Archives For December 2016

In his book The Conviction to Lead, Dr. Albert Mohler highlights reading as one of the keystone habits of leaders:
  • Those who would lead with conviction must read with conviction.
  • When leaders gather, books are usually part of the conversation.
  • Leaders are ravenous consumers of historical biographies.
  • Keep reading and developing the skill of reading over your lifetime. We can train ourselves to enjoy reading.
9435974561_815b1cb291_zInsightfully, Dr. Mohler identifies what I believe is the irreplaceable benefit of reading in the life of a leader:

“There is no substitute for effective reading when it comes to developing and maintaining the intelligence necessary to lead. Leadership requires a constant flow of intelligence, ideas, and information. There is no way to gain the basics of leadership without reading. We simply cannot lead without a constant flow of intellectual activity in our minds, and there is no substitute for reading when it comes to producing this flow.”

Reading keeps my brain flowing with a flood of ideas and intellectual activity. Part of it is that it plays into my strengths – especially Analytical (I like to connect the dots in information) and Ideation (new ideas are exciting to me). I really like chewing on and processing new ideas.

This year I read three times as many books as last year. And I can definitely see the impact on my ability to lead from vision and fresh ideas.


A lot of what reading has done for me is captured in this Tweetstorm from Patrick O’Shaughnessy:
  • I’m often asked how I read so much and how I choose books. So, my I’ll try my first tweetstorm
  • 1/ I love @naval‘s idea to ask yourself: what that you do looks like hard work from the outside, but doesn’t feel like work to you?
  • 2/ For me, one answer is reading. In most down time, I read.
  • 5/ A new book often makes you realize something essential about an old book.
  • 6/ This is why knowledge compounds. Old stuff that was a 4/10 in value can become a 10/10, unlocked by another book in the future.
  • 9/ Usually, it’s some combination of books that has a non-linear impact.
  • 11/ When you start out reading, you are collecting distant dots in a constellation with no apparent connection
  • 23/ Ten years in, I now have an incomplete but dense set of interconnected dots. It is my most valuable asset.
  • 25/ Reading gets more and more enjoyable the more you do it.
His whole tweetstorm is worth reading for great tips on how to organize book highlights (in Evernote) and other tips on reading.

One of the main things I discovered this year in greatly increasing my reading – A new book often unlocks an older book you read. The faint dots in the constellation suddenly become more clear. Reading multiple books opens up powerful connections. Simultaneously reading Masterplan of Evangelism and Movements that Change the World was incredibly helpful.

Several have asked me what helped me read more:
  • I sucked it up and subscribed to (a ridiculous $15/month). 16 of the 52 books I “read” this year were listened to on Audible. I’ve found one of the easiest ways to read more is to take advantage of dead time in my schedule – like driving and working out. 15 minutes here and there really adds up. I listen at 1.25x or 1.5x speed (depending on the narrator) and can get through a book every 3 weeks.
  • I started tracking what I read. For whatever reason, this really helped me. I like to keep score (I have ‘Competition- driven to win’ on Strengths Finder!)
  • I spent less time on Twitter (still a HUGE fan of Twitter though – see tweet storm above- Twitter spurs me on to be a better leader AND to read more books!)
  • I got up 30 minutes earlier and used that time to read.
  • For most of the year I read every night. A couple of years ago my wife introduced the new rule of “no blue light an hour before bed” = no checking twitter or reading online. I’m thankful for God’s grace through her! It made me take up the habit of reading before bed every night. A great side-effect: when my head hits the pillow I’m asleep in seconds.
  • I started asking every prodigious reader I know for book recommendations. Having a book I’m looking forward to makes me want to read more. And it has greatly increased the quality of the books I read – I’m reading the top books recommended by top readers.
I previously listed my Top 20 books list. Here’s some other good “best of 2016” book lists in which to find great books to read in 2017:
I’ve started piecing together books I want to read in 2017. One of my main goals is to increase the number of serious, Christian books. Much of my reading tends to be Audiobooks or light reading before bed – both lending themselves to an “easy reading” genre of fiction or historical non-fiction. I haven’t figured out a way to carve out more time to read books that require deep thinking and underlining/taking notes.

Here’s what’s on my list so far for 2017:
Devotional/Morning Quiet Time
  • Discipline of Grace
  • Courage and calling- Gordon Smith (Calling at different stages of life)
  • Gordon McDonald – Ordering Your Private World
  • The Imperfect Pastor by Zack Eswine
  • Zeal Without Burnout (showed up on several best-of-year book lists)
  • The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson
  • The Art of the Commonplace – Wendell Berry
  • Switch – Heath
  • Next Generation Leader: 5 Essentials for Those Who Will Shape the Future by Andy Stanley
  • Epidemic of narcissism
  • The Starfish and the Spider
  • Wendell Berry – Hidden Wound (his personal story of having black servants)
  • The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism – Yuval Levin (showed up on several best-of-year book lists)
  • Invisible Man
  • Silence – by Shūsaku Endō
  • The Kingdom of Speech by Tom Wolfe
  • The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor
  • Undaunted courage – Lewis and Clark
  • Command and control- re nuclear security
  • A Winston Churchill biography
I’ll leave you with this “encouragement” from Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, nominated to be Secretary of Defense by President-elect Trump.

“Mattis’s colleague reportedly asked him about the “importance of reading and military history for officers,” who found themselves “too busy to read.’” 
He responded:
“The problem with being too busy to read is that you learn by experience, i.e. the hard way. By reading, you learn through others’ experiences, generally a better way to do business, especially in our line of work where the consequences of incompetence are so final for young men. We have been fighting on this planet for 5000 years and we should take advantage of their experience. “Winging it” and filling body bags as we sort out what works reminds us of the moral dictates and the cost of incompetence in our profession…
As a result [of my reading], the enemy has paid when I had the opportunity to go against them, and I believe that many of my young guys lived because I didn’t waste their lives because I didn’t have the vision in my mind of how to destroy the enemy at least cost to our guys and to the innocents on the battlefields.
Semper Fi, Mattis”
Read the full transcript here.
Sobering words.

