigger than your church's address.

When that backhanded compliment comes, you see again how your identity cannot be rooted in your work.

Or when your vision dies, you get let go, the finances are in the red, the Elders turn on you, the conflict is too much, the desired change is rejected, the church plant fails, the staff member leaves, the church floods, your preaching is terrible, you aren’t seeing the growth you want...

…you see again that you are in much need of grace.

Now what?
I wish I had this all figured out as I still struggle to understand how I am actually doing. But I realized a while ago that if I didn’t lead myself intentionally in this area, my default is to drift to being alive and busy, but feeling dead.

So, I have tried to do the following:
• Send out a monthly prayer letter to trusted friends. I outline what has happened, what is coming up and ways to pray for me, my family and ministry.
• I take one Friday a month for prayer, reflection, journaling, and dreaming.
• I have friends who keep me accountable and ask me hard questions.
• I desire to lead authentically with those around me; I try not to portray something, someone or somewhere that I am not.

Deciding to bring your papercuts to Jesus doesn’t overwrite them or dilute them; rather we meet Jesus in the midst of them. Often, it is in these moments when He becomes more real to us than ever before.

[bctt tweet="Deciding to bring your papercuts to Jesus doesn’t overwrite them or dilute them; rather we meet Jesus in the midst of them. Often, it is in these moments when He becomes more real to us than ever before." username="christhroness"]

And if you’re a Christian leader, what more could you want or need?

Do you need some help in this area? I'd be excited to explore a coaching relationship with you.