Pastors typically—and hopefully—spend much time in the Bible. That is good; Bible reading should be a high priority. Many pastors spend much time reading Christian books, particularly weighty books on theology and doctrine. That too is good and should be a priority for the pastor.

But should pastors read secular books? I do believe there are a number of secular books that would truly be good resources for the pastor. There are three business books I regularly encourage pastors to read. Those who lead our churches unfortunately have little leadership training. These three classics are incredible leadership resources for pastors to savor and read slowly.

The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker

This book has been around for almost half a century, and it is still powerfully relevant today. Drucker identifies five essentials necessary for leadership effectiveness:

  • Managing time.
  • Choosing what to contribute to the organization.
  • Knowing where and how to mobilize strength for best effect.
  • Setting the right priorities.
  • Knitting all of them together with effective decision-making.

Every pastor could look at this book as a course in practical leadership training. Rarely are these topics taught in Bible colleges or seminaries.

Leading Change by John P. Kotter

Probably the best book on change leadership, this book has not lost any of its punch since it was first published in 1996.  Every pastor will lead a congregation to some type of change. Kotter offers an eight-step process for leading change in any organization, including a local congregation. This book became a precursor to other books on change and innovation.

Good to Great by Jim Collins

Though this book was published in 2001, it continues to be a best-seller today. Every chapter has valuable insights for the pastor, but the chapter on Level 5 Leadership is my favorite. Though Collins makes no claims of being a Christian, there is much about this book that has biblical themes throughout. A pastor will find this book invaluable for both organizational leadership as well as personal leadership development.

There are probably 25 business books I could recommend to pastors. But these three are the only ones in that genre that I read every year. And every time I read the books again I learn something new.

I would love to hear what you think of these three books. I would also like to hear about any secular business or leadership books you would recommend for pastors.


  1. says

    Great post. I just responded via email to the same question and offered these recomendations.

    1. Predictable Success by Les McKeown. Great book about the life cycle of any organization and the necessary steps to take it from early struggle to predictable success.

    2. The Advantage by Lencioni. I think this is his best book, and the focus on organizational health as the differentiating factor is brilliant.

    3. Start with Why by Simon Sinek. His TED talk on the same subject is also very good.

    Thanks for this post and for reminding church leaders that God has given incredible wisdom to business leaders.

  2. Bert Ross says

    Thom, great books, all three are on my shelf and I refer to them often. I also recommend The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner. I also recommend leaders check out The Center For Creative Leadership. They provide some of the best up to date research on Leadership in the country.

  3. Randy Mann says

    I recently read “Change the Culture, Change the Game” by Connors and Smith and found it very helpful for understanding organizational cultures and how to lead change more effectively. I was also recently introduced to “Now, Discover Your Strengths” by Buckingham and Clifton and found it to be helpful for gaining a better self-understanding as a leader.

  4. Bill Espy says

    Just finished a sermon series on moving from good to great based on your book and Collins. All three are excellent, I’m glad Dr. Waggoner had us research books like these while at SBTS. Currently reading Tell to Win and The Change Monster. Thanks for your encouragement!

  5. says

    I agree with Michael on “The Advantage” and “Start with Why”. I would also add Jim Collins’ monograph “Good to Great and the Social Sector” which does a good job of explaining how the principles from “Good to Great” apply to the nonprofit sector. Two more I would add are “Leadership and Self-Deception” and “Switch”.

  6. says

    Thom’s list represents “the best of the best.” Other secular books worth noting:

    1. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. Voted the best book on leadership in the 20th century.
    2. Up Your Business! 7 Steps to Fix, Build, or Stretch Your Organization by Dave Anderson. I use this book in coaching younger guys on our staff, because it covers so many leadership principles not taught in seminary.
    3. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. The book gives rich insight in understanding the people we lead. The author explains why habits exist and how they can be changed.
    4. Harvard Business Press Pocket Mentor Series. As a review of the series explains, “Each book in the series is packed with handy tools, self-tests, and real life examples to help you identify your strengths and weaknesses and hone critical skills.” Books include subjects such as “Making Decisions,” “Managing Time,” “Setting Goals,” “Improving Business Practices,” “Managing Teams,” and “Thinking Strategically.”

    Thanks for the excellent post, Thom! Thanks also to the responders for book recommendations!

    • says

      Amen Lee. I am an adjunct in the MBA program of a small Christian college and I always use “The Way of the Shepherd” in my management classes in addition to the standard text. The book is powerful and the testimonies coming back from the students often mention “life changing” when talking about that little book. Great recommendation Lee!

  7. Erdie Carter says

    Great list of books, have two of the three on my shelf that I refer to from time to time. Just ordered Peter Drucker’s book. Another great book is Managing Transitions by William Bridges.

  8. Marty says

    I noticed you said these are the three books “of this genre” that you read annually. What other books do you try to read every year?

    • Thom Rainer says

      My other annual reads:

      Evangelism in the Early Church by Michael Green

      Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J. I. Packer

      The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman

      George Whitefield by Arnold Dallimore (2 vols)

  9. Corey Stickel says

    John Maxwell’s book, The 5 Levels of Leadership, is a fantastic read as well. I also highly recommend Simon Sinek’s, Let’s Start With Why, I’ve seen it mentioned a few times!

  10. says

    Thanks Thom! I always enjoy your posts. My recommendation is anything by Pat Lencioni. I think he’s one of the most intuitive, insightful, and instructive writers in regards to organizational leadership and dynamics. He’s in the top 3 positions of my “Top 10 Books on Leadership” –

    And for change management, I highly encourage people to read Dan and Chip Heath’s “Switch” as well as William Bridges “Managing Transitions”

  11. says

    You nailed three great ones.
    it is amazing when you look back over the years and can identify key books that truly made a personal impact.
    Ecclesiastes changed my spiritual life, for example.
    Seems like it is the juxtaposition of readiness and availability that determines impact. At the same time, both of those have been in the planning process for a long time.
    Appreciated all previous perspectives and suggestions.
    For a contemporary and new look at Relationships…..might check out the Palmer’s latest book on The 5 Money personalities……sure could lead to a sermon series.

  12. Mike says

    It has already been mentioned, but absolutely “The Advantage” by Patrick Lencioni. Lencioni’s “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” is also excellent for a church staff. I bring up principles from both of these books constantly in our staff meetings.

  13. says

    I know it’s a little off point, but a pastor I highly respect says “Robert E Lee On Leadership” by Crocker is hands down the best book on leadership ever. It’s next up on my reading list as soon as I finish “Relaunch”.


  1. […] Three Business Books I Recommend to All Pastors- by Thom Rainer. It is no secret that issues of leadership transcend disciplines. While the church must superimpose a theological lens based in scripture on leadership in the business world, the church can learn leadership practices and principles from the business world. Thom Rainer shares the top three business books he recommends. […]

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