What were some of your favorite books you read in 2016? What’s on your list of books to read in 2017?


image courtesy of Pimthida

The feedback we were hearing from our students was pretty unanimous –
They knew how to share the gospel. But they didn’t know how to get into gospel conversations with their friends.
One of our students, Laurel Sitton, compares leading someone to Christ to scoring a touchdown:
“When the offense goes out to try to score a touchdown, sometimes they’re 90 yards away. They might be able to throw a 90-yard pass and score a touchdown. That’s great, and everyone celebrates,” she says. “But that doesn’t happen very often. That’s kind of what it’s like to get to share the gospel and see someone come to Christ the first conversation.”
What is far more common is the offense slowly makes their way down the field getting first downs.
Laurel continues: “So in one conversation you might be 70 yards or 50 yards from getting to share the gospel with your friend, but all you’re looking for is a first down, not a Hail Mary”
+1 is our answer to helping students get more first downs in conversations with their friends. And what makes it GREAT is the momentum that comes from taking steps of faith together. 
The goal is for students to take the initiative with their friends to move them one step closer to Christ – no matter where they are starting on this scale:
We rolled it out at Fall Retreat (could be done anytime though). At Fall Retreat we wanted all 200 students to jump into the mission of God on campus- to have an easy, appropriate next step into mission. We wanted them to feel like “Anyone can do it. Anyone can take a baby step in evangelism.”
So on the last day of Fall Retreat we challenged everyone to write down 5 names of non-Christian friends to pray for. And then to follow 4 steps toward moving them one step (+1) closer to Jesus:
  1. Pray –  for your 5 non-Christian friends
  2. Befriend – your first step might be just to get to know them better. To ask them about their weekend. Invite them to watch football or go to the movie with you and some friends.
  3. Ask Spiritual Questions – often the easiest line of questions – “What’s your story? Where are you coming from spiritually? Did you grow up going to church? What did you think? How do you identify now with regard to religion?”
  4. Share the Gospel 
1 Minute Questionnaire
Each of those steps sets you up for equipping. Ask students you disciple which they struggle with the most:
  • Are you praying for your friends?
  • Do you know any non-Christians well enough to talk about real life?
  • Do you know how to get into spiritual conversations? What questions could you ask?
  • Do you know how to share the gospel?
Here’s where the momentum comes in- We then asked them to do three things every day for the next 5 days:
We created a Private +1 Facebook Group that we asked everyone to join. It’s been really encouraging to see students taking steps of faith and sharing/spurring each other on as students shared how their +1 convos went that day. It would be a great outreach to launch at Winter Conference.
We’ve found +1 to be a GREAT way to celebrate First Downs and not just touchdowns. We want to celebrate students’  steps of faith that move their friends one step closer to seeing Christ.
We’ve found that if students equate “success in evangelism” as “fully sharing the gospel and leading someone to Christ” then they will often bypass great +1 opportunities like a 4 minute walk from class to the Union or the 5 minutes before class. They can’t share the full gospel so they don’t take any steps of faith nor look for little open doors for spiritual conversations. Touchdowns never happen because they haven’t made any incremental first downs.
We need to help students learn how to incrementally move conversations and friendships toward Christ.
— The full, written-out Hail Marys vs First Downs in Evangelism analogy is linked – it’s great to use to cast vision for +1. —
“There needs to be a wonderful positive complex, mutually supportive, interdependent, relationship between the local churches and [specialized/parachurch] ministries.” Tim Keller


Beyond the Local Church by Sam Metcalf was the most thought provoking book I read in 2016. I didn’t agree with everything in the book. But it makes a compelling case for the necessity of so-called “para-church” and “local-church” to work together to make disciples of all nations.

If we are to finish the task of the Great Commission I think that it is essential that the local and missionary (para) church work together. I believe the college campus is the gateway to proclaiming Christ to the nations – therefore it’s even more important that we in college ministry partner well together.
I love to see the rise of churches reaching college students. But occasionally in a zeal for the “local church” reaching college students, parachurches are denigrated (I’d rather not cite examples because I’m looking to avoid denigrating them!).


That doesn’t have to be.


We can champion churches reaching college students AND celebrate parachurches that are reaching college students. We don’t need to speak badly of parachurches in order to celebrate the great new wave of churches reaching college students.


Parachurch ministries like Cru continue to reach more students than they’ve EVER reached. And churches are seeing more success in reaching college students than they’ve EVER seen. Both are GREAT things. May both increase and thrive and encourage and partner and share resources/ideas/strategies. So that EVERY student on campus is reached with the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ. So that millions of laborers are sent to the nations to proclaim Christ to the nations.


Steve Shadrach in “Church and parachurch – Friend of Foe?” states it well:
To pit “church” and “para-church” against one another is a mistake. We are all part of His Church. Some think that God had a “Plan A” where He preferred to reach the world through the local church, but somehow they couldn’t get it done, so He had to resort to “Plan B”, bringing in the para-church ministries to fill in and finish the job. My plea is that we work together as friends, not foes. Let’s create synergy by discovering and playing to each other’s strengths. The Lord of the Universe has called all believers to team up to complete His purposes on earth.


My local church – Fellowship Bible Church is a model of this. They started a college service this fall in our college town – Fayetteville. They sought me and other campus ministers to express their desire is to come alongside what is happening through Cru and other college ministries. They do not have the attitude – “[patting us on the head] Good news! The Local Church is here! You parachurches are no longer necessary”


They want to partner and work together to reach the 27,000 students at the University of Arkansas. Fellowship is intentionally platforming “parachurch” ministries – having us come to speak at their Sunday services, announcing our Winter Conference and Summer Missions opportunities from up front. And we are doing the same – inviting their pastors to speak at our weekly meetings and encouraging our students to plug into good local churches.


I agree with Sam Metcalf:
“When leaders— pastoral, lay and those leading apostolic structures— all get it, the resulting synergy that occurs from such a biblical, Spirit-directed interdependence is a tremendous thing to experience. And when it genuinely happens, the probability that the name of Jesus will be renowned among the nations…becomes more of a genuine reality.”


