Christian Reads for the journey of leadership

books_journalBy Matt Sapp

Reading is a big part of my life. Reading is how we learn. It’s how new ideas emerge and old ideas stay fresh. With video teaching and podcasts, we increasingly listen and watch, too, but reading is still the primary way we learn from other people.

As a pastor, I read to keep up with what’s going on among Baptists, to deepen faith, to wrestle with theology, and to grow in church leadership.

I choose books that I hope will help clarify a particular challenge.  Sometimes the books I read lead me to answers; sometimes they leave me with more questions.  Whether the books provide clarity or leave me swimming in even more questions, they often stimulate my thinking and inspire me to engage the world with the message of Christ.

Reading and gathering information is largely a “behind the scenes” activity. So here’s a peek behind the curtain at a partial list of books I’m reading or using now as part of our work together at church:

A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel Brad Jersak (2015)

The main idea is simple. God is most completely revealed in Jesus Christ, so if we want to know who God is and what God is like, we need look no further than Jesus. If we have beliefs about God that seem to conflict with the life and/or teaching of Jesus, then we need to examine and perhaps re-evaluate those beliefs.

The idea behind this book—if not its specific content—will drive our worship series during Lent this year. We’re calling that series “(re)defined: Discovering God on the Way to the Cross.” It starts February 14th.

A Farewell To Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace Brian Zahnd (2014)

I read this book about a year ago. It provides a challenging look at the places where Christianity and duty to country collide and conflict by examining our Christian responsibility to be peacemakers and challenging the growing acceptance of violence and war and militarism in American culture. While all of us might not reach all of the conclusions the author reaches, it is a book worth being challenged by.

The author, Brian Zahnd, fits into what is an increasingly rare progressive evangelical mold—a mantle I would claim for myself. That’s true of Brad Jersak, too. Because progressive, free-church evangelicals are so hard to come by these days, I have been actively seeking them out. I’m glad to have found both Jersak and Zahnd.

Water to Wine Brian Zahnd (2016)

Brian Zahnd has not always been a progressive Christian. Formed in the 70’s and 80’s by both the Jesus Movement and the New Charismatics, Zahnd’s theology began to shift in 2004. He shares his pilgrimage to the more progressive faith that guides him today in Water to Wine. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s next on my list.

Transformational Church: Creating A New Scorecard For Congregations  Ed Stetzer and Thom Rainer (2010)

Transformational Church uses an impressive set of survey data to argue for a renewed focus on discipleship in American churches. The American church is in decline. Many churches are closing their doors. The authors suggest that churches that develop clear pathways to increased engagement and that emphasize the intentional development of Christian relationships are more likely to experience revitalization and increased community impact.

This book, along with Simple Church, provides the background music to my time spent in strategic thinking and planning.

Simple Church: Returning To God’s Process For Making Disciples Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger (2011)

Simple Church argues for a streamlined and modernized model of church organization and programming around clear and focused goals and purpose statements for local churches. It has had more impact on my thinking about future church structures than any other church planning/organization resource.

Simple Church encourages congregations to create clear and straightforward pathways for increased member engagement so that everyone always knows what their next step of involvement is and how to take it, and so that all programming works together to fulfill the ultimate vision of the church.

Grounded: Finding God in the World Diana Butler Bass (2015)

Grounded starts with the question, “Where is God?” and proceeds to make the case that Americans are increasingly longing for, seeking and finding God in the world around us.  The idea is that the church is used to being the institution that exists to communicate the presence of a distant God, but as people are finding God for themselves all around us—and without the church—the role of the church must necessarily change.

Of that change Bass says, “The theological ground is moving; a spiritual revolution is afoot.” It is a book worth reading because it both honestly confronts the challenges facing the church and offers a hopeful vision for what the reorientation of the church in a rapidly changing culture might look like.


If you’re interested, I also read a few blogs and listen to a few podcasts regularly.

Thom Rainer 

Thom Rainer is the president of LifeWay Christian Resources. He hosts podcast episodes twice a week and regularly publishes to his blog. You can find both at his website or you can subscribe and have them delivered by email or to your podcasting app.  The content is largely designed for pastors and ministers and provides practical tips and advice for working in and leading today’s church.

Carey Nieuwhof: Helping You Lead Like Never Before

Carey Nieuwhof is pastor of Connexus Church outside of Toronto, Canada. His blog posts and podcasts focus on leadership and developing Christian leaders for church service.

