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9 Books for Pastors and Leaders Who Want to Last

  • David Sanford Contributing Writer
  • Updated Jun 14, 2019
9 Books for Pastors and Leaders Who Want to Last

Recently, a dedicated, hard-working veteran pastor told me about some of the worst problems within his church. He listed a number of tell-tale markers as he expressed his deep frustrations.

I couldn’t help noticing the pain lines written across his face. I admire this man and want the best for him—even through the toughest times.

When you’re tasked with shepherding souls in our gravely fallen world, pastors and leaders naturally face days, or seasons, of discouragement. Even though you know you’re meant to serve in this way, some days can feel like your last.

If you still have a heart to last well beyond obstacles and detours, as a pastor or a leader, I highly recommend 9 powerful books to equip you. They address issues like trust, disagreements, doctrine, and so much more, and offer constructive and sometimes counter-intuitive perspectives.

Every pastor and leader who still wants to be in the ministry five years from now needs to carefully read these books. All 9 have been game-changers for me:

1. Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box

This Arbinger Institute book, published by Berrett-Koehler, is an international mainstream best-seller. It applies what turns out to be the Golden Rule and a few other biblical principles to daily life including marriage, family, work, and ministry.

The foundational truth of Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box is: We all have blindspots. By definition, we can’t identify, let alone address, our blind spots on our own. Instead, we need to invite a few respected, trusted individuals to speak into our lives with love and truth about each blind spot, weakness, and failing.

2. Leadership Above the Line

On the back cover of Leadership Above the Line by Dr. Sarah Sumner (published by Tyndale), I’m quoted saying: “If you lead leaders, push other books aside—and make this the next one you read. Leadership Above the Line is 60 percent story, 100 percent breakthrough insights on leadership formation. Dr. Sarah Sumner’s character-based model is clear, her story is compelling, and her application tools are transformational. Highly recommended!”

Rarely does a book offer so much between two covers. I took my staff through it with great results, and you can too.

3. The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence

Co-written by Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, and Ken McElrath, this best-seller redefines what it means to climb to the top of the ladder. In The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence, the authors forcefully argue against the traditional leadership ladder. Instead, they present a compelling, biblical, and counterintuitive character-based ladder developed in the context of relationships of respect and trust.

4. TrueFaced: Trust God and Others with Who You Really Are

Also written by the same trio who brought you The Ascent of a Leader; in TrueFaced: Trust God and Others with Who You Really Are, Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol and John Lynch build their best-selling breakthrough work out further. In TrueFaced, they emphasize the pivotal role of trust.

Without trust, they argue, we effectively shut out God and others from speaking into our lives—speaking into our character development and the destiny God has planned specifically for you and for me.

5. Free to Disagree: Moving Beyond the Arguments Over Christian Liberty

I sometimes jokingly say this John Wecks book (published by Kregel) should be titled, Free to Disagree Agreeably. I recommend reading Free to Disagree: Moving Beyond the Arguments Over Christian Liberty together with…

6. One Lord, One Faith

Rex Koivisto’s book, One Lord, One Faith (published by Wipf and Stock), differentiates between what the author calls “the core of orthodoxy” against secondary and tertiary points of doctrine and practice.

7. The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Conflict

When Ken Sande speaks, I listen. He’s an attorney, a pastor by heart, and a Bible teacher extraordinaire. In this landmark volume, The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Conflict (published by Baker), Ken presents four basic biblical principles for resolving conflict: Glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31). Get the log out of your own eye (Matt. 7:5). Go and show your brother his fault (Matt. 18:15). Go and be reconciled (Matt. 5:24).

Bottom line: Ken Sande says that conflict consistently presents us with the opportunity to demonstrate the presence and power of God at work in our lives.

Finally, every pastor and leader in the ministry for the long-haul needs to read these two books:

8. The Disquieted Soul

In Lane Cohee’s book, The Disqueted Soul, published by Credo House, he explains that you and I inhabit a world of Disquieted Souls, living lives of restless discontent. We, too, can be souls who overanalyze, over-worry, over-perform, and over-protect.

We can be souls running as fast as we can, trying to escape our own unhappiness. Perfectionistic extremes and pathologies can be our regular companions. Thankfully, we can learn—and relearn—how to quiet our souls. Lane Cohee shows us how. Must reading.

9. Confessions of an Angry Man

Former pastor Brent Hofer is quite clear in Confessions of an Angry Man (published by KDP): “Obeying my religious convictions does not make me right with God. They also do not make me better than others. They only make me proud. For years I felt like a failure to God because of my anger, jealousy, and lack of love. So I tried to improve my standing with God by obeying all of my outward convictions of right and wrong behaviors. They only made me a hypocrite. Admitting that I was wrong brought trust, transformation, and love for my family and others.” Haunting yet powerfully liberating.

To the degree that each of these books clearly teaches, illustrates, and applies biblical principles; to that same degree they’ll inform, inspire, and renew your soul.

One leader just bought every book I recommended. I wasn’t expecting that, but he’s already finished five of them. You may want to start with two or three.

Why wait? Click on the hyperlinked titles of the two or three books that stand out the most to you. And then drop me a line so I can pray for you.

headshot of David SanfordDavid Sanford coaches pastors and other Christian leaders passionate about demonstrating the relevance of Jesus Christ in every major sphere of life. His book and Bible projects have been published by Zondervan, Tyndale, Thomas Nelson, Doubleday, and Amazon. His speaking engagements have ranged everywhere from UC Berkeley (CA) to The Billy Graham Center at the Cove (NC). He can be reached at

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