25 Books Every Pastor Should Have on Their Shelf

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Here’s a list of 25 books (in no particular order) that I would bring to my pastoral office should I ever serve in a local church ministry again. You’ll notice the number of books that serve as interpretive aids betray the central role I believe Scripture, preaching, and teaching should serve in pastoral ministry. There are, however, pastors with other gifts—and needs that the church has—that would leave other emphases to be desired.

Also, though I’ve had this list in draft form for several months now, Thom S. Rainer of Lifeway Ministries beat me to the punch! Check out his list here. View Seedbed’s “Top 10” list for recommended reading on various topics here.

1) IVP Bible Background Commentary (Old Testament) by John Walton, Victor H. Matthews & Mark W. Chavalas

This two-part series is an indispensable resource, and the proof is in the number of copies sold. You can trust John Walton’s knowledge of ancient Near Eastern sources and what bearing it has on interpreting the Old Testament.

2) IVP Bible Background Commentary (New Testament) by Craig Keener

Keener’s knowledge of classical sources is widely recognized, and all of his work is marked by tremendous erudition and thoroughness. This volume is critical for understanding both familiar and problem passages in the New Testament.

3) The Sermons of John Wesley by Ken Collins and Jason E. Vickers

This new collection of John Wesley’s sermons includes introductory remarks by two of the world’s foremost Wesley scholars, and additionally, is arranged theologically according to the order of salvation. This will quickly become your go-to resource for regularly engaging this important historic material.

4) Betrayal of Trust: Confronting and Preventing Clergy Sexual Misconduct by Stanley Grenz & Roy D. Bell

This was one of the first books I read in seminary, and it successfully alerted me to the complexities of trust, dynamics of power in relationships, and responsibility in pastoral leadership.

5) The Pastor by Eugene Peterson

Peterson is the author of the multi-million-selling The Message Bible. In this memoir, he shares personal stories and wisdom that will challenge you to rethink ministry in our age of consumerism. The result is a thoughtful and refreshing vision of pastoral vocation.

6) Wesley and the People Called Methodists by Richard P. Heitzenrater

As as Wesleyan, I need a survey of the early Methodist movement on my shelf, including interpretation of its early theology and organization. Heitzenrater is a leading Wesleyan scholar and this work is both trusted and definitive on the topic.

7) The Reason for God by Timothy Keller

I can think of no better modern book on apologetics than this one written just a few years ago by Timothy Keller. It is comprehensive, and Keller writes as a pastor, though still maintaining intellectual integrity and robust arguments. He has been called a “modern C. S. Lewis” by the New York Times.

8) Classic Christianity by Thomas Oden

Proverbial wisdom states that we should read older books more often than new ones. This is the gift of Oden’s project tracing the doctrinal consensus of the gospel through historic Christianity. This one-volume magisterial work is full of theological wisdom gleaned from centuries of church teachers.

9) Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology by Gregory Boy & Paul Eddy

This helpful and concise book works through a breadth of positions concerning evangelical teaching. There are storied introductions, plenty of Scripture references, and responses to objectives. It is even-handed and fair to all perspectives.

10) The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer

Few books warrant as much attention as we should give ones like this. Whenever you are burned out, disillusioned, facing adversity, or temptation, pick up this classic and be reminded afresh of our most basic Christian vocation. Anything by Tozer is a treasure.

11) Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis is beloved by Catholics and evangelicals alike, and for good reason. This work has helped lead countless skeptics, both famous and ordinary, to the Christian faith, and his philosophical depth and profundity is universally acknowledged.

12) The Moral Vision of the New Testament by Richard Hays

One of the central roles of a pastor is to lead a congregation into ever-increasing levels of love and holiness, so a book on ethics is only appropriate. This work is a seminal study and recognized by several reports as a top-100 Christian book of the 20th century.

13) Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster

If spiritual disciplines, such as fasting and contemplative prayer, are foreign to you, this is a great primer to help you move into new, life-giving spiritual practices. Recapturing these rhythms are essential for modern life in the 21st century.

