News and Views

What are YOU reading, pastor?

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We asked several leading pastors in the Baltimore-Washington Conference about the books they’re reading. We asked what they would recommend to others, what books have influenced their thinking and ministry the most, what one book they would include in a library for spiritual leaders, and what good fiction they had read recently.

Some of the answers were surprising (who knew that Inspector Gamache was a thing?). All of the answers invite you to take a deeper dive into various areas of ministry, to help all of us be the best disciples we can be.

(Note: links below were accurate at the time of publication of this resource.)


Stephanie Vader - Emmanuel UMC, Scaggsville

I would recommend “Fear+Less Dialogues: A New Movement for Justice,” by Gregory Ellison, II. I think everyone should read “Almost Christian,” by Kenda Creasy Dean; “Inner Compass: An invitation to Ignatian Spirituality,” by Margaret Silf; “Falling Upward,” by Richard Rohr; “Sin: A History,” by Gary Anderson; 

How to Survive the Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, Faith and Politics at the End of the World,” by Robert Joustra and Alissa Wilkinson.

The books that most influenced me are anything by Richard Rohr; the books of Father Gregory Boyle; worship resources from Iona; and worship resources from Wild Goose Publications; everything by James Cone. 

For biblical study and interpretations: Everything by Walter Brueggemann, Justo and Catherine Gonzalez, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Gustavo Gutierrez, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, and William Countryman. Barbara Brown Taylor and Debbie Blue have influenced my preaching. 

Fiction I have enjoyed lately includes “Song of Solomon,” by Toni Morrison, which I am reading with my eldest daughter, and my theology of grace is influenced by everything Flannery O'Connor wrote.


Bruce Jones – LaPlata UMC, LaPlata

I am reading Max Lucado's book, "Fearless: Imagine Your Life Without Fear." It is a great book for a small group Bible study.

The best book I've read in the last year is Mark Batterson's "The Circle Maker .” It is a powerful book and speaks of walking circles around the territory or areas you wish to claim for the sake of the kingdom.

As a Spiritual Leader, any and all of John Maxwell's books on leadership are a must read for younger pastors. Among them are some really great books, such as "The 360 Degree Leader,” and "Failing Forward."

What ONE book? Chip and Dan Heath’s "Made to Stick.” It is all about communicating effectively. Also, Strauss and Howe, "Generations: The History of America's Future" really helps one understand the differences between the generations.


Kate Payton - Epworth UMC, Cockeysville

Chasing the Scream” is a window into the war on drugs — and how racially motivated it was — that is completely redefining my understanding of crime, sin, and pastoral/Christian response and witness in our neighborhoods.

(Ministry books) “Holy Trinity, Perfect Community,” by Leonardo Boff; “She Who Is,” by Elizabeth Johnson; “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less,” by Greg McKeown; “Simple Church,” by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger; “Generation to Generation,” by Edwin Friedman; and “The Needs of the Dying,” by David Kessler.

Fiction/fantasy: Feist's “Daughter of the Empiretriology.


Cynthia Burkert - Retired

"Christianity After Religion" by Diana Butler Bass is the book that kept me moving forward in ministry when I was ready to give up. Her observations and analysis helped me to see that we are leading churches in the midst of one of the most challenging times in modern history, while spiritual renewal is happening (just not necessarily in the church.) I'd also recommend her book, "Grounded.”  

Edwin Friedman's "Generation to Generation" should not be on a shelf; it should be memorized! I have also found Nancy Ammerman's work on church dynamics to be extremely helpful. Most of Peter Steinke's work has been in family systems theory applied to the church, but late in his career he wrote a really worthwhile book, "A Door Set Open", based upon his decades of work with churches in crisis and his observations about which churches were able to turn around, sustain, thrive and/or grow (his conclusion: only those churches with a clearly understood mission). 

Spiritual readings:  Howard Thurman’s "Disciplines of the Spirit,” "Meditations of the Heart,”  "Jesus and the Disinherited,”, and "The Inward Journey.” 

