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What I’m Reading in 2017

January 17, 2017 — 4 Comments
Leaders are readers. Readers are leaders.

For the past 15 years I have made a habit of setting aside one week every six months devoted to reading. I gather recommendations from friends, colleagues, news articles, conferences, and voices I respect in various fields of interest. Those recommendations go on my Trello board entitled “Reading and Research.” During a typical reading week I’ll survey the lists, and move a handful of books from “Recommended” to “READING.”

Here are the books I am reading now or planning to read in the first part of 2017:

Reading Now:
You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, by James K.A. Smith
“What do you want?” This was Jesus’ opening question in many of his conversations. Could discipleship – truly following Jesus – be more about what we want than what we know? This book was the runner up in Christianity Today’s “Best of 2016” book list, behind Beautiful Orthodoxy. I read Beautiful Orthodoxy last year and bought copies for my kids for Christmas. I don’t do that with many books. I recommend both books very highly.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson (audible version)
If it’s legal drama you want, forget John Grisham’s fiction. Stevenson brings us inside the actual cases, injustices, frustrations and cruelties of America’s racially imbalanced legal system. I find my mind opening and my heart aching for my country. This book has won multiple awards and has a well-earned 5-star rating on Amazon. Must read for anyone seeking to understand why Black Lives Matter. 

Networked Theology: Negotiating Faith in a Digital Culture, by Heidi Campbell and Stephen Garner
If you’re involved in digital ministry you will appreciate the theological grounding Campbell and Garner provide. It’s a bit heady at times, but the chapters on “Theology of Technology 101” and “Networked Religion: Considering how Faith Is Lived in a Network Society” were worth the price for me. My team has been exploring the shifts we need to help our organization move from hierarchies to empowered networks. The authors explain how five key traits define networked religion: networked community (loose ties with varying levels of affiliation and commitment), storied identity (how people portray themselves to others via social and new media), convergent practice (e.g. how prayer and study habits have become increasingly self-directed), shifting authority (from pastors and credentialed gatekeepers to those with the largest internet followings), and multisite reality (recognizing that the online-offline distinction has been forever blurred).

Awe, by Paul Tripp (audible version)
“You don’t have a ______ problem, you have an awe problem,” writes Tripp. That blank can be filled with any pursuit, achievement, experience, or material good that captivates the human heart. What we are all seeking is awe. And only God can sustainably deliver awe for the human heart. I’m about halfway through this one and really appreciating Tripp’s personal illustrations, penetrating questions and biblical insights that challenge my idolatrous blindspots.

The Inevitable: Understanding 12 Technological Trends That Will Shape Our Future, by Kevin Kelly
Kelly takes us on a tour ten to 30 years into our technological future. Most of these trends are well underway today. I have a colleague, Aaron, on my team that is always talking about future trends stretching over the horizon, and then one to two years later I find myself reading about what Aaron mentioned. Reading Kelly’s book feels like I just finished a 24-hour coffee conversation with Aaron: stimulated, perplexed, curious and intrigued about the implications of digital tech and artificial intelligence on real people. Highly recommended for leaders and strategists responsible for future planning.

The Master Plan of Evangelism, by Robert Coleman (reread for the umpteenth time)
Last Saturday morning I sat down and reread this classic. It’s a two coffee read that packs a lifetime of wallop. This is in my top five recommendations of formative books on the mentality — and intentionality — of raising up men and women who yearn to follow Jesus and take his message to the ends of the earth.

Up Next:
The Content Trap: A Strategist’s Guide to Digital Change, by Bharat Anand
Matchmakers: The New Economics of Multi-sided Platforms, by David Evans and Richard Schmalensee
The Church as Movement: Starting and Sustaining Missional-Incarnational Communities, by JR Woodward and Dan White

Leaders are readers. Readers are leaders.

What’s on the top of your reading list for 2017?

“What is the biggest change you’ve seen in digital ministry and leadership?” asked a colleague recently.


Perhaps the greatest challenge facing you as a leader is the volume and noise. We are inundated with information; how can we stand out as a definitive voice? When it comes to leadership in digital maturity and technology, what I’ve discovered is there are so many specializations in these fields – marketing, branding, UX/UI, CX, tech stack, back end, front end, social media, analytics – to name a few.* To be good, you have to be able to pull all those things together to deliver something people will delight in using. Leaders used to be able to extend their influence by having some good insight, creating good content, getting a good blog going, paying attention to a few good feeds. It’s much harder to add value now.

In order to survive, people have erected filters. A four-inch screen is a crowded space to get someone’s attention. My best friend is a megachurch pastor and I can rarely get him to respond to a text from me. Think about a group of people you want to reach out to with digital media – a Facebook post, a video, a questionnaire, an invitation to a Bible study, or a blog that discusses meaningful issues of the day. To try to get into their world, their filters are really high.

Part of it is that people are overwhelmed. Like we all do, they turn off notifications, they ignore certain things, they unsubscribe. Earning a spot for attention is really difficult.

To be able to do that, we need to be addressing an issue that’s important with compelling content, have a tone of voice that’s current with the culture group you’re trying to talk to, in language that makes sense to them.

Graphically and visually, it has to be attractive, has to load on their device in a short amount of time, optimized for a mobile screen. If you’re a writer, to cultivate an audience you have to be mindful of those things.

Let’s say the pastor of a church communicates well. The church uses WordPress as a platform, but the three associate pastors blog on three other platforms. That will get them to a certain level of effectiveness. No one will come to them and say, “You need to be on the same platform,” because there are too many other more pressing issues, but it needs to happen if they want to make a collective impact.

To lead well in the digital space, you have to have someone thinking above the day-to-day tasks, pulling your digital assets together. When your team or institution does this you are becoming digitally mature. When people do it right, it’s a work of art. The user experience seems simple. People think, “This website is so easy; I can find what I want.” The easier it is to find what you want, there’s a disproportional amount of work behind those decisions. That’s what it takes to be noticed. That’s what it takes to be heard.

What helps you cut through the noise?

*UX/UI is User Experience/User Interface. CX stands for Customer Experience.

This post first appeared on as part of an interview series on Digital Leadership.

We’re in the middle of most rapid and wide-ranging organizational change process I’ve ever been a part of. Many find this exciting. Outsiders and friends in the industry have said to me, “Finally. You should have done this months ago.” Some are feeling displaced and angry. Others quietly express concerns.

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