Linked is a 7 page “article” where I’ve copied a few of the key thoughts from Beyond the Local Church. I hope you find it as helpful and thought-provoking as I have.


Below are a few salient quotes from Beyond the Local Church:
True or False? If the Church Was Doing it’s Job, Para-churches wouldn’t be Necessary
It is my conviction that the future of the Christian movement depends on our ability to not just grasp these concepts, but to put them into action and to reengage the cultures around us with a holistic, biblical gospel. It is to live out in a contemporary setting the great truth articulated at Nicaea: “We believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” As I hope to demonstrate in this volume, such a biblical and missional perspective is difficult, if not impossible, when we cling to a limited concept of the body of Christ that says the church in its local expression is all that’s valid.The design of God, from the time of the New Testament forward, has been to work through the local church and the church in its missionary form. The church in its apostolic, missionary form is just as equally “church” as the church in its local, parish form. God never designed or intended either to do the work of the other.
Parachurch is a dirty word
The term parachurch needs to be exorcised from our vocabulary. There is really no such thing. Either we’re part of the church or we’re not. And as we’ve seen from the Bible and history…the church is not limited to its local form.George Barna notes: “There is a pervasive mind-set among many journalists, scholars, and religious leaders that all legitimate spiritual activity must flow through a local church. Even large parachurch ministries that communicate with tens of millions of people, raise hundreds of millions of dollars, and impact lives all over the world are cast as second fiddle to the local church. It is almost as if their ministry efforts are deemed subpar simply because they did not originate from a congregational context.”

Throughout church history, I think it’s clear that when modalities and sodalities have worked interdependently and cooperatively, with appropriate freedom and a clear understanding of the roles and strengths of each, there have been great advances in the progress of the gospel. In order to accomplish the mission of the church, sodalities and modalities need each other in a symbiotic relationship.


Recently my bosses came into town for a campus visit. As we gathered, my team shared about what God is doing. They also shared of their need, their desires, and their pursuits.
Our staff team is made up of 4 independent, contextualized teams (see this excellent video from Intervarsity on contextualized movements). So on our team of 9, we actually have 4 teams:
  • 3 CFM staff (Campus Field Ministry – focused on the general population at the University of Arkansas),
  • 3 Athletes in Action staff,
  • 2 Bridges staff (International Students),
  • and 1 Impact staff (focusing on students of African descent).
The AIA, Bridges and Impact staff are Cru staff but they focus on athletes/international/African American students full time. They don’t come to our weekly meeting or fall retreat. They don’t do anything that doesn’t help them reach their respective audiences.
Even though we have a good size team of 9, every contextualized team feels small. And they acutely feel the need for more laborers. And in some ways, that’s really good. We only change when our current reality is painful enough to make us do the hard work required to change. Each contextualized team badly wants new laborers.
As they shared what they are doing to raise up new laborers, it hit me – it’s not up to me (as the team leader) to raise up an AIA female staff. Or an Impact staff or a Bridges staff. They’re doing it. They’re flying people in for vision trips. Not me. They’re taking key volunteers out to dinner, challenging them to join Impact staff. I din’t have to ask them to do that – I didn’t even know they were doing those things! They are truly leading. And (Lord willing!) laborers will be multiplied.
A couple weeks ago we had 3 separate thanksgiving meals that were a good snapshot of the exponential effect of multiple movements. Instead of one big meeting or dinner where maybe 100 CFM students would’ve gathered, we had:
  • 40 international students at the Bridges dinner
  • 30 athletes at the AIA dinner (which is low for them – they typically have 50-75)
  • 60 African american students at the Impact dinner
And in CFM, 200 students gathered in Community Groups across campus for thanksgiving parties and bible studies.
And that’s just on our campus. Across the globe, in East Asia we have 5 Razorbacks who hosted East Asian students for Thanksgiving. 5 sent staff who are very motivated to recruit laborers to join their team in EA.
Up until 2012, for the first 44 years of Cru at the University of Arkansas, we have had one team with one focus- reaching the majority culture at the University of Arkansas. In 2012 we had our first contextualized team – Athletes in Action – and we began to reach students at two nearby campuses (a four year university and two year college). This year, in 2016, our team spawned two more teams to focus exclusively on international students and African Americans.
Here’s how “ sending out” staff to reach new areas affected our staff team. Looking at the past decade of our staff team size, there are successive waves of increasing amplitude.
The seasons of lack actually seem to cause longterm growth. Why is that?
Pastor JD Greear  puts it well – “But here’s a principle we’ve learned that sustains us when our courage flags: sending out leaders creates more leaders. What you send out inevitably comes back to you in multiplied form.”
A small team forces you to do the things you want to do anyway – to avoid Ken Cochrum’s Two Movement Killers:
  • Movement-Killer #1 – Hasty (or No) Selection
  • Movement-Killer #2 – Staff Filling Their Schedule with 1-1 Appointments
Ken says that need is “a leadership vacuum that demands new leaders (&  gives real leadership experience to many)”. That has definitely been the case for us.
And it has come from:
  • sending first
  • sending our best
  • and sending until it hurts.
Four years ago we had 12 staff. Out of those 12, we “sent” 3 to do Athletes in Action full time (on our campus) and 2 began to heavily invest in launching other campuses – which means the next year we had 7 staff focused on CFM (the core movement) of the campus.
Last year we had 13 CFM (core movement) staff and 4 AIA staff. Out of those 13 CFM, we sent:
  • 2 of those to East Asia
  • 2 to do Bridges (international students) full time
  • 1 to do Impact (African American students) full time
  • 1 to do JESUS Film
We had several others finish their Cru internships or leave staff, which left us with 3 CFM staff on campus. 3 staff predominantly focused on University of Arkansas (with 1 of those staff spending one day/week launching at a school 1 hour away; and another staff spending some time at a local Christian college to try to mobilize students to go to the world).
So the (unintentional!) pattern over the last five years has been:
  • two years of plenty resulting in sending
  • a low year
  • two years of plenty resulting in sending
  • a low year
On the CFM side, going from 13 to 3 has been a little painful. 3 is a little small – I think 7 might be healthier (I don’t think much is gained in a staff team growing from 7 to 13, besides a temporary bump that can be dispersed to contextualized teams). But I think 3 has created space – a leadership vacuum that is sucking in new leaders. We don’t have any women staff. It’s looking like the result will be that next year we will gain several female interns.
So sending out leaders has created space for more leaders.
But here is one major caveat – one reason we can lead a good-size CFM movement with only three staff is that we have developed an established core of student leaders. We have 65 students leading Bible studies. For us, a solid hub movement has been the key to spinning out laborers to launch new movements. Bridges has successfully launched this year and has been very effective in reaching international students because we sent out 2 staff and 4 of our best student leaders from our core Cru movement. Our core Cru movement has suffered a bit from that loss of key leaders, but others hopefully will step up to fill that gap.
For many years Jim Sautner led Destino (focused on reaching Hispanic students). Jim has built movements and launched many kinds of contextualized movements. His advice to me:
“You need critical mass to produce laborers and launch new movements. You can’t give what you don’t have. You can’t give laborers to reach and launch if you don’t have any.”
We must build movements that plants new movements.