Fiction: Louise Penny's “Inspector Gamache” mystery series; Julia Spencer-Fleming's Rev. Clare Ferguson-Russ Van Alstyne mystery series; and I'm constantly re-reading Madeline L'Engle's young adult and adult fiction.  


Mark Gorman – Centre UMC, Forrest Hill

What are you reading now? Malcolm Guite, “The Word in the Wilderness: A Poem a Day for Lent and Easter.” My family reads from this beautiful collection of poems at breakfast each day. Many poets famous and unfamiliar are represented in the book. Guite, a Church of England priest and poet, adds a reflection on each poem. This is a wonderful seasonal devotion book.

What book(s) has most influenced your thinking? C.S. Lewis, “The Chronicles of Narnia,” for cultivating a rich Christian imagination; Stanley Hauerwas, “Unleashing Scripture,” for connecting how we read to how we live as followers of Jesus Christ; and Umberto Eco, “Foucault's Pendulum,” for understanding the dangers of playing with beliefs others take very seriously.

What one book, other than the Bible, would be a must to put on the shelves? Either Athanasius, On the Incarnation, which grounds Christian hope and salvation in the fact that Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully human; or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Discipleship,” which shakes off lukewarm readings of Scripture for a relentless pursuit of the costly grace of God in Jesus Christ.

What's your favorite recent work of fiction? Kazuo Ishiguro, “The Remains of the Day,” or Julian Barnes, “The Sense of an Ending,” both of which deal with the subject of memory and how we need the unsettling company of others to reflect truthfully on the past.


Evan Young – Annapolis District Superintendent

What I’m reading now is “Canoeing the Mountain,” by Tod Bolsinger, and “Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us,” by Daniel Pink. “The Anatomy of Peace” (Arbinger Institute) — I appreciate the skill set of considering systems theory. “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard,” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. And for fiction, David Baldacci, “Split Second.”


Ron Foster – Severna Park UMC, Severna Park

Highly recommend Father Gregory Boyle’s new book, “Barking to the Choir,” as well as his earlier best seller, “Tattoos on the Heart.” I love Jan Richardson’s “The Cure for Sorrow,” and have given away over a dozen copies for families. Another recent treasure: John Pavlovitz’s, “A Bigger Table.”

Most influential books: Barbara Brown Taylor’s “Altar in the World;” Krista Tippett’s “Speaking of Faith;” Robert Benson’s “Living Prayer;” Rob Bell’s “Love Wins;” Brian McLaren’s “A Generous Orthodoxy;” Anne Lamott’s “Traveling Mercies;” Nadia Bolz-Weber’s “Accidental Saints;” and Marcus Borg’s “The Heart of Christianity.”

Bonhoeffer’s “Cost of Discipleship” goes in the library.


Kevin Baker – Oakdale UMC, Olney

What are you reading now that you would recommend to others in the church?

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert,” by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield; “Openness Unhindered,” by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield; “The 4 Disciplines of Execution,” by Chris McChesney and Sean Covey; “Smart Love,” by Drs. David and Jan Stoop; “66 Love Letters,” by Larry Crabb.

As a spiritual leader; what book(s) has most influenced your thinking? Some books I just finished that I would recommend are: “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” by Henri Nouwen; “Necessary Endings,” by Cloud and Townsend. Books I have purchased but not yet started are: “To Be Told,” by Dan Allender, and “The Meaning of Marriage,” by Tim Keller.


Terri Cofiell – Harmony UMC, Marlowe, W.Va.

I am using Mike Slaughter's "Made for a Miracle" as a Lenten Study and getting great responses from participants who feel challenged to go further in their faith. I have always appreciated his ability to confront disciples while providing answers and opportunities that promote growth. I am also reading Christine Paintner's "Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice." Great Lenten meditation/practice — seeing God, receiving the Spirit.

As a spiritual leader; what book(s) has most influenced your thinking? Bonhoeffer's "Cost of Discipleship;" Jim Wallis' "The Call to Conversion;" Anthony Gittins', "A Presence that Disturbs: A Call to Radical Discipleship."

Edwin Friedman's "Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue."