14) My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers

This classic daily devotional, though written over an hundred years ago, is timeless in its application. It is spiritually challenging and continues to minister to millions of Christians. You can read this daily year after year and still gain fresh insight and application.

15) When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor … And Yourself by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert

Pastoral work includes ministering to “the least of these,” but the effects of so much ministry to the poor has not been thoughtfully considered. This well-received resource will help keep the church focused on holistic ministry from a truly biblically-informed gospel.

16) Surprised by Hope by N. T. Wright

N. T. Wright is a prolific scholar and a true churchman. Surprised by Hope is just one of his books that will challenge afresh what we think of the gospel, the afterlife, Christian discipleship, and cultural engagement.

17) Exegetical Fallacies by D. A. Carson

D. A. Carson is as sharp as they come when addressing issues in biblical interpretation. This book will help us avoid common mistakes when doing our exegetical work in the text during sermon preparation.

18) The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard

The late Dallas Willard was beloved by all, and though a philosopher by training, his contribution to the life of the church is the challenge to move beyond a gospel of “sin management” and into the depths of spiritual maturity. I was assigned this book in 10th grade Sunday School, and I am so grateful I was exposed to it early on.

19) Inductive Bible Study by Robert Traina & David R. Bauer

Traina is one of the early heralds of inductive Bible study method (commonly known as IBS), and his project of teaching students of the Bible comes to a splendid fulfillment through David Bauer in this comprehensive handbook on letting the Bible speak for itself.

20) Interlinear for the Rest of Us by William Mounce

This is a great reference book for those with little or no biblical Greek training. It lets you do simple things like word studies by offering the Greek text underneath the English text, which is usually presented in reverse order in traditional interlinear Bibles.

21) Wesley and Sanctification by Harald Lindstrom

Published by Francis Asbury Press, this work is recognized as a keen treatment of what John Wesley considered to be the central theme of biblical theology—salvation. This is an important read for anyone wanting to immerse themselves in the doctrine which energized the Wesleyan revival and early Methodist movement. Lindstrom uses Wesley’s sermons as primary sources.

22) New Testament History by Ben Witherington III

If you ever need to freshen up on the background related to Herod the Great, the Pharisees & Saduccees, or other Greco-Roman and Jewish history, this is a great place to start. It’s very readable and covers all the basics, though you will find a significant part dedicated to the New Testament story itself.

23) Come Creator Spirit by Raniero Cantalamessa

Structured as a commentary on an ancient prayer, “Veni Creator,” Roman Catholic Cantalamessa offers us one of the finest treatments of the Holy Spirit that there is. It is packed with theological insight, but even better, nearly every line invites the reader to pause and reflect. It is a rare gem that does serious theology while inspiring awe, devotion, and worship.

24) The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society by Henri J. M. Nouwen

Nouwen is one of those authors that ought to occupy significant space on every pastor’s shelf. Among others, such as Richard Foster and Eugene Peterson, he challenges us to rethink conventional approaches to American ministry and spirituality. Here you’ll find hope-filled insights for ministry through pastoral attentiveness to suffering.

25) IVP Atlas of Bible History

This is a beautifully-designed resource to aide our understanding of the biblical timeline, people, and places. It makes them come to life in new ways. The illustrations and photos are second to none. You’ll especially appreciate the illustrations of Babylon, The Second Temple, and the City of Ephesus.

How about you? What would you include on this list?

View Seedbed’s “Top 10” list for recommended reading on various topics.

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Andrew is an acquisitions editor for Seedbed books and director of online resources for Seedbed. When not editing he enjoys design, photography, and gardening. He lives with his family in Tennessee.

19 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for the list; a number of books I’ll need to read. But one question: out of 25 books, there are no female voices worth hearing? And similarly, only white people it looks like?

    • Good point. What are the the 4-5 you would suggest that come from female voices? I have one on my list above. Also–non-white authors? I have several in my top 100 list, but none in my top 25 “classics” I confess

    • Thanks Danny for noticing this. This is my own list and it certainly betrays a lack of diversity. I would love to have your own contributions.

