For most of us, the summer months bring a mix of busy ministry seasons and (hopefully) a few pockets of relaxation. While we don’t expect pastors and church leaders to be lounging beachside with a book for weeks on end – although more power to you, if you can make that happen, we do hope you’ll carve out some unhurried hours to recharge your batteries.

Whether you’re sneaking in a few chapters by the campfire, squeezing in reading during a family road trip, or using downtime at home to work through that ever-growing book stack, summer can provide opportunities for enriching your mind. Our annual Summer Reading Guide aims to recommend books that equip you for the ministry challenges ahead while also providing an engaging respite.

This year’s guide was curated by some of our past and future Church Chat guests!

We know recommendations can be tricky because all of us, even within the EFCA, don’t agree on everything outside of our statement of faith. Our Summer Reading Guide selections reflect each individuals’ tastes and preferences. We encourage everyone to use discernment anytime they pick something up – holding all literature, no matter what the writing or occasion – up against the truth of God’s Word.

And if you find yourself wanting more recommendations, you can revisit previous guides: 2022 | 2023.

Happy Reading!

The Soul of Shame: Retelling The Stories We Believe About Ourselves by Curt Thompson

If you constantly feel like you are exhausted, misunderstood, and alone in ministry, I challenge you to read this book. It could be that the way your brain is wired makes it hard for you to feel connected with others. Maybe your people don’t resent and resist you, maybe you just need to heal. This book helped me to think differently about my interactions with church members and helped me build stronger relationships with friends and family. Dr. Thompson is a psychiatrist and a practicing Christian. He uses science and the Bible to explain the fascinating way we are affected by shame. – Ashley Welborn, Marriage and Family Therapist

Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story by Bono

I know it’s almost meme-worthy for a worship minister to suggest a book by a member of U2, but any time I hear Bono talk about his faith, I find myself being inspired in some way.  Are his perspectives on faith always what we would consider “orthodox”? Probably not… But in a social media driven world where everyone everywhere is trying to make it seem like they have all the answers to all of life’s problems, I always find it incredibly refreshing to hear someone approach faith with a willingness to ask questions rather than a desire to give answers. Bono tells his life story, from his childhood in Dublin, to U2’s rise to fame, his philanthropic efforts, and gets brutally honest about some of the mistakes he and the band have made along the way. But what I find the most compelling is the willingness of one of the biggest rock stars in the world to talk openly about the faith that he’s held onto throughout his whole life. And if you’re an audiobook person, Bono reads the audio version himself, which is easily worth the price of admission. – Ryan Bailey, Worship Leader at Mountain View Community Church

How To Know A Person: The Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen by David Brooks

“The essential moral act is the act of attention.” The demands of ministry and of leading large groups can easily make us reductionistic, judgmental, even cynical. But we can’t in good conscience preach Jesus while using people. What if we intentionally grew our ability to truly know the people around us? How would that transform not only our ministry, but our character? This is more than a book about how to be a good listener. It’s a book about how to be a good human. – Steve Anderson, Pastor of Student Ministries at Mountain View Community Church

I could not put down this incredible book that describes the journey of three people who could not be more different in their culture and journey, yet intersect through a powerful series of events that you will never forget. It caused me to reevaluate many aspects of how we “do ministry” in North America and think much more deeply about the cost of discipleship. In this book, Christopherson writes with the skill of a novelist, the heart of a missiologist, and the mind of a scholar! – John Welborn, Lead Pastor of Salem Bible Church

The Connected Life: The Art and Science of Relational Spirituality by Todd Hall

This resource addresses the importance of connecting to God and others that leads to authentic transformation. Based on years of scientific research, Hall contends that true connection doesn’t come through head knowledge alone, but through strong attachment bonds. The book provides practical and valuable insights about transformative relational connection at a time when our society is experiencing loneliness and disconnection in alarming numbers. – Deb Hinkel, Director of Spiritual Formation and Family Ministries at Hershey Free Church

Canoeing The Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territories by Tod Bolsinger

Canoeing the Mountains is one of the most stimulating, clarifying, encouraging, and personally challenging books I have read in a very long time! The title reflects the historic analogy that undergirds the point of the book. Thomas Jefferson commissioned Lewis & Clark, leading their Corps of Discovery, to explore the land of the Louisiana Purchase, and in particular the Missouri River, to discover a navigable water route connecting the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. For over 300 years, everyone was convinced that the geography of the unexplored west was the same as the well-known east. They were wrong. When they finally arrived at the small spring that was the source of the mighty Missouri River, they proceeded to the top of the ridge above it. All they could see was range after range of towering mountains. Every assumption they had based their mission on was false. What got them to that place would not enable them to fulfill their purpose. They had to literally go into uncharted lands, improvise new methods of travel, and adapt everything.

