I’m curious…what do you read? Aside from articles on your phone and the occasional magazine in a waiting room, what do you pick and spend some time reading?

In addition to the Bible, I’ve read plenty of wonderful ministry books (and I still like my own). And when I meet with leaders, their office is usually stocked with books that support their ministry. While I absolutely understand this, I also believe clergy benefit from stepping outside our niche. It enriches our thinking, our practice and our life.

So in addition to your must-read ministry books, here are three reads I highly recommend:


Accidental Genius: Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight, and Content, by Mark Levy

This book helps you write sermons, newsletter articles or anything else. It spurs you to think through ministry dilemmas, visioning and clarifying your ideas.  Levy is an advocate of “freewriting,” simply putting ideas on paper without worrying about having to get it right. He has dozens of brilliant ideas for freeing up your brain through writing.

After reading Accidental Genius, I experimented with these three tools:

  • Hold a “paper conversation.” This means, on paper, writing down a brief, imaginary dialogue with someone important to you.  Levy suggests you have them ask you questions  about your life or ministry. I’ve done this with Jesus, Rabbi Edwin Friedman and my mother. I always learn something new.
  • Do a mini-marathon: a series of 20 minute writing sessions. At the end of each session, note what catches your attention. Pick one thought and start again. I did this for two hours and got some great nuggets.
  • Use prompts for writing, such as, “The simplest thing I could do to make a difference would be…” or, “The two things I could do today to make things more exciting… “ or, “I love…”


Why Won’t You Apologize, by Harriet Lerner

Harriet Lerner first introduced me to family systems thinking over 20 years ago in her book The Dance of Anger. That book had a profound impact on my life and led me to study with Rabbi Edwin Friedman. Her latest book is a fascinating examination of the apology, both giving and receiving. The chapter ”Apologizing Under Fire” is a must-read for pastors. She includes 12 points to keep in mind when we’re on the receiving end of criticism, a regular occurrence in some churches.

Here are three of 12 points about apologies:

  • Listen only to understand (do not interrupt, argue, refute or correct facts).
  • Ask questions about whatever you don’t understand.
  • Find something you can agree with (even if it’s only 7%).


Improv Wisdom, by Patricia Ryan Madson

I have always been intrigued by the art of improv. One day I will take an improv class, so this book caught my eye. Madson suggests some useful things:

  • Just Show Up. This reminds me of Friedman’s idea that what’s most important is not technique but the nature of your presence.
  • Say Yes. I coach many leaders on being able to say no, especially to those who don’t have boundaries. Yet it’s also important to say yes, and even to find the, “yes” in the “no.” Madson suggests saying “Yes” for a whole day.
  • Change it Up. One great idea of Madson’s: if things are stuck, move to a different place. I wonder about having a board meeting in another room in the church than you usually do. Or try taking a walk with someone to see if movement shifts the energy in the relationships.


So, these three books are not for ministry, yet support it.

What non-ministry books have you read lately? Comment below and let me know. And if you haven’t read any, consider checking out one of the books above.



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