12 of the Best Books That Saved the Worst Year

know it’s cliche, but if I am being totally honest, 2020 has been the most difficult year of my life. It has been difficult relationally, spiritually, vocationally, and emotionally.

From January 18th 2020 and on, my life has been profoundly impacted. In fact, the last time I published an article on Medium, I was a top writer in Leadership, writing regularly, and trying to evaluate what was happening in a pandemic world.

But because of some of the things our family had walked through, the writing pace slowed.

Over the summer, my life changed even more. I wish I could give more details, but I’m still in the middle of the chaos and don’t feel like it would honor the situation to publicly write about what has been happening. It’s been deeply formative, extremely painful, and incredibly helpful.

At some point, I might write about it. Whether a series of posts, a book, or some sort of leadership development stuff, I know that the hardships of the present will be fodder for the future.

So that’s why I’ve been radio silent.

That being said, I’ve spent a LOT of time reading this year. Once the pandemic hit, I made a commitment. From March 20th, I resolved to only read books via Kindle until June 1st. I have never loved Kindle, so it was a challenge. Now that I have forced the habit, Kindle has become my preferred method for books. I love having them available, I love having unlimited space to take notes, and I love being able to actually read what notes I make.

The biggest drawback is having no real way to mass export my notes in a usable fashion. Maybe one day.

In the middle of all the pain and chaos, here are the books that have meant the most, changed me the most and encouraged me the most. You’ll notice that this list skews more into my faith than other posts. That’s not a coincidence.

I hope you find time to work through at least one of these and grow even more than I have. Keep in mind, these are in no particular order, so take your pick.

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A Promised Land by Barack Obama

Regardless of your politics, this books has incredible insight into the day-to-day life of a President, and the challenges he (or she) faces on a regular basis. I’ll admit, I wasn’t a fan of President Obama when he first came to the Oval Office, but I have been deeply challenged and changed by his leadership, humanity, and empathy. This book is massive, and it’s only volume one.

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The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek

What does it mean to play an infinite game, and how does that impact your leadership? Does your perspective on your competition change your perspective on your work? As expected, Simon Sinek delivers easy to understand wisdom and insight into leadership that feels like common sense…until you try and put it into practice.

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Reading While Black by Esau McCaulley

If I had to pick a top three of 2020, this would fight for the top spot. Originally, I expected this to fall more in a “Christian Living” type category. In reality, it’s a deeply theological exogetical approach to incredibly delicate issues. How does Scripture approach policing, and how should policing funciton in a healthy society? What are African American believers to do with their rage, and does it have a place in Scripture? I’m incredibly thankful for McCaulley’s work, and I hope this is still the beginning of his journey as an author.

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Herding Tigers by Todd Henry

I am typically skeptical of leadership books that try and mesh leadership with creatives. This book is filled with highlights and challenges that have pushed me out of my comfort zone. It’s also forced me to do an honest inventory of whether or not I am the kind of leader that I believe I am. Are there things Henry suggests that I assume I can do, but have no proof that I actually do?

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Old Testament Theology for Christians by John Walton

This might be a record holder for “Book with the Most ‘I Knew I Wasn’t Crazy’ Notes.”

As a Christian, how do we understand the Ancient Near Eastern culture that provided the context for Israel’s life and faith? If we don’t understand that, we’re in a dangerous place to make assumptions for how to read the Old Testament. This is a more academic read, but was incredibly freeing and challenging.

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I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown

I’m sure you’ve heard of this book by now. I had been recommended this book multiple times before moments like George Floyd. I wish I had taken those recommendations more seriously. This book was challenging and incredibly helpful. As a white leader, Brown did a great job of pushing back on what I assumed were “well intentioned assumptions,” and forced me to take stock of how I approach racial reconciliation and engagement in all areas of my life.

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Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament by Mark Vroegop

Wow.

I have never spent much time studying the process of lament, its theological importance, or how to pratice it. I read this book in April, when I thought things were tough in my life. Little did I know, the groundwork was being laid, and my heart was being prepared, for what was to come. I would strongly recommend this book for any believer, much less a believer walking through difficulty.

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The Vision Driven Leader by Michael Hyatt

This was incredibly practical and helpful in figuring out what was next for my organization and ministry. I spent hours and hours during May and June wreslting through what Hyatt calls a vision script. In the early part of June, I rolled it out to an initial core group of staff, and was incredibly excited to see it take off on our team. If you’re a point person looking for a practical tool or handle on casting vision for your team, this would be my first suggestion.

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The Pastor as Public Theologian by Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan

This book was challenging, and I found myself drawn more and more to one of the authors (I won’t say which) as the book continued. When 2021 rolls around, I plan on walking through this book again to try and figure out which pieces resonated so deeply. I don’t agree with everything they said, but found myself challenged even when I disagreed.

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The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer

Some books are just good for the soul. I read this book in January, and needed the reminder. Little did I know, margin would soon explode in my life, but be filled with chaos and not peace. Comer’s book helped me keep my head on straight and my priorities in line. Though Comer is an incredible pastor, I don’t think you have to follow Jesus to grow through this book.

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The Art of Pastoring: Ministry Without All The Answers by David Hansen

Between this and Vanhoozer, my approach to ministry has been nuanced in some pretty significant ways. Hansen comes from a different context than I do, but I was still really pushed to evaluate how I approach ministry, both as a calling and as a vocation. This one is also on my list of books to reread in 2021, as I try and continue to discern the leader and pastor I have been called to be.

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The Motive: Why So Many Leaders Abdicate Their Most Important Responsibilities by Patrick Lencioni

This is a quick enough book to read in one sitting. I read it one night as my wife was falling asleep, and found myself highlighting and taking notes like crazy. Let me give you this warning, though. The principles are easy to agree with, and the theory is easy to affirm. It can be very exposing and intimidating to try and honestly evaluate your leadership through this lens (and even more so, to invite others to evaluate you through this lens).

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What about you? What books would you include on this list?

Husband & Dad || Masters in Leadership | FREE Masterclass: http://www.austinjwalker.com/develop

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