John Ruskin once said persons must be “entirely thankful” for books of the age – and “entirely ashamed” if they do not make good use of them.
John Ruskin once said persons must be “entirely
thankful” for books of the age – and “entirely ashamed” if they do not
make good use of them.
So, what are the books of the current age for pastors – and what use are they making of them?
A recent Barna Research Group poll asked pastors the
three books that had proved most useful and meaningful to their
ministries in the last three years.
The results were interesting as pastors listed more
than 200 titles. However, only nine books – and 10 authors – were
listed by 2 percent or more of respondents.
Instead, the study found:
• Books identified as most influential often were not among the bestsellers.
• Just a handful of authors have had the most consistent influence on pastors.
• Just a dozen or so books have had the most widespread impact in recent years.
Perhaps not so surprisingly, a pair of books by the same author easily topped the list provided by pastors.
Twenty-one percent of pastors cited “The Purpose
Driven Life” by Rick Warren as the most influential book they had read
in the last three years. It was followed by “The Purpose Driven Church”
by Warren, which was cited by 15 percent of persons in the survey.
Those books have gained considerable attention in
recent months, sitting atop several bestsellers lists from time to time.
Meanwhile, in the Barna poll, no other title gained more than 2 percent of the vote from pastors.
The seven that did garner 2 percent each were
“What’s So Amazing About Grace?” by Phillip Yancey; “Fresh Wind, Fresh
Fire” by Jim Cymbala; “Wild At Heart” by John Eldredge;
“Courageous Leadership” by Bill Hybels; “Spiritual Leadership” by Henry
Blackaby; “Next Generation Leader” by Andy Stanley; and
“The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” by John Maxwell.
The results were similar when researchers sought to identify the most influential authors among pastors.
Warren easily topped that list, with his books being
cited by 30 percent of pastors in the survey. Maxwell was the runner-up
but a distant one with just 5 percent of the total. Books by five other
writers were cited by 3 percent of pastors, while three others were
identified by 2 percent.
Meanwhile, when researchers categorized the books
listed by pastors, they found three types that were most helpful.
A majority of pastors (54 percent) listed at least
one book regarding discipleship or personal spiritual growth. That
category was followed by books about church growth, congregational
health or ministry dynamics (23 percent) and books on leadership (22
Less influential types of books included those about
theology (9 percent), evangelism and outreach (6 percent), pastoring (6
percent), and prayer (5 percent).
Researchers also examined breakdowns in the study.
For instance, pastors of small congregations read fewer books and
clearly favored discipleship books.
The age of a pastor also proved a factor in the
study. For instance, the oldest pastors showed a preference for authors
from their own generation. Meanwhile, pastors under the age of 40 were
more than twice as likely as others to mention books on prayer and only
half as likely to include “The Purpose Driven Life” on their list.
In fact, while one-third of all pastors older than
40 mentioned at least one book by Warren, just 14 percent of those
younger than 40 did so. Instead, they cited several authors who were
not ranked highly by older church leaders, including business
consultant James Collins, Southern Baptist seminary professor Thom
Rainer and pastor John Ortberg.
“One of the most interesting outcomes is the
different taste of younger pastors,” researcher George Barna said.
“Given the divergent points of view that they
consider most helpful and influential, it seems likely we will continue
to see new forms and strategies emerge in their churches. They lean
toward books and authors that extol adventure, shared experiences,
visionary leadership, supernatural guidance and relational connections.
If their choices in reading are any indication, they seem less obsessed
with church size and more interested in encounters with the living God.
“They are also less prone to identifying the most
popular books in favor of those that are known for their passionate
tone,” Barna continued. “The fact that less than half as many young
pastors considered the Purpose Driven books to be influential in their
ministry suggests that the new legion of young pastors may be primed to
introduce new ways of thinking about Christianity and church life.”