‘Tis the Season


booksIt’s that time of year again. While all of you are scrambling to create magnificent celebrations of Hanukkah and Christmas my consulting practice slows down considerably. I have time to breath, reflect and …yes, clean out my book shelves. Several years ago I made a commitment to myself (and my spouse) that I wouldn’t add any more books to my household without eliminating others. And so, each year at this time I undergo a ritual of combing through my books, saying goodbye to some, rediscovering forgotten treasures, and making room for books I’ve yet to discover.

Recently, someone asked me to put together a reading list: my top ten recommended books for the leaders of large congregations. The annual purging process seemed like a good time to take on that challenge. So here goes; this is my top 10 list! Some of these are newer books and some are proven oldies. All of them come from the disciplines out of which I teach and consult: strategic leadership, change leadership, board development, and staff team leadership.

1.  Becoming a Strategic Leader. Richard Hughes and Katherine Colarelli Beatty, authors. San Francisco, CA. John Wiley and Sons, 2005. This is hands down the best book on Strategic Leadership that I have read. It breaks the art of strategic leadership down into strategic thinking, strategic acting and strategic influence, and provides the reader with very helpful diagnostic questionnaires to think about strategic leadership in their own organization.

 2.  Beyond Megachurch Myths. Scott Thumma & Dave Travis, authors. San Francisco, CA. Jossey Bass, 2007.  I know it’s a little risky to put this one on the list. I am NOT advocating that large mainline churches pattern themselves after the megachurch, or aspire to become megachurches. I am suggesting that we have a great deal to learn about the future of the large church in American by the important work that Thumma and Travis have done in this book.

 3.  Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards.  Richard Chait, William Ryan, Barbara Taylor, authors. Hoboken, New Jersey, John Wiley & Sons, 2005.  The authors of this book make some very meaningful distinctions between the fiduciary, generative and strategic work of a board. I find that the material translates very well into congregational life.

 4.  Governance and Ministry: Rethinking Board Leadership, Dan Hotchkiss, author. Herndon, VA, The Alban Institute, 2009.  My colleague has written an incredibly insightful piece of work on the balance between the governance work of the board and ministry work of the staff team. Any leader who has been confused about how to promote clearer boundaries and more helpful collaboration between staff and laity needs to read this book.

 5.  Holy Clarity: The Practice of Planning and Evaluation, by Sarah Drummond, author. Herndon, VA, The Alban Institute, 2009.  The large congregation supports a proliferation of programs and the continual generation of new ideas, while seldom making the painful decision to end anything.  In this book Sarah takes an honest and hopeful approach to program evaluation. She lays out a clear theology of evaluation and a practical set of evaluative tools that the large church leader will find helpful.

 6.  Holy Conversations: Strategic Planning as a Spiritual Practice for Congregations, Gil Rendle and Alice Mann, authors. Herndon, VA, The Alban Institute, 2003.  The book focuses on helping the congregation address three key questions: Who are we? Who is our neighbor? And what is God calling us to do or become?  The reader will develop a well rounded understanding of what strategic planning is all about, and will also have access to very practical tools for guiding strategic discernment in the congregation.

 7.  Immunity to Change: How to Overcome it and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization, Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey, authors. Boston, MA, Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation, 2009.  Immunity to change explores how individual beliefs, along with collective mindsets in the organization combine to create a natural but powerful immunity to change, and then it teaches you key leverage points for unlocking the resistance.

 8.   Taking Your Church to the Next Level: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, Gary l. McIntosh, author. Grand Rapids, MI. Baker Books, 2009.  Gary’s newest book does a marvelous job of blending church size theory with church life cycle theory. He introduces some new terminology for understanding congregations with average worship attendance between 400-2000 and reexamines some long standing assumptions about size, growth and health.

9.  The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World, Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, Marty Linsky, authors. Boston, MA. Harvard Business Press, 2009.  Think of this book as a practical application fieldbook that explains how to engage Heifetz’s theory of adaptive leadership on a day to day basis. You can read it cover to cover all at once, or delve into on an as needed basis.

10.  When Moses Meets Aaron: Staffing and Supervision in Large Congregations, Gil Rendle & Susan Beaumont, authors. Herndon, VA, The Alban Institute, 2007.  You didn’t really think that I would create a top 10 list and not put my own book on it, did you?  Issues of staffing and supervision seem to be at the top of every large congregation’s issues list. This book is a comprehensive handbook on staffing and supervision that blends the best of corporate practice with careful theological reflection.

What good reads would you add to the list?

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