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A Church Staff Reading Colloquium

Among my first thoughts in the days after doctoral graduation was the realization I could read what I wanted. Not for research or assignment, but simply because I chose the book and wouldn't receive a grade or have to include it in a footnote.

The problem is, it's easy to get out of the habit of reading. We get busy, then busy becomes lazy, lazy becomes guilty, and before we know it, church-based ministry has diminished the habit of consistent, purposeful reading.

Or, we become too focused on reading one topic (preachers read preaching and leadership; children's ministry gurus read parenting and kid books; etc).

Or, we find ourselves only reading alone without discussing or processing the content. A great gift of PhD work is the collegiality of interacting with a book from various perspectives.

*Shared reading not only builds accountability, but also sharpens our thinking and helps us translate the material into wise action.

Thankfully, church staffs are in a perfect position to optimize shared reading. As with many organizations, the Emmaus staff reads a few books together each year. I try to pick a wide range of books to generate discussion and help us grow stronger individually and as a team. The books probably skew a little too recent (we hope to fill in the gaps with some older books); but overall the selection has proven beneficial and enjoyable.

Here's an annotated list for the past couple of years. Unless indicated, all staff members - including administrative staff - were involved. The date in parenthesis is the year our staff read the book; not the year the book was published.

Delighting in the Trinity - Michael Reeves (current, all-staff book)

Key Takeaway from Staff: The doctrine of the Trinity is not an embarrassment or add-on to Christianity. The Triune God brings clarity and joy to the Christian life.

Reappearing Church - Mark Sayers (current, pastoral staff)

Connected closely with the "This Cultural Moment" podcast (which Sayers shares with John Mark Comer, the author of a great recent book called The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry), Reappearing Church presents the chaos of our culture as an opportunity for spiritual renewal and revival, instead of a reason to despair. This book is full of Sayers's cultural and theological insights and has sparked fervent prayer among our pastoral staff. My main frustration is that Sayers remains at a high, theoretical level (where he is at his best) throughout the book, instead of providing the sort of details or examples that would've been helpful for putting his ideas into action, especially in the chapters on Contending Prayer and new Patterns for living.

Evangelism as Exiles - Elliot Clark (2019)

A balanced, wise, and helpful book on evangelism. He brings the perspective of a missionary to the perennial topic of how-to-do-evangelism in the American church. The book's foundation in 1 Peter also helped our staff integrate the book with group Bible reading.

The Unsaved Christian - Dean Inserra (2019)

Because of the location (OKC) and background (SBC) of Emmaus, our staff resonated with this book. The chapters provided important conversation-starters about both evangelism and discipleship.

The Emotionally Healthy Church - Pete Scazzero (2017 / 2018)

Scazzero's work on Emotionally-Healthy Spirituality and Leadership provides a fresh way to think about discipleship. I fear that some people could mis-read Scazzero's work as not being enough about prayer and Bible study. This misses the point of the book, which forces us to think about how factors such as family background, emotional maturity, and relational conflict impact spiritual growth. A book like this requires vulnerability and trust among team members.

The Skeletons in God's Closet: The Mercy of Hell, the Surprise of Judgment, the Hope of Holy War - Joshua Ryan Butler (2017)

I read this book in preparation for preaching a sermon series through Joshua and Judges. I hoped the book would stretch our staff, even if we didn't agree with all of Butler's conclusions. Part apologetics, part biblical theology, the book definitely prompted important questions about tough topics such as genocide in the OT, evil in the world today, and the doctrine of hell.

The Hole in Our Holiness - Kevin DeYoung (2016)

Our staff connected really well with DeYoung's work, appreciating his biblical theology and practical application. The book forced us to consider our personal holiness, even as we looked at the need for holiness in our church.

Essentialism - Greg McKeown (2016)

I am a sucker for productivity and leadership books, but I don't want to place too many of these books on our staff, at least for group reading. However, McKeown's book came early in my time at Emmaus and gave us a chance to discuss where we should focus as a church. His guide to "saying No to almost everything so you can say Yes to what matters most"is tough to execute, but remains important advice. This principle requires buy-in from all staff, especially those at a senior level. Several years later, we are still working to implement some of McKeown's principles (plus, several other books have emerged in this same vein).


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