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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?