Notable Books of 2016

Throughout December, the internet has been sharing their favorite books, so I thought I would as well.

For some great lists and comments, have a look here, here, here, here, and here. Also, here.

This time last year I set the goal of reading 52 books in 2016. I ended up reading 40. Here’s my complete list. Looking back at my list, I didn’t complete a single book during the fall semester and I didn’t even realize it until now. I couldn’t tell you how many books I read in 2015 because I can’t find a complete list anywhere. From what I can piece together, I read something like a dozen books in 2015. One of the best things I did this year for my reading habit was keeping a list of what I read and when I completed it. That single discipline has helped me read more this year than ever before.

Here are some of the best books I read this year and a key takeaway from each:

Alan Jacobs, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction

“Reading books can be intensely pleasurable – it is one of the great human delights.”

“Read at Whim.”

I nearly ended the year reading this book that I haven’t read since it was first released 5 years ago. Jacobs reminded my of my love for reading – I love it. I feel like I am decaying if I haven’t read anything for a while. Sometimes I treat my “Completed Readings” list and my “To Read” list as a duty and a challenge. There is room for some duty and challenge in the task of reading and reading well. But Jacobs reminds us that reading should also be a delight. We should follow our whims.

This book goes on the list first because it helped recalibrate my perspective on reading and the goal I set for myself. Because of this book, I read a few that I hadn’t planned to read just for the sheer delight of it. I’ll do more of that in the coming year.

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”

The process of bite by bite (better, bird by bird) writing was a big encouragement to me to start writing and keep writing, even (or especially) when I don’t feel like I am all that good at it. Lamott has a way of pressing you and inspiring you at the same time – especially as it relates to getting busy writing.

Kevin DeYoung, Crazy Busy

“When we are crazy busy, we put our souls at risk. The challenge is not merely to make a few bad habits go away. The challenge is to no let our spiritual lives slip away. . . . When our lives are frantic and frenzied, we are more prone to anxiety, resentment, impatience, and irritability.”

So many of us, especially in ministry, lead crazy-busy lives assuming that doing a lot means that we are faithful and fruitful. This (mercifully short, as DeYoung puts it) book helped me recognize some areas where I tend to be a flurry of (unfruitful, unproductive) activity.

J.D. Payne, Apostolic Church Planting

Payne defines “church planting as evangelism that results in new churches.” This was a surprisingly paradigm-altering distinction for me. Being able to distinguish between apostolic churches and pastoral churches has helped me sort through my own ecclesiology more clearly.

“When the Church is shocked at a biblical model, it reveals just how far away from the Scriptures we have moved in our missionary practices.”

Steve Addison, Pioneering Movements

“The history of the Christian movement reveals that breakthroughs in the spread of the gospel into unreached fields normally require focused mission structures. These mission structures begin on the fringe, not at the ecclesiastical center.”

“The key to achieving “no place left” is the development of leadership at every level of a movement. By leadership I don’t mean someone who occupies a position but someone who makes things happen.”

I was aware of the 5 Levels of Leadership prior to reading this book, but Steve paints a picture of what it takes to pioneer movements in a much broader way. This book speaks my heart language.

E. Elbert Smith, Church Planting by the Book

There are many great books about church planting, but only one of them was inspired by God himself – the books of Acts. Smith sifts through Acts and the surrounding epistles to surface Paul’s church planting strategy in each of the 9 churches he planted.

Jocko Willink & Leif Babin, Extreme Ownership

“Leaders must own everything in their world. There is no one else to blame.”

“One of the most fundamental and important truths at the heart of Extreme Ownership: there are no bad teams, only bad leaders.”

This book was like reading two smaller books – one was a military memoir and the other was a leadership book. I enjoy reading military memoirs, so it worked out ok for me, even if it was a little long-winded at times. The leadership principles drawn out of their experiences in war are profound and directly applicable.

Shawn Lovejoy, Be Mean about the Vision

“Being ‘mean’ about the vision is being intentional about the vision. It’s purposefully protecting the vision over time. . . . Here’s the deal: if we’re not intentional about the vision, we will lose it. . . . maintaining the vision over time leads to success. . . . Everyone starts out with a vision, but few finish with one.”

This book was a quick read, but it challenged me to clearly articulate my vision for my ministry. I didn’t realize how much I was overestimating the clarity of my vision.

Cal Newport, Deep Work

“Deep work is necessary to wring every last drop of value out of your current intellectual capacity.”

“A deep life is a good life.”

I read this while I was at the beach this summer. Most of his warnings hit me squarely between the eyes, and while I won’t go so far as to quit social media, it got the ball rolling on lots of little changes in how work and how I think about my work.

R. Albert Mohler, The Conviction to Lead

“Years go by in a flash, but decades linger. . . . The truth endures, and so must we.”

There aren’t many leadership books that address endurance and longevity. Mohler engages it head-on. This was timely for me.

Scott Jurek, Eat & Run

I love books by ultra-performers. There’s something about them that speaks to the Maximizer in me. This book is part runner’s memoir and part vegan manifesto – that may or may not sound interesting, but I couldn’t put it down.