Reading Time: 4 minutes

Developing a summer reading list

Mark Cook is the program coordinator for the Institute for Global Engagement, a partnership between Denison Forum and Dallas Baptist University. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Dallas Baptist University, and completed his Masters of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School and Truett Seminary. His ministry background is college ministry, and he has served both on a church staff as well as within campus ministries.

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Hipster girl holding two stacks of books, tied with cord, in an open field in autumn (Credit: rasstock via Fotolia)

Few things are as welcoming as the vista of summer. The days are longer; nights shorter. Talk of vacations, hoped for or planned, garnish our otherwise normal conversations. The sun scorches warms the land and all that Vitamin D gives us renewed energy. With the wide plain of summer set out before us, I’d like to explore the idea of creating a summer reading list.

We all know that leaders are readers. And leaders are usually people that naturally want to learn and develop as people. It is always good to read far and wide, because reading helps clarify and expand our thinking. But how to decide what to read?

When you walk into a bookstore, everything is categorized neatly before you. The Fiction is over there, hiding the Romance and Sci-Fi sections behind. Beside the Fiction are History, Current Events, and Religion, all offering illumination, and if not, at least they look good on the shelf. Somewhere in the middle are the best-sellers and business books. This is the place with the shiniest covers. You might be blinded by the flashes of light emanating from some of those smiles on the front of the newest tome on how to make a few extra bucks.

The Leadership industry has generated an enormous amount of books in recent memory. Many of these books are insightful, but most are fairly predictable. They are largely books full of principles and anecdotes, the written equivalent of a powerpoint presentation. While there is certainly much to be gained from these books, I want to consider books outside the traditional leadership designation that offer wisdom for all types of leaders. With this in mind, let’s look at four books that help us learn and grow in four virtues: Humility, Courage, Love and Perseverance.

Humility: Meditations on Divine Mercy, Johann Gerhard
The basic posture of a Christian leader is that of humble submission before Jesus in prayer. Our culture does not value humility, and our leadership literature is supremely lacking in reminding us that we are all limited, fallen creatures in need of God’s grace. This short, devotional volume, from 17th century German Lutheran pastor Johann Gerhard, is a wonderful antidote to the disease of pride that constantly infects our hearts.

Courage: Seven Men, Eric Metaxas
Humility and courage go hand-in-hand in leadership, because we are called by God to do things that are beyond our own capacity. We grow in courage by reflecting on the lives of those who have gone before us in this journey of faith. As Hebrews 11 calls us to attend to the remembrance of the great biblical heroes of the faith, Metaxas’ book similarly encourages us with the nearer historical examples of George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson, Pope John Paul II and Charles Colson. I can’t recommend this book highly enough, and I am equally as excited to read the forthcoming sequel titled Seven Women, exploring the lives of Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Maria Skobtsova, Corrie Ten Boom, Mother Teresa and Rosa Parks.

Love: Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry; Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
Novels offer the most fertile soil for learning about love, because love cannot be boiled down to bullet points but instead needs story to give it witness. Christian leadership has at its core the love of Jesus that he offers to us and to the world. If we do not love others, why are we leading? These novels from Berry and Robinson teach us how to love a distinct place with specific people, a characteristic that is so vital to leadership. Remember, leadership is never abstract, and neither is love. Both are personal endeavors.

Perseverance: The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
Much of leadership is patience, learning how to adjust ourselves to God’s activity rather than simply trying to wield the fulcrum of our own power and ideas. God teaches us to balance the competing demands of the present with an eye towards to future, and for this long journey we need patience and perseverance to lead steadily through the peaks and valleys of life. The Hobbit is a classic “journey” tale, and offers much in the way of perspicacity for more than just perseverance. But I chose this book for perseverance because of the way Bilbo and the Dwarves have to constantly face trials and difficulties that ultimately help forge them into stronger individuals as well as a stronger team.

These are just a few books that I’d recommend as summer reading, but the larger point I want to make is to simply read. Grab a book and start. Be patient with yourself, and learn the joy of reading.