In 2016 I only read books that were highly recommended by friends. I already shared my top 20 books of 2016 – and I hesitated to share the rest that I read, but there are SO many good books that are worth reading (all of which were recommended by others)! AND I think it’s always helpful to hear which books are probably not worth reading. So…

  • 21-30 – I’d highly recommend all these books – thoroughly enjoyed them.
  • 31-40 – were good but not remarkable
  • 41-51 – I could have done without reading

21. Team of Rivals – well written biography of the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. Almost brought me to tears when he was (spoiler alert!) killed. How different would our nation be if he could have guided us through reconstruction following the Civil War?

22. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – started slow but ended up really enjoying this HP sequel (full disclosure – Harry Potter is my all time favorite novel/series)

23. The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey – reads like a novel. Fascinating story.

24. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business – a secular book but great insights for ministry – how do people change

25. The Insanity of God – great stories about the persecuted church. Felt like the writing was sometimes subpar. (embarrassingly-bad sentences like “our taxi was speeding faster than the underground church in China was growing”) Might have been – I really didn’t like the narrator that read the audiobook.

26. The Boys in the Boat – Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics – My favorite type of non-fiction – historical biography that reads like a novel. Not just about rowing! Great window into the lives of Americans during the Great Depression and into Germany as the Nazis rose to power.

27. Shadow of the Almighty [only this low because I’ve already read it many times!] – one of my all-time favorite books.

28. Between the World and Me – “written as a letter to the author’s teenaged son about the feelings, symbolism, and realities associated with being black in the United States. Coates recapitulates the American history of violence against black people and the incommensurate policing of black youth.” Eye opening, much like Hillbilly Elegy, a window into a different world. Would highly recommend reading – to hear (and try to understand) the anger and sadness of a black man in inner city America.

29. Guns, Germs, and Steel – why are some countries rich and some poor? Fascinating if a bit technical and unsatisfying in its answers. The author is far more educated/smart than I’ll ever be but seems a bit reductionistic/deterministic. He essentially says (in very technical terms) that a nations’ fate is determined by its climate and ecological cards its been dealt (how many domesticable animals, what kind of crops will grow, etc). Leaves no room for the role of ideas and beliefs. Reading “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations” right now and finding it far more insightful- looking at why Europeans had a particular joy of discovery/invention. Interestingly, Wealth/Poverty of Nations attributes it mostly to Judeo-Christian beliefs, personal property rights, and a free market.

30. The Fifth Wave – young adult fiction – great plot (part of my quest to keep up with what my daughters are reading!)

31. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy – would have enjoyed it more if it were shorter and less detailed! Dumbstruck this book was so popular, especially among secular people. It’s not an easy read. And it’s very theological. By far the best part was the light it shed on how the world’s most Christian country (home of the most influential seminaries, Luther, etc) became Nazi Germany. Unnerving to read it as Trump rose to power (and as the author, Metaxas, vocally supporter Trump!).

32. Being White – Finding Our Place in a Multiethnic World – less helpful than other books I’ve read on racial reconciliation in America. Still worth reading just to hear different viewpoints and continue to process Being White.

33. The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21 Century – Alan Hirsch – Addison’s Movements that Change the World is a shorter, more compelling version of this book (and was one of my top 10 books this year).

34. The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness – Keller – not a bad little book. I read it to prep for a sermon. Like everything Keller writes, insightful and worth reading!

35. Beating the College Debt Trap: Getting a Degree Without Going Broke – Alex Chediak – very helpful in understanding solutions for what I think is a critical issue in mobilizing missionaries to go to the world – crippling student loan debt. Very detailed and practical. I read it to prep for a talk to help college students think critically re incurring debt.

36. Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ – Piper – helpful as a short devotional to accompany morning Bible reading.

37. Mastery – examines the lives of great historical figures—such as Charles Darwin, Mozart, and Henry Ford—and distills the traits and universal ingredients that made them masters. Not as interesting/helpful as I had hoped!

38. The Last Star – young adult fiction (book 3 of The Fifth Wave)

39. Infinite Sea– young adult fiction (book 2 of The Fifth Wave)

40. A Little History of Philosophy – Very well written. Maybe not the best to listen to on audiobook – hard to take in on all those deep thoughts, audibly. Enjoyed it up until the 1800’s and then philosophy just gets bizarre. Kudos to those of you who can understand it. I sure Kant (see what I did there?).

41. The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World -book’s subtitle is somewhat misleading, in that the Royal Society plays only a small part. Somewhat anti-Christian. Though it is helpful in understanding the sad irony that Newton (who was a DEEPLY devoted follower of Jesus) ushered in modern atheism.

42. Devil in the White City – great writing, as always, from this author. Just didn’t love the story. Pretty dark.

43. Bossypants by Tina Fey – funny. But not amazing.

44. Maze Runner– young adult fiction – good, but not great.

45. Cinder– young adult fiction

46. Scarlet– young adult fiction

47. Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power – pretty dry and long. Not sure I understand/know Jefferson any better. I slogged through though.

