by Stephen Ingram
I love to read.
I love to read about all sorts of things, but I especially love to read about ministry and how we have the ability to shape it for the future. Some of the most influential books that have shaped my practice and understanding of ministry were not even written with the purpose of youth ministry in mind.

1. A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, by Edwin H. Friedman

This is simply the best book on leadership I have ever put my hands on. You might be a ministry purist and want a subtitle alluding to the “5 Immutable Leadership Laws of Jesus.” This is not that book. In fact, it is a whole world better than that book. Not only is it based in excellent research and sociological principles, it also has a deeply (not overtly) spiritual ethos. There has not been a book that has more deeply and profoundly shaped the way I understand myself, others, and leadership than A Failure of Nerve. It is simply the best.

2. Strengths Finder 2.0, by Tom Rath

Strengths Finder 2.0 is a major leadership tool chest for interpersonal relations, leadership, and leadership development in churches and youth ministry. The premise of the book helps us not only understand our strengths, those things at which we naturally excel, but also how to exploit those gifts and build our careers and lives around them. I also use the book for leadership training with my students. Few things are more satisfying than having a student take the assessment, hear it affirm their strengths, and watch them begin to live into those natural gifts.
(Read Stephen’s article here on how he utilizes this book in his youth ministry.)

3. Tribes, by Seth Godin

Tribes is an excellent book that helps us think about the ultimate responsibility that we face as youth ministers: we are leaders of tribes. This book focuses not only on how to lead your tribe well but also how to grow your tribe. The idea is that there are always groups of people wanting to be led; the problem is that rarely do people rise up, identify the need for a leader, and lead as the tribe needs us to lead. This is an excellent book that will help you understand your influence and how to use it well in and through your youth ministry.

4. Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, by Michael Hyatt

Platform is a newer book that has massive implications for the future of youth ministry and the church. Many, if not most, churches have stuck their collective heads in the sand when it comes to the ever evolving and dramatically changed world of communications. The vast majority of churches in America still do not even have a website, much less other avenues of social media and digital communications. Many churches still treat the “Field of Dreams” adage “If you build it, they will come” as a verse from the Sermon on the Mount. Hyatt shows us the brave new world of communications and gives the most comprehensive step-by-step guide I have ever seen on how to maximize that world for the broadcast of your message.

5. The 5 Temptations of a CEO, by Patrick Lencioni

I love all of Lencioni’s books. They are incredible instructive, easy to read, and powerful in their implementation. He writes in the form of parables making his work very accessible and a simple afternoon read. I choose The 5 Temptations because he identifies the absolute easiest (most tempting) tendencies that leaders all fall into. I actually have a print out of the dualisms he identifies in the book taped to my desk so I can see it every day. They are so powerful and easy to slip into that I need constant reminders of them so as to avoid and overcome them. While this is a business metaphor the principle applies to anyone in a leadership position.
What are some of your favorite non-youth ministry books that I should read?
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Stephen’s blog as My Top 5 (Non) Youth Ministry, Youth Ministry Books.
Stephen Ingram is a dad, husband, and foodie. He serves as the Director of Student Ministries at Canterbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham, Ala. He has a BA in Religion from Samford University and a Masters of Divinity from McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta. Stephen has worked as a student minister for over 13 years and also serves as a consultant with Youth Ministry Architects. He lives in Birmingham with his wife Mary Liz and their three kids Mary Clare, Patrick, and Nora Grace.
Stephen’s book Hollow Faith: How Andy Griffith, Facebook and the American Dream Neutered the Gospel is now available from CYMT Press. He blogs at