Many books that have really helped my ministry leadership over the last decade were not written by pastors. In fact, many of them weren’t even authored by Christians. Of course, I have read my fair share of works on hermeneutics, theology, exegesis, and church leadership and administration, not to mention dozens of commentaries and study materials. But I have also gleaned incredible ministry insights from non-ministry books. Here are three key reasons I believe every Christian leader should read business books.
1. The Bible is not intended to be the only book we ever read.
Many prominent Christian leaders and pastors claim that the Bible is “all you need for life and godliness.” The Scripture referenced is 2 Peter 1:3 which says that God has given us all things pertaining to life and godliness through Him who called us. The problem with interpreting this as a “Bible-only” passage is that at least six books of the New Testament were not written at the time Peter made his statement. If Peter’s claim was that the Scripture already contained everything worth communicating with regard to life and godliness, then Hebrews, Jude, and John’s letters to the churches were evidently not necessary. Peter goes on to list numerous qualities he expects believers to produce in their behavior including excellence, knowledge, self-control, and perseverance. He gives the principles and expects the reader to learn how to apply them; he does not elaborate on how to implement these in daily living.
Similarly, John says that if everything Jesus did was written down, all the world’s books could not hold the material. The Bible is the only authoritative source of information we have from God, but it is not the only source of wisdom and learning in the world. If it were, the entire market for Christian books would be worthless.
When Peter says that we have everything we need for life and godliness through Him who called us, he is talking about Christ. When we have a relationship with Christ we truly have everything we need for life and godliness in Him. He is the source of all godliness. However, just because Christ is all we need does not mean the Bible is all we should read. There are helpful insights in Christian and secular literature that are both practical and biblical.
Raving Fans by Ken Balnchard and Sheldon Bowles is not a Christian book, but it could be a wakeup call to many pastors. Most Christians don’t want their church to be treated like a business. But unfortunately, many businesses treat their customers better than some churches treat their congregation. If church staff do everything as if working for God and not men (Col. 3:23), shouldn’t their “customer” service be the best in the world? The business world ought to be looking to churches for insight on how to make people feel welcome, cared for, loved, and accepted. Their motivation is the almighty dollar, but our motivation is the almighty God! Sadly, most churches have a long way to go in catching the service oriented businesses that do this well.
2. Business books help us see our ministries from a different point of view.
Christian leaders can become “bubblized” in their ministries. They spend so much time around Christian people doing “churchy” activities that they lose perspective on the world in general. Jesus understood the world very well and spent much of his time travelling and interacting with nonbelievers. Pastors who only spend time with like-minded people and only read Christian literature run the risk of becoming spiritually inbred. In other words, they can become so narrow minded they are completely out of touch with the culture in which they are called to make disciples. Reading business books provides insights into leadership, management, and decision-making skills, but it also gives Christian leaders a broader perspective and understanding of the culture and how to effectively reach people.
In Words That Work, Frank Lutz explains the cultural nuances of the English language and how people react to the words we use. Every pastor should read this book because it explains the importance of our speech and the right and wrong ways to communicate. Proverbs 15:1-2, Ephesians 4:29, and Colossians 4:6 all briefly touch on the importance of encouraging, timely, and gracious communication. Lutz offers years of research and insight specific to the English language and the modern times that could not have been included in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek of the Bible. Pastors who absorb the principles in Words That Work will be more effective communicators and avoid wrongfully offending people with careless language. They will also learn tips to make their outreaches more appealing and effective to nonbelievers.
3. When Christians learn to absorb information with a filter, they learn more and become more effective in ministry.
Reading only Christian literature is like eating nothing but steak. It may be good stuff, but there is much more to learn and experience. Honestly, even a lot of “Christian” literature is shallow at best and unbiblical at worst. This is why Hebrews 5:14 says that solid food is for mature Christians who have well-honed powers of discernment and are able to determine right from wrong. Mature Christians learn to absorb information with a filter. This includes what their spiritual leaders communicate to them. In Acts 17, the people of Berea take everything Paul says back to Scripture to verify that his message was accurate before accepting him as a teacher. They were willing to listen to his message even though it challenged their preconceptions. At the same time, they did not accept his teaching until they filtered it through the Word of God.
Stephen R. Covey was a respected business leader who wrote The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. He was also a Mormon. While I completely disagree with Covey’s religious beliefs, his training on personal effectiveness is excellent when filtered by Scripture. He taught the importance of being proactive, beginning with the end in mind, prioritizing wisely, seeking win-win outcomes, listening to others, working as a team, and continual learning. All of these are good principles echoed in Scripture. Covey’s book explains and applies them in very practical ways. Christian leaders can apply these practical insights to develop effective ministries with clear goals and united teams.
Before you go…
Don’t leave this page thinking that the Bible is insufficient. It is completely sufficient. If you were suddenly trapped on an island with only the Bible you would have more than enough to ponder in those pages for the rest of your life. But just because the Bible is sufficient, does not mean it excludes the benefits of other books.
Don’t leave this page thinking that books outside of Scripture contain inspiration from God. 2 Timothy 3:16 says that all Scripture is inspired by God. Other books by Christian and secular authors may be helpful but are not inspired. Any statement that contradicts the Bible is false, regardless of the prominence of the author or popularity of the book.
Learn to “chew the meat and spit out the bones.” Everything you absorb, whether preached in your church or written in a best seller should be carefully filtered by biblical principles. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 tells us to test everything and hold on to what is good. Being human means we are bound to disagree with everyone about something, and that’s OK. We need to be able to listen carefully just as the Bereans did and compare what we read or hear with Scripture. In most business books you’ll find practical application that inadvertently builds on biblical principles. At the same time, you will also find some statements that contradict biblical principles. Don’t “throw out the baby with the bathwater.” Learn to test everything you read or hear and only hold on to what is good.