      • Immediately, I think of James Cones “The Cross and the Lynching Tree.” Also Barbara Brown Taylor’s “Preaching Life.” Then I wonder what we can learn from Latin America – people like Oscar Romero. I’m personally out of touch with good feminist or womanist voices.

        Perhaps not as rich theologically, Anne Lammott’s “Traveling Mercies” would give us a good sense of what lay people think, and what conversion from secularism looks like.

        The increasing reality that our churches need to be more diverse also point me to Soong Chan Rah’s “Next Evangelicalism” and Christena Cleveland “Disunity in Christ.”

        And one of my favorites is a novel, Endo’s “Silence” based on the persecution of Japanese Christians.

  2. Great list, Andrew…
    Couldn’t agree more with # 5, 10, 11, 13, 14, 16, 18, & 24.
    The only clear omission for “every pastor” I would note is “The Tale of Three Kings” by Gene Edwards.

    I suppose in a fit of self-preference I might add other Peterson books too, especially The Contemplative Pastor and Working the Angles, although a half-dozen or more of his books would be possible nominations… and you chose the very best of all of them. I am so glad Pastor Pete added that capstone to his works at the end to sum up All Things Eugene. Other Nouwen works are commendable too (In the Name of Jesus and Return of the Prodigal Son) but again you chose the best one for “every pastor.” Charlene Li’s Open Leadership is one many pastors could take a look at in these days of social media, and social media even impacting the way we lead in non social media spaces. Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship could make a list like this. Preaching with Freshness by Bruce Mawhinney is a great near-classic on preaching for me. Spiritual Leadership by Oswald Sanders might deserve a spot as it has few peers in that zone. Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger is unparalleled in that area as well, and now a classic. 24/6 by Matthew Sleeth is perhaps in the top 50 for me, not sure about top 25 of all time, but close–and a focus not well represented in the ministry literature. The Making of a Leader by Robert Clinton is the touch stone for the influential Leadership Emergence Theory. You list might be a little light on Holiness theology for a site like this, so I suggest Holiness for Ordinary People by Keith Drury, which, at 30 years old, might be getting close enough for classic status in that zone–while still being so readable for today.

    There are works that meant a great deal TO ME on my shelves and in my kindle but I don’t know that they would mean much TO OTHERS (I don’t expect others to get what I do out of Vonnegut and Kierkegaard!) A hard task you launched into here, and I commend you on a job well done!

  3. Great post Andrew!
    Pastoral work must be intensely personal, as the pulpit cannot be used for discipleship, mentoring, counseling, and leadership formation. “The Church is US,” (as the 2009 Youth Convention @ Detroit wonderfully captured the idea that the church is made of people and families). Where ever you have people and relationships, you will definitively have conflicts. I would definitively add at least 1 work on pastoral counseling and 1 on conflict resolution, especially because most churches in America are small (50% are under 75 members!), and cannot afford specialized pastors.
    Keep up the good work my dear friend!

    • I thought of you often as I made this list! I’m so glad you chimed in with the need for pastoral counseling. Thanks for your comment!

  4. I like the list. Resident Aliens by Hauerwas and Willimon, the Prophetic Imagination by Brueggemann, and Responsible Grace by Maddox would have to make mine.

    As for diversifying the list, I feel like there’s no end to great options. Some that I haven’t seen mentioned yet that I would definitely include on my top 25-30 would be Christ the Key by Kathryn Tanner, God for Us by Catherine Mowry LaCugna, God the Spirit by Beth Felker Jones, A Theology of Love by Mildred Bangs Wyncoop, The Heart of Racial Justice by Brenda Salter McNeil & Rick Richardson, both Spirit of Love and Renewing Christian Theology by Amos Yong, The Christian Imagination by Willie James Jennings, Redeeming Mulatto by Brian Bantum, No Shame in Wesley’s Gospel by Edward Wimberly, and both Confessing the Triune God and Theological Theodicy by Daniel Castelo.

  5. I would add two more. (1) Explore the Book by Sidlow Baxter and (2) Between the Two Worlds (also titled, I Believe in Preaching) by John R W Stott.

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