48. Cress – young adult fiction

49. Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English – quite boring- not for laymen; only for serious linguists

50. When the Mississippi Ran Backwards: Empire, Intrigue, Murder, and the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-12 

51. In the Land of the Blue Burqas – a missionary sharing the love of Christ with women living in Afghanistan – in desperate need of editing!


Last but certainly, not least –

Unranked – The Bible – I mean, of course, it’s #1 every year! 5 stars. Highly recommended reading.


I’m always adding to my Evernote “Books I want to read” list. What should I add to that list?

What books did you enjoy reading in 2016?

My Top 20 Books of 2016

December 7, 2016 — 8 Comments

If I could choose only one habit to pursue growth it would be to develop a love for books. Reading requires focus and commitment. But the payoff is huge. If you want to jumpstart your leadership growth, spend at least thirty minutes a day reading – Randy Gravitt

As I wrote earlier this year, my main goal for 2016 was to read more books. I’m on course to finish 52 books this year (I read 17 last year).

I’m constantly on the lookout for book recommendations from friends who read a lot. I get to benefit as they filter out the best of the best for me to read. So in the spirit of “Do Unto Others” I typed up my top 20 books I read this year.

Here are the 20 Best Books I Read in 2016

  1. Beyond the Local Church no book this year made me think more than this one.
    • If the Church was doing it’s job, para-churches wouldn’t be necessary. True or False?
    • ‘Beyond’ sets forth a positive vision of how the local and missionary church can partner together.
    • It highlights “a deficient and even aberrant ecclesiology in which the church in its local form is considered supreme and all else is ‘para’—or, even worse, illegitimate. Such a perspective is theologically, historically and missiologically false”
  2. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis fascinating and heartbreaking look at poor whites in America. Makes sense of much of the wave of outrage that Trump rode into the White House. Fair warning – coarse language throughout!
  3. Masterplan of Evangelism hadn’t read this book in YEARS. I won’t make the mistake again. Underlined pretty much every sentence in this book. Dr. Coleman lays out an incredibly practical, Biblical, powerful game plan for ministry. Has a better book on ministry ever been written?
  4. The Treasure Principle: Discovering the Secret of Joyful Giving not the first time I’ve read this small book. Like Masterplan, I definitely need to read this book more often. Powerful reminder on living for eternal rewards not temporary comfort. Annually give this to all of our graduating college seniors.
  5. The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership That Matters – Dr. Al Mohler it’s like a John Maxwell book with a Biblical backbone. Very practical and insightful.
  6. The God Ask: A Fresh, Biblical Approach to Personal Support Raising This book is a must-read for anyone who raises funds for ministry. Great vision, thorough Biblical basis, and very practical. Pure gold.
  7. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin – fascinating true story of the US Ambassador’s family in Nazi Germany (much of it focused on the Ambassador’s daughter’s trysts with Nazi officers -and even a date with Hitler) and how slow everyone was to see the absolute evil of the Nazis.
  8. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West heartbreaking history of the Old West from the perspective of Native Americans. Really helped me understand the injustice of what happened. Previously, ignorantly, I had wondered – “how is the European conquest of America any different than any other war? To the victor goes the spoils/land.” But the history of the American West is far more tragic and unjust. Treaty after broken treaty. Indians treated as subhuman for centuries (even far beyond the years of African Americans – the 14th amendment that emancipated African Americans specifically excludes Indians as humans with inalienable rights)
  9. A Praying Life very practical, honest book on prayer that covers so much more than just prayer. Very helpful for me in figuring out why I don’t pray!
  10. Movements That Change the World just the kind of book I like: short (129 pages), full of vision, and very practical. From Biblical and historical examples of world-changing movements, Addison distills the essentials of movements. Read in tandem with Masterplan of Evangelism and you’ve got the blueprints for changing the world for Christ.
  11. The History of the Ancient World at 900 pages, this book took FOREVER to listen to. Like 5 months. The author does an admirable job – t’s very well written and not dry. Really helped me understand the world of the Bible – chaos: manmade brutality and natural disasters. A better title might have been – The Misery of the Ancient World. It seems that understanding the instability of the ancient world is crucial for understanding the Bible. Reading from where we sit – in prosperity, comfort and complete safety – it is nearly impossible to understand the frame of mind of ancient Israelites or the early church. That’s why the Bible’s number one command/promise is “Do Not Fear, for I am with you”. Understanding the misery/chaos of the ancient world is the 1st time I’ve understood Israel’s idolatry and worshipping other gods. Ancient people’s greatest desire was protection against being annihilated by another country. So when the Israelites turned to other gods it wasn’t on a whim. They were turning from trusting in God, they were giving into fear, looking to other gods to provide & protect. HotAW ends powerfully – after thousands of rulers, the vast majority whom were violently deposed and murdered, and hundreds of kingdoms over four thousand years- this is how it ends: The greatest empire the world has ever known emerges. Rome succeeds where others have failed – to unite most of the world under one empire and ruler. And yet Christianity is greater still – it is able to do what Rome never managed. “This was the end of the old Rome. But it would turn out to be the rise of something much more powerful [Christianity].”
  12. For the Love of God vol 1&2 – D.A. Carson only ranked this low because they’re atypical books. Daily devotions/commentary from D.A. Carson to read alongside read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan. Can’t recommend these two volumes highly enough! Transformed my quiet times. Perfect (short!) length to give a little insight to daily Bible reading.
  13. New Morning Mercies Paul Tripp’s daily devotional – often very good. And always short. Great to have Paul Tripp preaching to you throughout the year. Confession – didn’t read EVERY day – but at least 80% of the days!
  14. Just Mercy enjoyed the book and got the privilege of hearing the author, Brian Stevenson, speak at our university. The book and the author’s talk were very helpful in helping me understand the need for our country to acknowledge the sins of our past. To (painfully) drag them into the light. Brian Stevenson said that our country needs to do a better job of acknowledging the sins of Jim Crow and slavery. Bryan said that he has been invited to speak in Germany – and he would never accept that invitation if Germany still had statues of Hitler and Nazi flags everywhere. On the contrary, Germany, as a nation, has publicly condemned and repented of their past sins. They don’t cover up the sins of the Holocaust. They broadcast them. So that their nation can heal. And yet, in our country we have statues and flags that celebrate our horribly racist past.
  15. Let the Nations Be Glad! – not sure how, but never had read this. WAY more theological (and technical – not an easy read) than I would have guessed. But fantastic and compelling book. Especially learned from Piper’s insights on the use of the word “worship” in the New Testament- “the New Testament is stunningly silent about the outward forms of worship and radically focused on the inner experience of treasuring God, because it is a book of vision for missions in all cultures, not a worship manual for how to “do worship” in our culture.”
  16. Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China  GREAT read on the rapid spiritual, moral, and financial changes (especially among young people) in China
  17. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking very insightful – great read for extraverts (who are married to or work with introverts) and introverts alike. Covers how (and why) extroversion became the cultural ideal in America – in the mid-1900’s the White House promoted a slogan: “’A healthy personality for every child.’ Well-meaning parents agreed that quiet was unacceptable and gregariousness ideal for both girls and boys.” Ivy League schools shifted from desiring high character/intellect to “a pretty gregarious, active type.” The author makes a compelling case for the Information Age could be the age of Introverts – people who  think deeply, strategize, solve complex problems and can share ideas powerfully (especially in written form/online). Particularly helpful for college ministers – she writes on how to be introverted in a job/org/church “that prides itself on extroverted evangelism” and how introverts often make the best salespeople (I find Sales to be the most similar secular job to college ministry).
  18. Bloodlines – Race, Cross, and the Christian – John Piper – very helpful, thoroughly Biblical case for the need for racial reconciliation
  19. 1776God Bless America. Truly miraculous how our nation began when most of 1776 looked VERY bleak and the chance of success infinitesimally small.
  20. Team of Rivals well written biography of the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. Almost brought me to tears when he was (spoiler alert!) killed. How different would our nation be if he could have guided us through reconstruction following the Civil War?

