The Top 12 Books of 2021
For the last few years, I’ve been trying to read more. In 2019, I read 72 books. Last year I stretched myself and read 100. That proved to be too many to truly digest meaningful books in a meaningful way, so this year I set a goal of 70. Low and behold, I ended up reading 72. I’m increasingly becoming aware that reading broadly from meaningful books is key to growing both as a human being and as a Christian. (You can be both!) So, in service to my friend and readers who are also readers, here is a list of the top twelve books I read this year. You can find a final list of all the books I read at the bottom of this page.
I hade eyed this book suspiciously and not really wanted to read it, but I had a gut feeling it would be an important read. This book, by Dr. Henry Cloud of Boundaries fame looks at why we need to be okay with things ending. One of the key take-aways from this book for me was that endings are necessary for new things to grow and take shape. In this way, much of this book was about ending even good things in a healthy and productive way so that God can make a way for better things in your life. This book was helpful for me as I tend not to be good at saying goodbye and this year has been full of productive endings that I believe will lead to greater fruitfulness.
I’ve read my fair share of leadership/management/business books and most of them have left me cold with suggestions that would never work in most industries. This was different. This book looks at management as a way to truly help people get what they want, not just out of work, but also out of life. This book came at a time where I was struggling with a lack of transparency and honesty in several work relationships and it truly helped me see through those issues and begin to speak from my perspective in the office. If you’ve ever wondered if you could be a good boss/coach or if there even are such things, I would suggest picking up a copy and giving it a read.
The Coddling of the American Mind
I LOVE this book. This book gets at the heart of our inability as Americans to handle information that upsets us. It looks at the history that has brought us to this point, but more importantly it talks about what we can do individually to combat the myth that ideas, especially ideas that contradict our own, can harm us. While I tend read broadly (especially outside my political and religious tribes), I was delighted to find out that this book is written by people far outside of my political leanings and that fact alone gave me hope that we as a people might be closer to getting out of our tribalism and information bubbles as a people. If you’re seeing people acting like they are being attacked by someone having a different opinion, pick up a copy of this book. It’s eye-opening.
One thing you’ll note from my yearly recaps of my reading is that there isn’t a lot of fiction on the lists. This year I read a LOT more non-fiction and this book was one of the reasons. Anyone familiar with the Netflix show Longmire will recognize some of the characters here. Let me tell you, this book is a lot better than the show. The story centers around Walt Longmire, a county sheriff in Wyoming who a year earlier had brought some teenage boys to trial for a rape they had committed. The boys received a slap on the wrist and are now slowly being killed by an unknown assailant. This book has a ton of mystery, but what sets it apart is the strong male to male friendship between Walt and his best friend Henry Standing Bear. It’s very rare to see this kind of strong male friendship in literature and I keep returning to the series to see the relationship between these two play out. Spoiler Alert: By the end of the book they solve the mystery and one more mystery shows up about every book so far. I’ve read seven of these this year, and while they aren’t all as good as this one, there’s a lot to love about this series. Christian Alert: There is a lot of swearing in this book (and the subsequent ones) and some other non-PG material as you go. If that sort of stuff trips you up, I would avoid this series.
In all fairness this was a re-read for me, but it had been almost 20 years since I read it the first time and I desperately needed to re-read this. This book has the ability to transform your understanding of God’s ability and willingness to heal the sick. It is written by a healing evangelist from the 1950’s and because of that it is part theological treatise and part experiential testimony. Bosworth does an amazing job of poking at all of our bad arguments against healing and showing us how they don’t stack up against the Bible. I was strengthened again in my understanding of healing being rooted in the New Covenant Jesus paid for with his blood. I believe that the ministry of healing is something God is wanting to restore to the church in a greater way and this book will be a helpful tool for those looking to strengthen that kind of faith.
