For many years summer has included several months of reading and re-reading, what may be a summer school of sorts. Yes, there have been times of of rest, recreation, and restoration as well, the graces of biblical refreshment. But, the summer school element has always been a source of enjoyment and learning, at times reminders of significant lessons previously learned but blurred by the pace of ministry. Five familiar books have been on re-read list for more than a few years, works that sharpened my mind and heart for nearly forty years of pastoral service. They are also the five books usually given to colleagues who ask for guidance and counsel when either entering ministry or experiencing the harsher demands of church service. Who doesn't need some wise counsel along the way? They are---
Spiritual Leadership by Henry and Richard Blackaby (B & H Books, 2001).
The Blackaby definition of a spiritual leaders mission has been a consistent source of inspiring direction over the years. In short, the spiritual leader is to move people to God's agenda. The rapidly changing dynamics of exponential times shoves spiritual leaders to many other tasks and involvements, often at odds with this basic purpose. For the past eighteen years this book has challenged and enriched God's calling to service in Christ's church. It's worth the re-read every year.
The Secular City by Harvey Cox (Macmillan Company, 1965).
Cox, now aged 90, served for many years as the Hollis professor of Divinity at the Harvard Divinity School. This book offered a prophetic peek into the growing secularism of the United States and provided ministry guidance in serving that new world. His image of The Secular City was one characterized by anonymity and mobility, two of the cultural charicteristics of our world right now. Cox's theology probably leaned a good bit more left than my own. But, his book was informative. Reading it every year since seminary has been a blessing.
Knowing God by J. I. Packer, (Intervarsity Press, 1993).
Packer is 92 years of age and serves as the Board of Governors Professor of Theology at Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia. Knowing God is considered a standard theological work, having sold more than 1,000,000 in the United States alone. Packer defines knowing God as our primary pursuit in life. Even more, I was especially touched by this book when Packer added, however, that our greatest blessing in life is that God knows us. Reading this book every year is a blessing.
The Peacemaker by Ken Sande (Baker Books, 1991).
Sande is an attorney, a certified conciliator, and president of Peacemaker Ministries. This book addresses the disturbing reality of human conflict and provides biblical guidance in resolving it. It is especially attuned to family and church conflict. But, the Scripture truths that are the basis of all conflict resolution are applied to just about every arena of relational dysfunction. Even more, Peacemaker Ministries publishes many additional teaching and study resources that can be used by local churches in their discipleship mission. This is a book I highly recommend and eagerly read annually.
How to Find Your Mission in Life by Richard N. Bolles (Ten Speed Press, 1991).
Bolles was educated as a chemical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After a very successful professional career he was ordained as an Episcopal clergyman and has led seminars around the nation in personal career development. His book What Color is Your Parachute? sold more than 10,000,000 copies worldwide. How To Find Your Mission in Life came to my attention when I served the South Carolina Baptist Convention as Director of Pastoral Ministries. Many pastor's and church staff members could not articulate their calling or personal life mission. Bolles' book isn't as Scriptural as I would prefer but he does clearly announce his commitment to Jesus as "the way, the truth, and the life". It has been useful in helping to discover strengths, talent, and God's calling.
A number of years ago a quote by old TV comedian Groucho Marx came to my attention. Someone may have used it and I just don't remember who. Marx said, "I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book". There are so many distractions these days, and so many interests, especially in the summer. But, these re-reads have become a blessing that sharpens my focus, even in this new chapter.