What were your favorite books you read in 2016?

Every college ministry team has staff meetings, but not every team has effective meetings.

Look at your staff meeting and ask yourself – does how we spend time during staff meeting reflect our overall values and goals? Does our staff meeting reflect what we want to be about and what is important?

So what is the purpose of staff meeting? Ask any staff and you will get a different answer. A few things to consider:

  • You likely only have one dedicated time a week where all your staff are face to face. How can you make the most of that time?
  • What can you ONLY accomplish in staff meeting (that can’t effectively be done via email, text, one-on-one coaching)?
  • A helpful way to ask- state it negatively: “What do we lose if we don’t have staff meeting?”

Whatever you decide on, communicate that purpose clearly to the team throughout the year: “We are spending the first 30 minutes of staff meeting connecting relationally and this is why. . .” Otherwise you’ll have some very frustrated staff (who have their own very strong opinions on how to better spend their 3 hours a week).


I spent my first five years on staff incredibly frustrated at our staff meetings. We spent the first hour hanging out, eating, and doing team bonding questions (and me looking at my watch dreaming about all I could be getting accomplished out in the free world). I would have been able to actually enjoy the first hour of staff meeting if I’d been mature/insightful enough to understand the importance of having good team relationships.

For our team, our staff meeting is split into two halves.

For the first half (9-10:30am), all of our teams are together –

  • CFM staff (focused on the general population at the University of Arkansas)
  • Athletes in Action
  • Bridges (International Students)
  • Impact (focusing on students of African descent).

From 10:30-noon we split into teams to plan specifically for each movement.

This is what we try to do every week:

  • First Half:
    • Time to celebrate what God is doing
      • This is easily the best thing we do every week. We spend the first 30-45 minutes of staff meeting sharing: “How have you seen God at work on campus this week?”.
      • It could be a student coming to Christ, a girl breaking off a bad relationship, a guy making significant steps to break his addiction to porn, a new Bible study in the Music building, etc.
      • It never fails. Every. Single. Week. It launches our staff meeting on a high note. We recount the wondrous deeds of God (Psalm 75:1) and He gets the glory.
      • Nothing inspires your team like:
        • Hearing that the Creator God is present and working mightily on your campus
        • Knowing that we get to be a part of it – we get to be used by God!
      • Don’t rush celebration to get onto ‘more important’ business items. Give time for people to share. Some people might be quiet, and you can’t force them to share each week. But hopefully a non-rushed space will help the team know that celebrating is important and not something to rush through.
    • Devotional from the Word or from a book we are reading together (a few I’d highly recommend:
      A Praying LifeLiving the Cross Centered LifeDangerous Calling, The Dangerous Duty of Delight)
    • Staff Development (MPD, reading ministry/leadership articles together)
    • A little prayer (though not much – we have a different morning dedicated to staff prayer)
    • End on vision
  • Second Half
    • Focusing on what matters (discipleship/evangelism/Strategic Plan) – see more below
    • Clearly communicate staff focus for the week (all weeks should not blend together and look the same)
    • End on vision

OK – Now some practical details – here’s 10 Keys to Effective, Engaging Staff Meetings

10 Keys to Effective, Engaging Staff Meetings

1) Details = Death

I would guess that this is the number one killer for most teams – too much time is spent on details that should be decided outside of staff meeting.

When I was first on staff, I swear 97.35% of our staff meeting was debating the wording of our strategic plan:

Staff 1: “I think our first critical path step should be called ‘launching missional teams’ ”

Staff 2: “Technically ‘missional’ isn’t even a word and I think launching implies we are doing all the work when isn’t it God that works?”

Staff 3: “I agree, let’s discuss what missional really means”

Staff 4: “I have a tee time for discipleship in 10 minutes”

It was fun.

In looking back at staff meetings I led 15 years ago, this would be the biggest change: we used to spend the vast majority of our meeting talking about meeting details, specifically two meetings – our weekly training/leadership meeting and weekly Cru meeting. 2/3 of our staff meeting was taken up by evaluating last week’s meetings and planning next week’s meetings. Now we rarely spend anytime at staff meeting talking about our weekly meeting.