Jenny Cannon – Bethesda UMC, Bethesda

  1. Weak Enough to Lead,” by James Howell; “Synergy,” by Ann A. Michel.
  2. An Altar in the World,” by Barbara Brown Taylor; “Traveling Mercies,” by Anne Lamott. 
  3. Disunity in Christ,” by Christina Cleveland; “Learning to Walk in the Dark,” by Barbara Brown Taylor; “Holding Up Your Corner,” by F. Willis Johnson; “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” by Harold Kushner; “This Odd and Wondrous Calling,” by Martin Copenhaver and Lillian Daniels.
  4. Inspector Gamache series, by Louise Penny.


Tim Warner – Mill Creek Parish, Rockville

What are you reading now that you would recommend to others in the church? “Scandalous Obligation,” by Eric Severson; “The New Jim Crow,” by Michele Alexander; “Just Mercy,” by Bryan Stevenson; “America’s Original Sin,” by Jim Wallis.

As a spiritual leader; what book(s) has most influenced your thinking? “The Prophetic Imagination,” by Walter Brueggemann; “The Technological Society,” by Jacques Ellul; “The Meaning of the City,” by Jacques Ellul; “Building Communities From the Inside Out,” by John Kretzmann and John Mcknight.

If you were building a library for the clergy, what one book, other than the Bible, would be a must to put on the shelves? For me, this question borders on blasphemy. I only need the Bible, and choose between many of the rest (lol).


Jeff Jones – North Bethesda UMC, Bethesda

St. Benedict Toolbox: The Nuts and Bolts of Everyday Benedictine Living,” by Jane Tomaine, is an excellent book for group study. We did this with our congregational group. Great thought-provoking ideas related to living today and dealing with a reduced support system in the general population for faithful living. Out group raved about how helpful it was to them for their spiritual development. It is very practical and has a good variety of suggestions for finding tools that will be related to spiritual growth for the individuals.

Abraham Lincoln: Lessons in Spiritual Leadership,” by Elton Trueblood. This is a fantastic book at discovering the spiritual growth of Abe Lincoln and how he was able to put faith and his leadership of the nation together. Clearly shows the growth and steps Lincoln went through and how helpful this can be for how we deal with our culture today. It's in my Kindle and I turn to it frequently and copy passages to my notes for other things, articles for church newsletter, blog, etc.

A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic and Hopeful Spiritual Community,” by John Pavlovitz. The idea that Jesus spoke so often from table, and with food, and how those were great inspirational moments for us as community of faith to be more inclusive and make for a bigger table of welcome.

I read a lot, and there are many others, but these have been very powerful and influential in my thinking and preaching. I would recommend them to pastors and others for reading. The first is for practical personal spiritual development. The second is for stretching our wisdom to connect Spiritual and Cultural issues. And the third gives us some ideas about the community we call the church.


John Nupp – Director, Center for Clergy Excellence, Baltimore-Washington Conference

  1. Leadership Pain,” by Samuel Chand.
  2. The Divine Conspiracy,” by Dallas Willard; “The Passionate Church,” by Kallestad and Breen; “The Search to Belong,” by Joseph Myers.
  3. Christ Plays in 10,000 Places,” by Eugene Peterson.

Fiction: “All the Light We Cannot See,” by Anthony Doerr


Craig McLaughlin – Mt. Zion UMC, Bel Air

  1. Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction,” by Maia Szalavitz.
  2. The Bible.
  3. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament,” Kittel and Friedrich.


Leo Yates – Calvary/Centennial Memorial UMCs, Frederick

At the moment, I'm reading “The Social Contexts of Disability Ministry: A Primer for Pastors, Seminarians, and Lay Leaders,” by Albert A. Herzog, Jr. It even touches on what the UMC has done.

As a spiritual leader, a book that has influenced my thinking (and my work) is “The United Methodist Deacon: Ordained to Word, Service, Compassion, and Justice,” by Margaret Ann Crain. It may sound crazy to say, but the book I just wrote (the research I did for it) influenced my thinking too (“Deaf Ministry: Ministry Models for Expanding the Kingdom of God,” 2nd Ed). 