The rest of the book applies that compelling narrative to what we and our churches face today. The skills, practices, and methods of the past that got us here are not working like they used to. They will not get us to the place of effective fruitfulness God wants us and the church to be. Bolsinger articulates well how we as leaders need to be transformed so that our churches can be transformed to more effectively obey the great commandment and the great commission in the rapidly changing landscape that is our world today. – John Nesbitt, Director of Operations at EFCA East 

R.C. Sproul: A Life by Stephen J. Nichols

In my mind, there is nothing more enjoyable on a summer’s day than a paddle down a peacefully flowing river. It is calm and relaxing, moving along steadily until heightened by an enjoyable rush through a set of rapids bursting with excitement. I find that to be the pattern of Stephen Nichols’ recounting of the life of R. C. Sproul in his aptly titled biography R. C. Sproul: A life. From the very beginning the reader is emotionally connected to a dear brother we have never met. Nichols traces the journey of Sproul’s life from the obscurity of a small town in Pittsburgh to worldwide theological notoriety, all without lifting the fame of the man above his calling. As Nichols thoroughly details the background of R. C.’s life, the reader can sense the coming rapids in the story of his conversion.

It is so good for us to be moved by a well-told story of conversion; such stories recenter us, ground us and move us. This story does just that. Conversion, of course, lit a fire in Sproul who would later say, “I owe every human being I know to do everything I can to communicate the gospel to them.” He sensed the weight of a calling to preach the drama of the Scriptures. It reminded me of my own calling, that I, too, must preach the drama of the Scriptures to everyday people. In the end, Nichols doesn’t make Sproul out to be a man above other men. He has managed to capture the reality that this was simply a life until, “the ghost came by.” – Matt Saxinger, Lead Pastor of Susquehanna Valley Church

The Flourishing Pastor by Tom Nelson

I am recommending this book for any pastor to read, but would encourage a pastoral staff to read through this together. We read this book as a staff and had great discussions that helped us evaluate and examine the way we pastor our church, our families, our friends and how to do it in a healthy manner. This book gives multiple insights on how to avoid burnout by reminding pastors that, yes we are shepherds, but we are also sheep. It was a great constant reminder that God is the one in control; he’s the one we need to look to in all things; and He is the one to be glorified in our ministries, not us. This read will definitely help encourage pastors to keep fighting the good fight with Christ at the center. – Trent Williams, Student Pastor of Tri-State Fellowship Church

A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix by Edwin Friedman

Do you ever feel like your leadership is sabotaged by people’s emotional immaturity? This is not an easy read, in part because Friedman died before finishing it and there is a fair amount of weighty psychology. You may not agree with all of his conclusions, but it’s worth the investment of your time. Here is the book’s own description: “Suspicious of the quick fixes and instant solutions that sweep through our culture only to give way tot the next fad, he argues for strength and self-differentiation as the marks of true leadership. His formula for success is more maturity, not more data; stamina, not technique; and personal responsibility, not empathy.” – Jeff Martin, Lead Pastor of Rock Creek Church

The One Minute Manager Meets The Monkey by Ken Blanchard, William Oncken Jr. and Hal Burrows

As leaders in Christ’s church, much of what we do requires managing / stewarding our time in such a way that we best serve those we’re called to serve! We’ve all heard it said, if you want something done right, give it to the busiest person you know… usually, that’s you! People often carry a “monkey on their back”…  things they’re responsible for … often times they take the monkey off their back by placing it on your back … freeing them of the monkey by transferring it to you, thereby leaving you with “another thing to do” … sound familiar? Any “monkey flingers” in your life?

This book is a fun read along with a very insightful plan to help you reclaim your time and avoid taking on “more monkeys” than you’re able to carry. It will also equip you to help “monkey flingers” assume responsibility for the tasks they’re required to fulfill. Great summer read, but beware … many faces will come to mind as the authors paint pictures of what many leaders face on a daily basis! – Tony Balsamo, EFCA East District Superintendent and Lead Pastor of Integrity Church

Have you read any of these or anything good lately? Drop your own recommendations in the comments below!

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Emily Gardner

Communications Director at EFCA East
Emily has been the Communications Director here at EFCA East since 2016. She got her start in social media managing the accounts for The Donut Man, an amazing donut shop in Southern California. She lives in upstate NY with her pastor husband and two kiddos. In the summer, you'll most likely find them checking off another high peak in the Adirondacks.

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