Tim Norman, Cru Regional Director and former Team Leader at Northwestern:

“I rarely planned events during staff meeting. I felt it was a dishonorable use of the talent in the room. Here I was with the Seal team of evangelism and discipleship experts for the campus and we’re talking about who was bringing the hot dogs to the bonfire.

Empower staff to lead. If you are in charge of the bonfire, you are in charge. Delegate to student leaders. Assign staff to tasks. Give people the authority they need to get their job done. Something might flop some day. But, I’d take that and more focused effort on evangelism and discipleship.”

When we do talk about meetings we’re talking about strategic decisions and not details –

  • For the summer project dessert after our meeting, we are asking the team “Should we open it up to all of our sending partnerships or just on one of them” instead of “should we have cupcakes or cookies?”. We’re getting specific input on mission critical things instead of dealing with tiny details.
  • “You’re in charge of fall retreat – you have 10 minutes in staff meeting on Thursday to tell us the status of Fall Retreat and what you need from us right now” (we’re not going to talk through who’s going to give their testimony at Fall Retreat).
  • So for any area of responsibility:
    1. Give the team an update on where we are at
    2. What do you need from the team?
  • All details can be decided by student or staff leaders outside of staff meeting.
  • Let this nugget of wisdom sink in from Mark Brown, former Cru Team Leader at Miami, OH – “If students are truly leading, you won’t have much to talk about at staff meeting.”

Staff meetings are not an information dump. Think to yourself: “could I achieve this just as well via by e-mail?” We don’t spend time telling everyone what dates are coming up (prayer is at Julie’s house on Monday) – we just have it all on the Google Calendar.

2) Keep the meeting moving

Many staff meetings are rambling discussions on whatever subject comes along with very little closure and concrete next steps, and even less vision.

Chris Musgrave, one of the Cru Team Leaders at Florida, shares what changes they made on their team to reduce and rein in rabbit trail discussions:

I got tired of leaving staff meetings frazzled so we made some changes.

  • From nouns to verbs
    • We changed our bullet points from generic nouns like “Weekly meeting” to verbs “get input from the team on whether our room is too big for us now.” That keeps us moving and keeps discussion focused and profitable.
  • Putting things in Parking Lots and Farms
    • Parking lot- “Let’s table that and revisit that at the end of the meeting. If we don’t have time – we’ll talk about it next week.”
    • Farms= delegating – “you three find a time to talk about it this week and get back to us next week.
    • Those gave us language for anyone on the team to say “let’s put it in the parking lot”- to keep the meeting from getting bogged down.

I would add three things:

  1. In general, only discuss things that require everyone to weigh in on. Don’t make your entire staff team sit there while you and Joe Staff discuss what kind of food he’s planning on buying for Cru this week. Give everyone on the team permission to throw the “A-B conversation” flag if you or anyone else drifts into that.
  2. If you (or your co-leader) are not a good meeting facilitator (especially at keeping things moving), have someone else on your team lead staff meeting (and you can lead various parts like Vision and Direction).
  3. Sometime rabbit trails can be fun. We’re not running a business meeting. Have fun with your team! Ministry as a whole is very serious business. Sometimes what your team needs most is levity. Leave room to laugh together!

3) Focus on What Matters

Now that your staff meeting is not clogged up with all those details or bogged down by rabbit trails, you can focus on what really matters – what your team came on staff to do-

  • How’s multiplication/selection going? What are some best practices with helping your people multiply?
  • Are students sharing their faith? What is our next step this week in that?
  • How are staff spending their time? Is the bulk of it being spent multiplying and modeling ministry?
  • How broad have we sown?

You want to find out where people are stuck, and you want to find out about early. You don’t want to find that out in December – when there’s no one going to Winter Conference.

4) If you fail to plan…

Do not wing staff meeting! You owe it to the team to be prepared. Michael Hyatt, former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing sums it up:

“People’s time is valuable. A meeting without an agenda is like a ship without a rudder. If you won’t take time to prepare an agenda, why should people take time to attend your meeting?”

Most weeks it takes me about 20 minutes to plan staff meetings. How?

The easiest and best way to plan your staff meeting is to copy and paste last year’s staff meeting agenda and tweak it to match your reality and needs this year. I see how it’s the easiest, but how is the best? Because you’ll be amazed at how insightful and on top of things you were last year (“I hadn’t even thought of ____ that we need to start talking about this week in the year!”). Because last year’s notes were the improvement on the previous year’s notes which were…

Don’t have typed up staff meeting notes from last year? Be the change you want to see in the world. Take good staff meeting notes all year this year – take a few extra minutes to write down your devotional for your staff team, to write pretty detailed notes on what you do in staff meeting. That way you’re not reinventing the wheel every year.  And in three years, you can recycle that devotional you used with your staff.


5) Eval early and often

Evaluate throughout the semester, not just at the end of the semester (and take copious notes so life will be easier next year). This is not a vent session or a 3 hour discussion. Spend about 10 minutes and quickly capture things that will help you improve next year.

Start on a positive note with “What went well? What do we want to make sure we remember to do again next year?”

Then more critically: “What do we need to do differently?”

Why eval?

Because just a small investment now will multiply your effectiveness next year. After you invest countless hours in the first few weeks on campus, take an extra 10 minutes and discuss as a team what you want to make sure do again next year, and what would have dramatically improved your outreach to freshmen.

Secondly, we eval because we will remember ZERO details next year. “What did we do for freshmen scholarships last year for fall retreat?” “How did we get so many freshmen there last year?” “Didn’t we say never to do ____ again?” No one will remember unless you eval and take notes AND put them in a folder where you can actually find them next year – save each eval as a separate google doc in a “Evals” folder in your team’s larger “Fall 2016-Spring 2017 folder”.

6) Set the norm that everyone focuses –

No laptops. No cell phones/texting. No side conversations. All of these things make meetings longer and less productive.” Michael Hyatt

7) Start on time (whether everyone is there or not) and end on time (whether you are done or not).

8) Periodically solicit input from the staff: “how could we improve staff meetings?”

