Ten of the Most Influential Books on My Ministry

I recently hit the 65-year-old marker. In addition to being old, I have a lot of ministry years under my belt.

In a recent conversation with my youngest son, Jess, I shared with him a book that had a profound influence on my ministry. The conversation sent me down memory lane. I began to reflect on all the books that had influenced me. I wondered if I could distill them down to just ten books. 

Keep in mind, these are not necessarily the best books in their genre. Every one of you will wonder why I didn’t include a book you deemed worthy. These books, however, came at pivotal points in my life. I remember each of them and cherish them like long-term, trusted friends. Here are my personal top ten: 

  1. Evangelism in the Early Church by Michael Green (first published in 1970). I’ve read this book around twenty times. It is a constant reminder to me that the church of today should be reaching people with the gospel no matter what. It is a great history of the first 250 years of Christianity. More importantly for me, it has been a powerful reminder where my heart and actions should be.
  2. What the Bible Is All About by Henrietta Mears (1953). The influence of Henrietta Mears on my life is incalculable. God put this book in my path when I was a new Christian. For the first time, I understood the big picture of all Scripture, as well as grasping the essence of each of the 66 books of the Bible.
  3. The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman (1964). The late Billy Graham described this book as one of the most influential evangelism books in history. Its thesis is simple: How did Jesus communicate His message to others and draw them to Himself? The thesis is simple, but the application is powerful. This book has been a WWJD guide for me as I seek to share the good news with others.
  4. Good to Great by Jim Collins (2001). This book is one of two books from the business world that made my list. I wrote a book using the research framework as Collins’ book. The title of the book, with Collins’ permission, was Good to Great Churches. Then his attorney got involved and nixed the title (after I had recorded the complete audio book with the first title!). The book then became Breakout Churches.
  5. The Book of Acts (New International Commentary) by F. F. Bruce (1988). This commentary has great historical content while dealing with the texts with precision. I have always been fascinated with Acts, so I had trouble deciding which commentary was my favorite. The Acts commentary by John Polhill was my runner-up.
  6. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J. I. Packer (1961). While Packer does a masterful job of addressing the issue of God’s sovereignty and the responsibility of believers to do evangelism, the book’s impact on me was more inspirational than theological. It motivated me to do evangelism. Then again, the motivation from the book came from its biblical foundations and theological insights. I have read this book around a dozen times.
  7. The Interventionist by Lyle Schaller (1997). To my knowledge, this book was the first book ever written specifically about and for church consultants. Schaller wrote nearly 100 books, and his grasp of local church life has greatly influenced my life and writings. I have only written 33 books, so I will not get close to his prolificacy. My favorite question by Schaller was “What year is it?” It is his reference to understanding the time a church has contextually parked itself.
  8. Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? by Roland Allen (1912). Though the book was written over a century ago, this tome is reflective of one of the greatest church entrepreneurial minds ever. Allen refused to accept “the way we’ve always done it” as the way it should be done in church life. He compared the practices of local congregations to the New Testament churches started and influenced by Paul. He ruffled a lot of feathers in his day.
  9. Leading Change by John Kotter (1988). This book is the second of two business books on my list and, like Good to Great, it is a classic. Kotter shaped my understanding of change leadership more than any one person. I used his framework and applied it to local churches in my book, Who Moved My Pulpit?
  10. Understanding Church Growth by Donald A. McGavran (1970). This book was foundational in shaping the church growth movement that influenced so many churches in the second half of the twentieth century. Many critics of the movement have no idea what it really means as they often and wrongly think it’s the same as the seeker-sensitive movement. I would have rated this book higher, but McGavran was not a fluid writer. I thus use it more as a reference book rather than a book I read repeatedly. 

Again, these are the books that shaped my life and ministry personally. Admittedly, it is an eclectic collection. But I was introduced to each book at key and pivotal points in my life.

Posted on July 19, 2020

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Pleasure to interact with you online through your writings.Please pray for us.

  • Joshua Williams says on

    Thanks for sharing a summer reading list, Dr. Rainer! I’m curious about your backstory…it’s always good to hear what the topics of the day are on the minds of leaders. Are you able to share what the question you and Jess were discussing was about, and which of these books you suggested?

  • “Evangelism in the Early Church” by Michael Green was required reading during my seminary days. It is the only book that I have from your list. Green’s book is a favorite of mine as well.

  • I believe “Autopsy of a Deceased Church” would have to be in my top 10.

  • Niyi Dunmade says on

    This list has books with timeless principles. It has shown in your wealth of experience as well. I have got 5 of the list currently and it has changed my life, career and church consulting perspectives. I will get the rest asap. Thank you Dr. Thom for always sharing.

  • Bill effler says on

    A great list, I have most of these too!

  • Thank you for a great list!! I love that you included ‘old’ books. So many of today’s book lists contain the latest authors, but this list goes to the heart of who you are. I’ve read several on your list. I’m going to add the others to my future book list.

    I love to go to the used bookstores and find old treasures. I have several ‘treasures’ in my collection that most have never read because they were old books. Truth is still truth.