as mentioned in my last post, i have set a goal to read at least 3 books a month this year, not counting whatever i am reading for sermon preparation and teaching purposes.

in january, i managed to read 4 books. they were:(click on titles for links)

1.) crosstalk – michael emlet
this book was released this past novemember and very quickly became highly recommended in the area of pastoral counseling. emlet’s purpose is to aid the reader in applying scripture to real life, without simply throwing verses “at” people and/or situations. .he has some really good general principles as well as some more specific ideas, both of which could be used by pastors, bible study leaders, spiritual mentors, etc. while not technically a “textbook”, this one did feel a bit text-booky at times. that isn’t always a bad thing and is necessary when a book is based on teaching the reader new principles. a good read that i will refer to many times i’m sure.

2.) the cross centered life – c.j. mahaney
some may accuse of me of cheating for counting this one. a very small book (85 pages that are 1/4 the size of a normal sized book ), mahaney’s book is intended to be a crash course on what being a christian looks like day in and day out- or at least what it *should* look like.  this book is helpful without being preachy and is very accessible, not only because of its size, but because of mahaney’s very readable and warm tone. i have given this book away many times (yes, i have read it before…but i wanted to re-read it before i gave it to someone . but that’s not cheating, i never said every book this year would be a new one for me!)

this book is highly recommended for every christian. very practical, helpful, and very short for those who think they cant be helped by reading books because they are too long and boring. this one is neither.

3.) dug down deep – joshua harris

another new release, this book just came out last month. joshua harris is now the pastor of covenant life church in maryland, having been groomed for the position by the church’s former pastor, c.j. mahaney (see above) harris has done a remarkable job of combining narrative (his own life) and application (why christians need to know and appreciate theology). this book isn’t harsh or unfeeling. quite the contrary, it is a plea from someone who is now a pastor, desiring that people like those in his congregation would come to love and benefit from theology, seeing it as their ally, not a bully. highly recommended for those who wonder how “justification, sanctification, the doctrine of sin, etc.” have anything to do with their day to day life. if all you know about harris are his books on dating, man are you in for a huge (and pleasant) surprise!

4.) the trellis & the vine – colin marshall & tony payne
i did not tend to have 3 of the books this month be less than 6 months old, but it just sort of ended up that way. (never fear, one book on my list to read soon is over 200 yrs. old)

this is a book for pastors and those in leadership positions in ministry. taking a very simple (and in hindsight, so obvious!) analogy of a trellis that holds up and supports a vine, this book really gets back to the reason of why it is we do what we do and causes the reader to consider in what ways all of our secondary issues in ministry (administration, program building, etc.) are actually contributing to the true task of the church- making disciples. these secondary issues may be very important, but are they taking our energy and focus off of the main purpose?

the premise of the book is that the trellis (administrative tasks, ministry “programs”, etc. ) have a place and a purpose, and are useful in the growth and development of the vine (“disciple making”). but the point of the trellis is to support the vine, because the vine is most important. when we have a very nice trellis that is well crafted, painted and maintained with a vine that is withering and malnourished, our priorities have gotten reversed. the health and vitality of the vine is why the trellis exists, not vice versa.

the call of this wonderful book is not to begin a new program or necessarily ditch what you have (but maybe  consider if you would be willing to if necessary). the call of the book is to make sure that our churches do not become so focused on having an impressive trellis that we neglect the vine. or worse, be more concerned about the beauty of the trellis than the growth of the vine. after all, the vine is why we as churches exist.

many people more influential than me have said this book is an absolute must for any pastor/ministry leader… and i agree. it does a great job of being descriptive without prescriptive, and the authors make a point many times to say to consider your own environment in the way and pace at which you point the focus back to the vine.