Okay, hold off your eye roll for just a moment. I had picked up this book in 2010 and had always meant to get around to it. I knew the title/cover made some pretty bold claims and they always seemed too good to be true. However, after reading the book this year, I found it stuffed with important insights about the nature of work, productivity insights, and a plan for self-improvement more than anything else. I don’t know that everyone can pull of the sort of hands-off business that Ferris describes in these pages, but I’m convinced that everyone who reads this book will be challenged to chart their own path for their career and build a life they enjoy instead of the one that is handed down from the powers of this world.
Stand Out of Our Light is an interesting read. There are plenty of books that challenge the current technology-driven lifestyle most of us live, but this book focuses on an often-overlooked facet of the technology life: Our attention. More and more, the technology that we use is designed to steal our attention away, to be increasingly addictive so we don’t want to turn away. This book asks the question: “Is that a good thing, and if not, what do we do about it?” While many books focus on the problem of screen addiction, polarization, and lack of true socialization, “Stand Out of Our Light” asks us to consider the cost of trading our attention for whatever is on our smartphone. You’ll think differently about screen time after reading this book.
Hero Maker is a book for Christians who desire to multiply disciples, leaders, groups, and churches. Dave Ferguson, who with his brother Jon, launched Community Christian Church in Chicago, have been on a journey of multiplying disciples at many different levels for decades. This book focuses on how to be a movement-minded disciple maker (what Ferguson calls a “Hero Maker”) in whatever context you find yourself in. There were parts of this book that were only applicable to traditional churches, but there were parts that were applicable to the most organically-minded believers as well. Ferguson gives a number of tools that are helpful in developing laborers in the harvest. I was challenged by tools as simple as “I See In You Statements” that help call others to embrace areas of gifting they may not see in themselves. This book has a number of tools like this that will help believers in any stage of disciple making. If you are looking for a book that both infuses you with a heart for disciple making and gives you solid tools, this is the book you are looking for.
I have to say I did not believe that this book could live up to the hype. I had originally thought that the title referred to the “atomic power” of forming habits that drive productivity. Instead, the book took a surprising turn in focusing on small, seemingly insignificant habits that can build on each other to help us achieve the results we’re looking to see. While there are other books based on building habits, Clear writes a short, clear book on each of the steps of habit building. He doesn’t just focus on how each step can be used to build a positive habit, but how each step in the habit formation process can be used to break a bad one. I guarantee you there is something in this book that will be profitable to you, whether you already have a bunch of good habits or are struggling with bad ones. Side note: This is the #1 selling book on Amazon. Full Stop. Do with that what you will.
Planting a Church Without Losing Your Soul
This book earns the coveted, “So Good I Made My Wife Read It” Award. Planting churches is hard work that individuals can get lost in. It’s not unusual to find people in ministry who have lost the vibrant relationship with Jesus that they had when they started. What made this book great was it’s emphasis on both taking care of your soul and planting a healthy, growing church. While Tim’s church is not a mega-church, they have helped plant multiple churches and ministries. Tim’s not arguing for choosing between taking care of your soul and reaching people. Instead, he leads the reader by his experience how he has been able to do both. In some ways this book was very similar to other devotionally-minded books like “An Unhurried Life,” calling believers to focus on prayer, solitude, and silence. But in other places, he drops gems like the necessity of getting enough sleep. There was even a chapter that encouraged those in ministry to wisely embrace the power God had given them as shepherds to deal with situations that are hurting churches and going unaddressed. All of this made this book well worth the price of entry.
For those of you not familiar with Peter Thiel, Peter was one of the driving forces behind PayPal in its early days. Thiel eventually sold PayPal and has become a known investor in early startups that have changed society. He was an early investor in Facebook, AirBnB, Spotify, and other companies. This book is a transcription of a series of talks he offered at Stanford University. He argues (persuasively) that contrary to public opinion, there are many, many new products on the horizon waiting to be discovered that are more than just a new iteration of the iPhone or a popular app. Thiel compares many in our society to evolutionists who put a little bit of their time, resources, and energy into multiple baskets, hoping one of more will succeed as new iterations our developed. Instead, Thiel argues what the world needs is more “Intelligent Designers” who build with vision and clarity. It’s these people who build what does not exist now, who go from zero to one that will change the culture going forward.
