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Pastors Reveal Their Influences

Love him or hate him, George Barna often presents interesting information to the church. His latest study, dated May 30, 2005, asked pastors to identify “the three books that had been most helpful to them as a ministry leader during the past three years.” There were over 200 books listed, but only 9 that were listed by more than 2% of the 614 pastors surveyed. Similarly, there were only 10 authors that were listed by more than 2% of the respondants.

To the surprise of absolutely nobody, The Purpose Driven Life and The Purpose Driven Church, both by Rick Warren, were ranked as number 1 and number 2. Warren was also the author whose books were listed most often, and thus ranked as the most influential church leader.

Most Helpful Books

Twenty one percent of pastors said that The Purpose Driven Life was one of the three most helpful books they had read in the past three years and 15% said the same of The Purpose Driven Church.

“Only seven additional books gained recognition from at least 2% of pastors – and each of those seven publications was chosen by 2%. Those books were What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Phillip Yancey; Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala; Wild At Heart by John Eldredge; Courageous Leadership by Bill Hybels; Spiritual Leadership by Henry Blackaby; Next Generation Leader by Andy Stanley; and the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell.”

Most Influential Authors

After Rick Warren, John Maxwell was the runner-up, with books listed as among the most helpful by 5% of pastors. “Five writers were mentioned by 3% of the nation’s church leaders: Henry Blackaby, Jim Cymbala, Bill Hybels, Andy Stanley, and Phil Yancey. The other influential authors were George Barna, John Eldredge and John Piper, each of whom was mentioned by 2%…Another outcome of the research concerned the authors who had the greatest number of influential books listed by pastors. Six authors stood out as having multiple volumes that have helped large numbers of pastors. Researcher George Barna, who had ten influential books identified by pastors, headed the list. Following him were Max Lucado and John Maxwell, with nine books each; Charles Swindoll and John MacArthur, each with six books; and Phillip Yancey, with four acclaimed books.”

Most Useful Types of Books

Fifty four percent of the respondants listed at least one book regarding discipleship or personal spiritual growth. Books about church growth, congregational health or ministry dynamics were the next most prolific, listed by 23% of pastors. Leadership books were equally valued, identified by 22%. No other category was cited by at least 10% of the sample.

“Less influential types of books included those about theology (9%), evangelism and outreach (6%), pastoring (6%), and prayer (5%). Books regarding charismatic perspectives (5%), trends and cultural conditions (4%), and preaching (3%) also generated noteworthy interest.”

Commentary

What can I say? These results are not at all suprising, but yet somehow still seem alarming. How is it possible that only 9% of respondants listed a book about theology? If pastors don’t read theology, how does? What about preaching, pastoring and prayer? Now it does seem that the question asked in this survey was slanted towards this type of leadership book. After all, the question asked what books were “most helpful to them as a ministry leader during the past three years.”

Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Pastors either read bestsellers or they make bestsellers. It is difficult to know if books become bestsellers because they appeal to pastors who then tell their congregations about these books, or if pastors are as influenced by the Christian marketing machine as the average Joe sitting in the pew. I suspect it is the latter.
  2. Rick Warren truly is the most influential pastor in North America at the present time. Of course we already knew this, but Barna’s survey provides evidence that his influence is not only among the laity, but among the leadership.
  3. The most popular books are those dealing with leadership. Leaders are influenced by the latest and greatest books on leadership. It is disheartening to see that only 9% of respondants listed a book that dealt with theology. I guess theological books are not helpful in leading a church! Then again, I will admit that some of the titles described as “Discipleship” or “Personal Spiritual Growth” could also be theological, though not if they are Wild at Heart and What’s So Amazing About Grace?.
  4. It seems obvious that the trend away from theology begins at the leadership level and filters down through the church. If only 9% of pastors have been influenced by a theological book in the past three years, how much less the average layperson?
  5. I would very much have liked to see where Brian McLaren rated in this list. I suspect he would have had very little influence with older pastors, but would have been listed prominently by younger men (and women).

I would be interested in other people’s thoughts on this survey, which you can read here.

And I would also like to know the three books that had been most helpful to you in your Christian walk during the past three years.