Conrad Link – Superintendent, Cumberland-Hagerstown District

What are you reading now that you would recommend to others in the church?

Classic for leadership is always Jim Collin’s Good to Great; new leadership: The Generals, by Thomas E. Ricks; all leaders who seek to learn more about themselves: Strength Finders 2.0, by Tom Rath; Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Other’s Don’t, by Simon Sinek; When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, by Daniel H. Pink.

As a spiritual leader; what book(s) has most influenced your thinking? Recently, these are the books that are on my mind: Canoeing the Mountains, by Tod Bolsinger; The Outward Mindset, from the Arbinger Institute; Barna Trends: What’s New and What’s Next at the Intersection of Faith and Culture 2017; Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, by Thomas L. Friedman; Accidental Saints: Finding God in all the Wrong People, by Nadia Bolz-Weber; and Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife, by Lisa Miller.

If you were building a library for the clergy; what one book; other than the Bible; would be a must to put on the shelves? Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know – and Doesn’t, by Stephen Prothero.

And; just out of curiosity; what’s your favorite recent work of fiction? Anything by Lee Child, C.J. Box, or John Sandford.


Sarah Schlieckert - Melville Chapel UMC, Elkridge

I just finished reading the book Canoeing the Mountains and I would absolutely recommend it to all church leaders. It's a well-done synthesis of several areas of leadership studies, including family systems theory and adaptive leadership. The author uses the examples of the Lewis and Clark expedition in a way that I found engaging without being overworked. If someone has time for just one book, this would definitely be my recommendation. It could also be a great gateway to the writers and books the author draws from.

I've been reading a lot lately about the recent learnings about adverse childhood experiences (ACES) and that reading has helped me ponder how the church can be even more skillfully involved in helping people move toward healing and wholeness. A great introduction to this area of study is Childhood Disrupted by Donna Jackson Nakazawa.

As a spiritual leader, I fall back on some of the books which shaped me years ago — and to which I often return. These include the works of C.S. Lewis (especially The Great Divorce). I can think of many books which have shaped me, but yeah, The Great Divorce is probably the single most formative alongside the Bible. I like to think I went to a pretty good seminary, but I have to admit that some (not all — thank God) of my theology, or at least my thinking on brokenness and human agency comes from the old TV series Touched By an Angel. What can I say? I'm a child of the 90s. :-)

If I were building a library for clergy, the book I'd definitely want to have there alongside the Bible would be Generation to Generation by Edwin Friedman. And close behind that, Friedman's posthumously published work, A Failure of Nerve. Part of that is no doubt sentimental: though I often borrowed (and kept) books from my father's library, he felt these works were so important that he gifted me my own copies (along with Friedman's Fables). I am convinced that whatever other great works clergy read, if we are not able to correctly assess ourselves and the systems in which serve, we will not be doing the kingdom work of bringing healing and wholeness to lives and the world. Many, perhaps most, of the conflicts and failures I've had, and know of colleagues to have had, could have been handled more effectively if the leader (and others) involved had been able to be more fully a non-anxious presence and use the tools of family systems theory to both set personal boundaries as well as guide others into God's preferred future.

My favorite recent work of fiction--hmm--I was a history major so even most of my fun reading is non-fiction. I guess my favorite recent piece of fiction is (not counting children's books. of which there are some really good ones) The Handmaid's Tale. I mean, it's good in that it makes you think, but it's also kind of terrifying. Like in the way Stephen King's 11/22/63 was good but haunting.


Katie Bishop – Greater Brunswick Charge, Brunswick

What are you reading now that you would recommend to others in the church? Kate Bowler's Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I've Loved.

As a spiritual leader; what book(s) has most influenced your thinking? Henri Nouwen's Wounded Healer and Adam Gary Chapman's 5 Love Languages.

If you were building a library for the clergy, what one book, other than the Bible would be a must to put on the shelves? Any of the Storyteller's Companion series - they spark a bigger look at the scriptures.


