Ten Books that Have Shaped My Life

I’m a seminary professor at Southeastern Baptist Seminary, blogger, and church consultant. As often as possible, I serve as interim pastor. I’m busy, but I’m busy because I love the opportunities to be with the people of God.   

Occasionally, someone asks me what books have most influenced me along the way. It’s not easy to narrow that list, but I’ve come to realize just how much these books listed here have affected my life.*

  1. In His Steps, by Charles M. Sheldon (1896).  My mother in the faith (thanks, Katherine Langford) encouraged me to read this classic when I was a young pastor. “What would Jesus do?” became a burning question for me long before the WWJD craze.
  2. Spiritual Leadership, by Oswald Sanders (1967). I read this book as a young pastor in the 1980s. The principles are great, but what I remember most are quotes from A. W. Tozer (“The man who is ambitious to lead is disqualified”) and Samuel Brengle (“It [spiritual leadership] is not won by promotion, but my many prayers and tears”).
  3. The Master Plan of Evangelism, by Robert Coleman (1963). The first time I met Dr. Coleman, he was traveling with a student; that is, he was living out the principles of this book. Sometimes a book changes you because of the author’s walk. 
  4. The Christian in Complete Armour, by William Gurnall (three volumes in the 17th century). A seminary professor (Tim Beougher) required me to read this massive work during my PhD studies. Gurnall helped me to see the reality of spiritual warfare, a topic on which I centered my doctoral work.
  5. The Soul Winner, by Charles Spurgeon (compilation of lectures, addresses, and sermons during Spurgeon’s 19th century ministry). This compilation of lectures, addresses, and sermons is one of my favorite books on evangelism. It’s convicting, challenging, practical, and funny. You can’t read it without hearing Spurgeon say over and over again that soul winning is “the chief business of the Christian minister.” 
  6. Let the Nations Be Glad, by John Piper (1993). Dr. Piper and I would not agree on everything, but it was he whose writing grabbed my heart for the nations. I simply could not ignore his strong biblical foundation for reaching all the people groups of the world.
  7. Effective Evangelistic Churches, by Thom Rainer (1996). This book was the first one on which I served with Dr. Rainer’s research team. More than that, though, this book challenged me to always ask this question: “If a church is growing, is it growing by conversion growth?”
  8. Christ-Centered Preaching, by Bryan Chapell (1994). I’ve read many books on preaching, but Chapell’s words about application in the sermon changed the way I preach: “Without application, a preacher has no reason to preach, because truth without actual or potential application fulfills no redemptive purpose” (Kindle Locations 4417-4418).
  9. The Walk, by Michael Card (2000). As an educator and mentor, I think there is no better book that describes the influence a professor can have on a student. At least twice a year, I read this story of musician Michael Card and his college professor and mentor, Bill Lane. Every Christian mentor should read this book.  
  10. Good to Great, by Jim Collins (2001). This best seller helped me to think deeply about the process of building a team. The concept of “First who, then what” was a much needed insight, and now I try to live by the directive, “Get the right people on the bus, and get them in the right seats on the bus.”  

Of course, other books have influenced me significantly, but this list gives you a sense of some that have most shaped me. What books would you add to this list for your life? 

*This post was first published at www.thomrainer.com






  • Greg says:

    The Hope Quotienf by Ray Johnston, and Grace by Max Lucado.

  • Chuck Lawless says:

    Thanks, Greg.

  • For me, Piper’s The Supremacy of God in Preaching, Brothers We are Not Professionals, A.W. Pink’s The Sovereignty of God, and Kent Hughes’ Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome have all had major impacts on me. We are reading Chapell’s book this semeseter for Al Fullwood/Merida’s online exposition class. Been wanting to read this one for some time now!

  • Chuck Lawless says:

    Thanks for the suggestions.

  • Ron Whited says:

    Speaking as one who has read and continues to read many good study materials,let us never forget that there is one book that must remain at the top of any list of favorites.
    The Bible has done more to shape and mold us into who we are than all others combined.
    And yes,I know that we all know that. Just a gentle reminder on this Lord’s day.

  • Marty says:

    Revolution in World Missions by K.P. Yohannen.

  • lamarherndon says:


    As an SBC minister and pastor relative to the topic of spiritual warfare I would recommend two books I found extremely helpful in my early ministry days combating the forces of darkness and they are:
    1. The Adversary by Mark Bubek
    2. Overcoming the Adversary by Mark Bubek
    Mark holds degrees from Moody Bible Institute, Talbot Theological Seminary, and Denver Conservative Christian Seminary. His books are both biblically-based, scholarly, and yet practical from a personal perspective as a teacher and minister. Mark has published other books on this particular subject.

    As to books shaping my life and early ministry days they would be:
    1. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
    2. Knowing God by J. I. Packer

    As to books shaping my life relative to leadership we definitely agree on Jim Collins and his book Good to Great. Here a few more of my favorite books among many more on this topic:
    1. Strengthening the Soul of Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton
    2. Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space and Influence by MaryKate Morse
    3. The Character of Leadership by Jeff Iorg
    4. Leadership is an Art by Max De Pree
    5. The Truth about Leadership: The No-Fads, Heart-of-the-Matter Facts You Need to Know by James
    M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner
    6. Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challenge by Kouzes & Posner
    7. Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It by Kouzes & Posner
    8. The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes & Posner

    As to culture and seeing the NT through fresh eyes anything by scholar, teacher Kenneth E. Bailey such as:
    1. Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels
    2. Paul through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians

    More than what you asked for but it gives you some additional insight into books and topics some of us as ministers are reading to grow ourselves as leaders and pastors.

    Be the Church,

    LaMar Herndon
    Doctor of Strategic Leadership
    Author of Constructing Blue Collar Leaders in a White Collar World: A Biblical Perspective on Helping Bi-Vocational & Fulltime Pastors, Church Staff and Leadership Become 21st Century Global Leaders

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.