This was a surprise late addition to my “Best of” list this year. With probably one last book to complete this year, I picked up Parenting by Paul David Tripp and I was completely surprised by what I found. I will warn you, this book does not give tips on how to get your kids to succeed in life and business. Instead, this is a guidebook on how the Gospel should inform and correct your parenting, how the Gospel brings life and correction to your children, and how you can be an agent of grace in growing godly children. There are no quick fixes promised here, but if you’ve found that just being consistent with rules isn’t changing and maturing your kids like you thought it would, pick up a copy of this book. I found myself repenting for how I’ve treated God, for how I’ve treated my kids, and for what I believed would bring change to their hearts. This is the book on parenting I wish I would have picked up ten years ago. Run, don’t walk, to get yourself a copy.
The Courage To Be Disliked / The Biggest Bluff / The Murder on the Links / Necessary Endings
Conformity / Live Not By Lies / Do Over / Good Authority / An Unhurried Life
True Believer / You Found Me / The Coddling of the American Mind / Defining Moments / The Neil Gaiman at the End of the Universe / None Like Him
Brackish Waters / Nikola Tesla and the Electric Future / The Problem of Increasing Human Energy / 10 Things That Stop God Loving You / The Cold Dish / A Time for Confidence / Future Church
In the Way / Loonshots / My Inventions / Death Without Company / Posting Peace / The Fearless Organization /
Analog Church / The Art of Writing and the Gift of Writers / Beyond Order / The Power of the 72 / The War of Art
Faust / On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness / The 7 Day Authors Guide to Amazon Ads / Kindness Goes Unpunished / The 4-Hour Workweek
Stand Out of Our Light / Another Man’s Moccasins / Christ the Healer
The Nations Rage / Politics (Aristotle) / How to Write Short / Succesful Home Cell Groups / The Souls of Black Folk / Atomic Habits / The Reluctant Witness / The Big Leap
Man in White / North! Or Be Eaten / The Dark Horse / Hero Maker / The Mysterious Affair at Styles
The Art of Thinking Clearly / Church Planting Without Losing Your Soul / Zero to One / The Multi-Hyphen Life / Well Intentioned Dragons / The Adventures of Tom Sawyer / The Monster in the Hollows / The Starfish and the Spirit / How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind / Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding / Soldiers of Reason / Hell Is Empty / The Science of Storytelling / Parenting
House Churches and Kids: Church is Interactive
We’ve been looking at the nature of house churches and how they help kids to get involved and participate in the life of the church. The last area that we need to touch on is often forgotten in a Western context, but it’s critical for discipleship of believers of any age, and definitely for children: the church is interactive.
When Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, he could have easily criticized the leaders of the church there for letting the meetings devolve in to chaos in the practice and use of their gifts. Instead, he wrote to the whole church to address the issue (see 1 Corinthains 1:2, 12:1). He expected the whole church to help clean up an issue that they were all making.
Then when he describes how the body should function when they gather, he describes a meeting where many people contribute all for the building up of the body. “When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you,” (1 Corinthians 14:26). This is the best description we get of the normal meeting of believers in the New Testament. In fact, it lines up with what the writer of Hebrews describes as the purpose of the church meeting together: encouraging one another (see Hebrews 10:25).
Why is this important for kids? Church was designed to be interactive as the Holy Spirit leads different members of the body. This creates a measure of spontaneity in the body that helps keep kids attention. It also, if done correctly and with the proper coaching of the kids, creates an environment where kids are able to participate with what God is doing instead of being spectators. Too often church has become something they watch instead of something they participate in.
This is the real goal of kids being involved and participating in church: We form our kids as disciples and members of the church from the moment they become followers of Jesus and even before. I remember when my oldest daughter decided to follow Jesus. We had emphasized in our churches the need for baptism as soon as someone decided to follow Christ, so at age four when she decided to follow Jesus, it was time for her to get baptized. She learned the truth about baptism as the next step in following Christ because that’s what she lived through.
