Five Business Books for Church Planters

From Nick Parsons, Director of Recruitment

Church planters often fall into one of two categories regarding business and leadership books. One group uncritically embraces whatever method sits atop the current bestseller lists. This approach fails to recognize that the publishing industry is plagued by faddishness that would embarrass Contemporary Christian music labels. Many of these books have a shelf life slightly longer a gallon of whole milk.

Others fail to engage with any secular content regarding business and leadership. These leaders pay lip service to a “biblical” way of leading, and are instead relying on their instincts and experiences —which can be misleading and incomplete.

What we need is critical engagement with some of the better and longer lasting resources regarding organizational leadership published today. Here are five books I would recommend for church planters:

Being The Boss by Linda Hill and Kent Lineback

Many church planters have leadership experience. Leading a church plant is usually the first time they have the most authority and responsibility in the organization. They are usually transitioning from being “star individual performers” in an organization to the actual “boss.” Managing the entire organization is much more difficult than most planters estimate. As Harvard professor Linda Hill and leadership coach Kent Lineback write,

"If you were a high performer in your work before becoming a manager, you may find the journey into management particularly difficult. Because of their previous success, stars are understandably reluctant to give up the attitudes and practices they think produced their success thus far, and they’re unwilling to change themselves. They don’t know how to develop or coach people because they never needed much coaching themselves, or so they believe. They don’t know how to deal with people who lack their motivation. Because they’ve never failed, they’ve had little practice reflecting on and learning from experience. No wonder many former stars turn into mediocre bosses."

Named one of Five Best Business Books to Read for Your Career by the Wall Street Journal, Being the Boss can help you navigate the transition and give you insight on how you can better lead and serve your new church.

Getting Things Done by David Allen

In any church planting effort, an incredible amount of diverse work needs to be done. Much of that work, especially in the early stages, falls on the shoulders of the lead church planter. This can be overwhelming and stressful. Getting Things Done is a primer on becoming a more productive person without adding stress and anxiety to your life. In this book, David Allen describes an entire system of personal productivity. Even if you don’t adopt the whole system, you will learn key principles and processes to help you get more done with less stress.

Here a couple examples of wisdom from the book Time Magazine called, "the defining self-help business book of its time.”

“You increase your productivity and creativity exponentially when you think about the right things at the right time and have the tools to capture your value-added thinking.”

“The sense of anxiety and guilt doesn’t come from having too much to do; it’s the automatic result of breaking agreements with yourself."

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

According to Eric Ries, a startup is "an organization dedicated to creating something new under conditions of extreme uncertainty.” Sounds a lot like a church plant. Money is tight, time is short and the number of people involved is usually few. In The Lean Startup, entrepreneur Eric Ries deconstructs some of the myths about what makes a startup successful and presents a model for creating organizations and products without investing significant resources on unproven ideas. The thinking behind this model is especially helpful when considering new programs or new strategies for accomplishing the mission of your church plant. Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“What differentiates the success stories from the failures is that the successful entrepreneurs had the foresight, the ability, and the tools to discover which parts of their plans were working brilliantly and which were misguided, and adapt their strategies accordingly.”

“All innovation begins with vision. It’s what happens next that is critical.”

The Five Most Important Questions by Peter Drucker

I’ll be honest here and say that I am a huge Peter Drucker fan. Often called the “father of modern management”, Drucker is probably the top business author I would encourage church planters to read deeply. The Five Most Important Questions is a self-assessment tool for leadership teams to use to help them with strategic planning. While deceptively simple, it is helpful for fleshing out and clarifying the mission of your church plant. If your team can clearly answer Drucker’s 5 questions, you are well on your way to planting a successful church. Here are some examples of the kind of gems you will find in this book:

“A fundamental responsibility of leadership is to make sure everybody knows the mission, understands it, lives it.”

“Planning is not masterminding the future.”

“In the face of uncertainties, planning defines the particular place you want to be and how you intend to get there.

Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee

Have you ever heard the term “Emotional Intelligence”? Daniel Goleman’s defines it as "The ability to monitor one's own and other people's emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.” Primal Leadership is Daniel Goleman’s attempt to demonstrate how one's Emotional Intelligence can dramatically affect their leadership capacity and organization’s success. Far too many church planters are great communicators, effective strategists and hardworking leaders who fail to produce healthy churches because of a basic lack of Emotional Intelligence. If the following quote rubs you the wrong way, this book might be for you:

"The fundamental task of leaders... is to prime good feeling in those they lead. That occurs when a leader creates resonance a reservoir of positivity that unleashes the best in people. At its root, then, the primal job of leadership is emotional."

Church planters would be wise to learn from tested business resources such as these five books, which help with the structural and organizational challenges of being a leader.

Nick Parsons was born and raised in Phoenix, AZ. He and his wife Rachel have been heavily involved in church planting in major cities around the world. The Parsons have lived in Bangkok, Los Angeles and Nagoya, Japan (as well short stops in New York and Texas) all while working directly with new church plants.   Nick & Rachel currently live in San Francisco where Nick is the Director of Recruitment for Orchard Group. Nick serves as a neighborhood pastor for Redemption Church and unashamedly loves San Francisco’s $4 toast.


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Jamie Larson