9) Lead democratically

The Harvard Business Review article “From Chief of Answers to Leader of Co-creators” summarizes it well:

“The Social Era raises the pressure on leaders to move from knowing everything to knowing what needs to be addressed and then engaging many people in solving that, together. They should frame the challenge and point out the horizon, helping those involved know what matters and why. [It] requires: collaborating rather than commanding, framing and guiding rather than telling, and sharing power rather than hoarding it.”

10) End meetings on a high note.

Don’t end on details (which is the tendency as the clock counts down). End on two things:

  1. The Staff focus for the week – For Example:
    • “Remember – our #1 priority this week is following up new people who came to Fall Retreat (and take student leaders with you on your appointments!)”
    • or “If you don’t do anything else this week, make sure you meet with your assigned leaders to challenge them to Lead Bible Studies in the fall”
  2. Vision – college ministry is hard and can tend to zap vision/zeal. Vision leaks. Remind your staff what we are trying to accomplish.
    • Why are we going to strive with all our effort for the gospel this week?
    • How is what we are doing significant?
    • Our God is mighty to save. Our mission is sure. No one can thwart his purposes – Job 42:2.
    • The need for laborers and how what we are doing this week will contribute to that: “We are going into the dorms this week to find a freshman who is sleeping with his girlfriend, who has spent his first week in the dorms completely drunk – who will be the next great missionary to Ethiopia”
    • Tim Norman focuses vision on 4 things with the teams he leads:
      1. our glorious task in the Great Commission
      2. the greatness of our God
      3. the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives and
      4. the freedom of living and leading under grace
    • You can read more of Tim’s wisdom on staff meetings here – and his blank staff meeting template is helpful as well.

What helps your team have effective meetings?

— Click here to get this post in downloadable, article form.

It’s December and maybe your fall feels like:

As Ive said before, College ministry is hard.


It can get discouraging turning over rock after rock with sometimes little to show for it. This fall I texted one freshman 6 times and got no response. On the 7th text he responded and we got lunch. I shared the gospel with him. I asked him how college has been for him spiritually – he said “I really feel like God is pursuing me since I’ve been in college. I mean – you’ve kept on texting me and I really feel like that was God pursuing me.”


In college ministry we’re constantly turning over rocks to see where God is at work. I love Winston Churchill’s “encouragement” – “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”


College ministry is hard emotionally. There’s something incredibly humbling about having a too-cool-for-school 18 year old freshman smugly shut the door in your face as you attempt to tell them how they can know the supreme God of all creation.


On a deeper level, working on the cutting edge of culture can be exhausting. For most Christians, dealing with complex issues like LGBTQ, racial inequality, suicide, transgender, Trump, depression, and mental health are distant hypotheticals to yell about on Facebook. For college ministers, you interact with students on these issues as part of your daily job. 


Paul Tripp summarizes well the difficulty of ministry:
“There are few things that will reveal to you the full range of your sin, immaturity, weakness, and failure like ministry will. There are few things that will expose your weaknesses to others as consistently as ministry does. There are few endeavors that will put you under public expectancy and scrutiny like ministry does. There are few things that are as personally humbling as ministry is. There are few endeavors that have the power to produce in you such deep feelings of inadequacy as ministry does. There are few things that can be such a vat of self-doubt as ministry is.”


There are a few things that help me keep going.
1) It’s December. You’re tired. And you should be. You are doing ministry in one of the most difficult environments, on the cutting edge of culture – the college campus. The reason there’s not many people up on campus sharing the gospel in greek houses, in the dorms, on practice fields – is because it’s hard!
A recent survey of a college ministry showed that
  • 80% of team leaders would say “I feel overwhelmed by my job”
  • 75% expressed feeling emotionally drained from their work
  • the majority have seriously thought about quitting their job
Hopefully you find this oddly encouraging. It’s good for me to be reminded that I’m exhausted because what we’re trying to do is hard. And you’re not alone. We all feel it. 


2) Your job is complex. But that’s a good thing. You want some job complexity – it’s what makes your job fun. Meaningful work is always complex. You’re not screwing three screws into the back of a computer for 12 hours/day (as I did one summer in college).  In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell says meaningful work has three distinct qualities:
  1. Complexity
  2. Autonomy
  3. And a clear relationship between effort and reward
You (and your team) need those three.
To embrace the complexity.
To have the freedom to innovate and really lead.
But the last one is key. If all you and your team can see is the complexity and your ministry’s shortcomings, THAT is when discouragement sets in. Your team needs to see that you are making real progress toward a tangible goal. Even if that progress was learning 4 ways of how NOT to reach freshmen, that is success! You stepped out in faith and are learning. Which leads to number 3…


3) Celebrate! Last week my regional director sent to our regional team leaders an email that spotlighted what God was doing through the Central Arkansas team to launch a new campus and raise up 4 staff from that campus. I emailed their team leader about how encouraging that was. His reply – 
“I had two thoughts when I read this. 1. I didn’t know some all that stuff. 2. I need to learn to celebrate more!”
In the midst of the craziness of fall it’s so easy to let your less-than-stellar weekly meeting or flaky leaders to hide the fact that God is using you in significant ways to change lives for eternity. You’re team is intimately acquainted with all the things that are going wrong in your ministry. We need to stop and raise our team’s eyes to all that God has done.
Bill Hybels has some wise words on celebration: “How do you inspire people to stay on the journey from here to there?
Refill their vision bucket. Everyone’s vision bucket leaks. You have to celebrate every mile-marker you possibly can on the way to the destination.”
More on celebrating here.


4) It’s good for me to be reminded that it’s worth it. We delicately talk through difficult cultural issues with students. We boldly proclaim the gospel and often endure contempt and rejection. Many of us raise support and trust God to provide 100% of our livelihood.
Why? In Spanish, if something is “worth it” you say it is “vale la pena”. Literally – “worth the pain”. It is worth the hardships so that hundreds and thousands of future world changers can encounter Jesus. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory thatfar outweighs them all.” – I Corinthians 4:17. Faith is believing that in the midst of the hardness of ministry, it’s worth it. Christ is worthy of our lives. And we know that this good news WILL be proclaimed to all nations. And we get to be a part of it. Ministry is hard. But es vale la pena.