Baptist News Global-Conversations That Matter

Baptist News Global (formerly Associated Baptist Press) was founded in 1990 as the only independent news service created by and for Baptists. It features religious news with heavy emphasis on Baptist events and daily commentary from moderate Baptist voices. 

Ethics Daily: Challenging People of Faith to Advance the Common Good is a division of the Baptist Center for Ethics, a Nashville-based non-profit founded in 1991 by Robert Parham. BCE was founded with the mission of providing proactive, positive and practical ethics resources to churches.

In 2002, BCE launched, posting news, columns, movie and book reviews, features, editorials and other content each weekday. has built a global readership as it challenges people of faith to advance the common good.

CBF Blog

If you want to keep up with what’s going on around CBF, regular postings to the CBF Blog make this a good place to start.

We’ve never had more access to more great sources of information. So get online and buy a book, read a blog post or listen to a podcast from this list. I’ll be listening and reading, too. And by the way, you can subscribe to this blog post by clicking on the links at the top or bottom of this page. And if you’re interested in receiving our Sunday messages online, you can subscribe to our podcast through iTunes HERE.

This article originally ran on the Heritage Baptist Fellowship blog.  It is printed with permission from the author.

6 Bedtime routines for Christians

bedtime-prayerA recent Yahoo News article highlights the bedtime routines of influential leaders.  From President Obama’s late-night security briefings to Stephen King’s obsessive habit of turning the pillows a certain way, it seems that everyone “in the know” has a routine that nurtures success.

What about Christians?  We are called to be disciplined, so what routines help us prepare for God’s new day ahead?  Here are a few recommendations.

1. Prayer.  Although many people pray at the end of the day because they forget to pray during the day, prayer is still a worthy endeavor in thanking God for the blessings along the way.

The solitude and quiet of bedtime prayers also gives the Holy Spirit room to work, and it is not uncommon for a rush of insights to come when we’ve finally given our brain permission to rest.

When you get a barrage of insights, write them down in a notepad, lest you forget.   Then, once recorded, turn them over to the Lord.

2. An Examin.  Prayer alone can be quite helpful, but one of our spiritual ancestors, St. Ignatius of Loyola, turned bedtime prayer into a practice similar to that of day-dreaming.  This practice, called the Examin, has a five-fold process that many Christians, Jesuits especially, still practice today.

First, when one goes to God in prayer, there is a time of gratitude.  Next, the person imagines standing before God and asks the Spirit to speak into his or her heart.

Third, as the imagery unfolds, insights are revealed.  Fourth, there is a recollection of the day’s deeds and confession.  Last, there is a short prayer of intercession.

The emphasis of an Examin actually rests on confession for the day’s events.  There is a proactive, spiritual cleansing that sets the heart right with God and lets the new day come with a clean slate.

3. Journaling.  Useful in recording the day’s events, journaling is simply another way of praying to and worshiping God.

We write, and the physical movements of our hand and pen inspire us to sacrifice our daily living unto the glory of God.

4.  The physical act of getting ready for next day.  Successful people have shown great discipline in this task.  Sometimes, it includes drawing up a “to-do” list, as well as prioritizing time management for the next day’s schedule.

It can also help us put God back in the center of our lives by remembering what we’ve neglected or overlooked, and need to focus on.

Sometimes I do this while ironing a shirt I will wear the next day.  Another person I know does this while removing her make-up for the day.  The physical actions accompany a spiritual commitment to get a fresh start with God and with others.

5.  Letter writing.  There is something precious about receiving a hand-written letter in the mail.  Letters communicate a level of care and concern that exceeds most things we have in our life today.

Letters keep us in touch with family, long-lost friends, and acquaintances.  It re-connects us to the outside world, re-orients our minds to the needs of others, and re-imagines our lives as interdependent in God’s larger community.  It is cathartic to write, and it is cathartic for the recipient to read.

6.  Spiritual Reading.   One of Bill Gates’ routines is to read at least an hour before bed.  Presidents Obama and Theodore Roosevelt are infamous for reading hundreds of pages into the night.

Spiritual reading is invaluable for Christians who need the slower, methodical rhythm that such encouragement offers.  It is, as all of the routines imply, another way to worship and honor God with our time.

As you go about your day, remember that routines are the life-blood of the human soul.  They help us align ourselves to God’s Spirit and put into practice those things that matter most in our life.