But we’re after more than them just observing and learning. We are also after them sharing their gifts with us. As followers of Jesus, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, they have the gifts of the Holy Spirit operating in them just as much as any adult. In fact, they may be more open to Him and His ways than we are. So an interactive church allows for kids to speak up, say what they are hearing from the Lord, pray, speak the word of the Lord, and contribute in a myriad of ways.
We just have to believe that they can and be open to them doing it.
Photo Credit: Man in Black Crew Neck T-Shirt Holding Baby in White and Pink Stripe Onesie by Bermix Studio
Other Posts in the House Churches and Kids Series
House Churches and Kids: An Introduction
House Churches and Kids: Our Story
House Churches and Kids: What We Mean When We Say Church
House Churches and Kids: It’s Not About the Meeting
House Churches and Kids: Church Is Family
One of the ideas we’ve often lived by is the idea that church is family. Church isn’t supposed to just be *like* a family. It actually is a family of people, from different biological, sociological, and societal backgrounds, but because Jesus has come and changed us, we all become brothers and sisters, born of the same Father.
Jesus was clear about this: “Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters.And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your Father,” (Matthew 23:8-9). Our position before God is not one of roles, but one of love. He loves us as a father and we are to love each other as brothers and sisters.
The apostles continued this teaching in their days. Paul says it this way to the Thessalonians: “As apostles of Christ we certainly had a right to make some demands of you, but instead we were like children among you. Or we were like a mother feeding and caring for her own children. We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too,” (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8). This was the way that Paul lived among those on his ministry team and those he ministered to. He was like a child and, to the extent that he was further along than the new converts, he was like a nursing mother. There were plenty of metaphors Paul could have used, but the ones he chose were deeply family-oriented.
Paul would later write to Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:15 about how people should conduct themselves “in the household of God.” The Greek word for household is oikos and literally is the Greek word describing a family that lives within a house. The Apostle John would also write about how the church was made up of children, young men, and fathers, (1 John 2:12-14) and would write a whole epistle to a woman who was likely the leader of a house church and her dear children who were likely other participants in this gathering (2 John, for more on this statement, reference Chapter 6 of “Stick Your Neck Out“). The more you investigate this topic, the more you begin to see the early church understood themselves as God’s family and operated as such.
Often, we treat the church as a hybrid between a business and a school. There is a message that needs to be communicated and a product that needs to be offered. However, when church is a family, love and care become what drives what happens when we gather. This is why Paul, in the midst of correcting the Corinthians about the excesses in their meetings, spends an entire chapter on the importance of love (1 Corinthians 13). The point wasn’t that everything would be done mechanically, but that everything would be done in love.
I grew up in a family. It wasn’t perfect, but we did love each other. I also grew up in an extended family. My father’s family had five children and each of those children married and had 2 or three kids of their own, so when we gathered together there was always a huge crowd at Grandpa and Grandma’s house. I often relate my experience of church as family back to these times growing up. There was always room for even the youngest of kids to be around. Not every gathering was super structured, but we made allowance for kids to be kids, while still allowing them to participate in the functions of the family gathering.
And I believe the church can be like that if it begins to believe that church is family. Remember, we do teach when we gather, but teaching/preaching isn’t the point. Love is. Remember, Paul said, “while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church,” (1 Corinthians 8:1).
I have a friend who was briefly a part of the underground church in China. He would often tell stories about what it was like to be a part of their meetings. One of the things that stuck out to me was that there was no child care. The believers would often meet on Sunday mornings for a meeting where everyone would be a part, including the children. Then they would break for a communal meal together. Then, after the meal, the mothers and the small children would take naps together while the men dealt with sensitive affairs of the church. Those of you with small children will understand how important this is.
I believe the church can incorporate children, but it will require the church to become like family again.
Photo Credit: People Standing On Shore During Golden Hour by Tyler Nix