Rodney Smothers – Director of Leadership and Congregational Development, Baltimore-Washington Conference

What are you reading now that you would recommend to others in the church? Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown. I am listening to this resource for the third time because it continues to provide practical advice about managing and prioritizing our lives.

As a spiritual leader; what book(s) has most influenced your thinking? Start With Why:  How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action, by Simon Sinek; Lead Like Jesus:  Lessons from the Greatest Leadership Role Model of all Time, by Ken Blanchard. 

If you were building a library for the clergy, what one book, other than the Bible, would be a must to put on the shelves? Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud.


Andrew Cooney – Bethany Charge, Ellicott City

The E Myth Revisited: Why most small businesses don't work and what to do about it;

Crucial Conversations:  Tools for talking when the stakes are high;

Missional Renaissance: Changing the scorecard for the church

Rising Strong

Standout: The groundbreaking new strengths assessment


Mary Kay Totty – Dumbarton UMC, Washington, D.C.

What am I reading now that I would recommend to others in the church?  Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and The Future of America, by John Lewis (US Congressperson and Civil Rights Leader). We are doing a book discussion on this book using the video conferencing platform, ZOOM. I deeply respect Congressman Lewis' commitment to non-violence and social transformation. In this book, he writes powerfully about how his faith shapes his work. He understands that the work of justice is called for in every generation. His words are empowering for the ongoing work of justice and helps to shift the reader's perspective from the need to reach the end of justice work but rather to see the always and ever unfolding work for justice and what one's part might be in the work for justice in this day and time. 

Last year, I read The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson, which I strongly recommend. She writes about the Great Migration — a part of U.S. history that was never taught in my grade school or college classes. As a white woman, this book and Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me helped me have a better understanding of what it is like to be black in America. 

The books that have most influenced my thinking are: God, Christ, Church, by Marjorie Suchocki;  Grace and Responsibility: A Wesleyan Theology for Today, by John Cobb;  She Who Is, by Elizabeth Johnson; and Receiving the Day, by Dorothy Bass. 

If I were building a library for clergy, the book other than the Bible that I would put on the shelf would be Praying for Jennifer, by John Cobb. This book helped me understand and embrace the influence and significance of intercessory prayer —not as something magical, not as something manipulative, but as a way of seeking to align one's own persuasive will with the will of God for the common good. 

My favorite recent works of fiction: The Gustav Sonata, by Rose Tremain, and The Fifth Season, by NK Jemisin. 


Charles Harrell – Retired Elder

Recent titles that I've read and would recommend to others in the church: Naomi Feil, The Validation Breakthrough.  A great resource for anyone ministering with those who are living with Alzheimers Disease or other dementias, or their families.

Atul Gawande, Being Mortal. A must-read resource for those doing caring with seniors or the terminally ill.  (Note: The "Frontline" video is a pale reflection of the book, and focuses only on a few of the issues that Dr. Gawande poses in the book, though it is a tender view of his own father's physical decline and death.)

Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation. This book is painful, both in its distortions and in what it gets right. Christian leaders need to read it to keep up with what the "New Atheism" is thinking; Harris is one of its more popular and trenchant representatives.

Gary McIntosh and Samuel Rima, Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership. An excellent guide to self-examination for leaders of all kinds, especially in the Church. 

I would also recommend Brian Bantum's The Death of Race: Building a New Christianity in a Racial World, not because I think it's a great book, but because I think the author offers some deep personal insights that are important to hear, especially for the majority culture.

For those interested in Russia and related issues, Mungo Melvin's recent book, Sevastopol's Wars, really helps one understand some of the behavior of the Russian Federation in historical terms, particularly as touches on the Crimean Peninsula.

The book which has had the deepest and continual impact on me spiritually over the years has been Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest. I return to it again and again over the years.

Hands down, I'd suggest Pope Gregory the Great's Pastoral Care. Second to that would be Brother Lawrence's The Practice of the Presence of God

Fiction: Purple Hibiscus: A Novel, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell (this book is fabulous on many levels!); “Eternity in the Palm of Her Hand,” by Gioconda Belli (a creative re-telling of the story of Eden); and

Darwin's Radio, by Greg Bear.