Two months ago, I hit a milestone…my 30th birthday. It’s probably the last birthday I will actually look forward to celebrating. That’s only partially true. I have learned a lot in the last 10 years. And if you asked me the greatest factors contributing to my growth, I would give you two things: the relationships I built and the books I read.
I can’t underestimate the importance of reading. It might be the most important factor separating great lives from mediocre ones. But, in a world where information is more readily accessible than ever before, how do you known which books to read? This question is important. Here’s why. It’s not just about reading books (although reading something is better than nothing). It’s about reading books that challenge your thinking, ignite your passion, restore your hope, and convict you to change something about your life. The more of these books you read, the more you will separate yourself from those around you.
So, before I give you 15 books you need to read before turning 30, I want to provide a few filters for choosing books that will maximize your growth.
1.) Ask people with a position you desire to share a list of books that shaped them.
Great leaders don’t just happen. It requires intentionality. Something or someone shaped them. Whether it’s a preacher you respect, a business leader you trust, or a writer you admire, send them an e-mail and ask them for recommendations.
2.) You don’t have to agree with everything in a book to take something from it.
On more than one occasion, someone asked me for a book recommendation, and, after giving them one, the response was, “Well, I don’t agree with some of the things they believe.”
You know how many books I’ve read where I agreed with everything the author wrote? None (other than the Bible, of course). If you don’t agree with something, that’s fine. But don’t throw out the baby with the water. Your primary goal is not to affirm your beliefs. Your primary goal is to expand your mind.
3.) Highlight. Take notes as you read. Read for transformation, not information.
Highlighters. Pens. Writing in the margin. Every book I read, I mark it up. And, at the conclusion of every book, I write a review. If you don’t do this, you’re reading for information. The best leaders I know never read for reading’s sake. They always read for transformation. You must have a desire to learn. Otherwise, you’re checking something off your list. And that’s dumb.
4.) Don’t feel the pressure to finish every book you start. If it sucks, put it down.
There was a time when I thought finishing every book was as important as growing from every book. I no longer believe that. I usually give a book 2-3 chapters. After that, if I’m not being challenged, I put it down and find a new one.
5.) Be intentional about investing in yourself.
Personal growth is just like any other discipline, it requires intentionality. Many days, you won’t feel like opening a book. Welcome to the world of intentional disciplines. What separates average from great is how you respond on those days when you don’t feel like reading. Make personal growth a daily habit. Maybe it’s 20 minutes a day. Maybe it’s 15. Whatever it is, set time aside to invest in yourself.
Those are a few pointers for maximizing your reading. I would love to hear from you.
What tips do you have for getting the most out of the books you read? Leave a comment below.
Now I want to introduce you to 15 books every Christian should reading before turning 30. These books have shaped my faith, given me hope, and challenged me to lead more effectively (as a father, husband, and minister). Here we go.
#15. An Unhurried Life (Alan Fadling)
Why read it: Learn to slow down in a fast-paced culture.
What it’s about: Entering the world of full-time jobs out of college is much like jumping on a treadmill that’s already on. But make no mistake, those who maintain their passion, drive, and motivation to make a difference are the ones who learn to slow down. Don’t wait until you’re burnt out to realize this important truth. You must find a balance between hustling and resting. The “unhurried life” is the life of Jesus. Jesus never allowed the demands of others to impact the decisions he made. Jesus hustled. He completed his mission in a few short years. But he never hurried. How was Jesus able to be so productive while staying under control and remaining close to God? This book will show you how.
#14. Redeeming Love (Francine Rivers)
Why read it: Grasp God’s consistent love for you in a season of constant change.
What it’s about: Pastors tend to “stretch the truth” at times, but I’m being serious when I say this: I have yet to find someone who finished this book without saying, “Wow!” Questions related to identity and purpose will spring up often before you turn 30. While there are many amazing books that will help you answer questions related to those huge topics, few books remind you of the immense love God has for you. This book is the gospel in narrative form. It’s a powerful reminder that no matter how bad your life gets, God’s love will never leave you. His forgiveness doesn’t have an expiration. At some point, you will need that reminder. I promise.
#13. The Next Christians (Gabe Lyons)
Why read it: Learn how to engage a complex culture as a follower of Jesus.
What it’s about: The culture is complex. It changes more than a 13-year-old girl’s choice of lipstick. And, as a Christian jumping into the workforce, it’s important to understand the challenges of engaging an increasingly post-Christian America. What disciplines and attitudes are important to reach the culture? How can the church remain relevant? Is there hope for the church? This book answers all of these questions.
#12. David and Goliath (Malcolm Gladwell)
Why read it: Expand your understanding of strength, weakness, and getting ahead
What it’s about: There are literally a hundred angles through which you could look at this book. Here is what’s important (and what, I believe, Malcolm Gladwell wants his readers to see): don’t get trapped into thinking success only comes one way. Your 20s are a time when you lay a foundation for the rest of your life. If you believe the only way to be successful is by acquiring power, avoiding failure, and hiding your weaknesses, you’re mistaken. And worse, you might lay a poor foundation. This book will change your perspective on strength, weakness, and how to get ahead.
#11. The Cost Of Discipleship (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
Why read it: Embrace the radical call of following Jesus.
What it’s about: The decision to follow Jesus is a radical call of lifelong discipleship. Every day, you must make a decision. Will you embrace the ways of the world, pursuing earthly gain? Or…Will you practice self-denial, focusing your eyes on your future destination? This book will challenge you to really consider the weight of following Jesus. You can’t follow Jesus unless you deny yourself and join a local church. Jesus’s teaching weren’t meant to be studied. They were meant to be lived out.
#10. The Ragamuffin Gospel (Brennan Manning)
Why read it: God doesn’t measure performance using our culture’s standards.
What it’s about: One of the greatest threats to living for Jesus is pride. It is the opposite of God. What is the essence of God? Humility. Until you understand that the gospel is for “ragamuffins” you will never experience its power. Jesus came for the lowest of the low. No one is too sinful or too low on society’s scale to experience the transformative power of Jesus Christ. This book will challenge you to re-think any framework for the gospel that isn’t dirty or messy enough to reach everyone.
#9. Crazy Love (Francis Chan)
Why read it: There’s nothing mediocre about your relationship with God. Go all in.
What it’s about: Many of you grade your faith on a curve. I do it often. Your relationship with God isn’t measured by Scripture. It’s measured by the faith of those around you. But this is not the way it’s supposed to be. God calls you to go all in. He calls you to give everything to him. He calls you to be bold, take risks, and love scandalously. Average faith is no faith at all. This book will challenge you to re-imagine your relationship with God. And it will convict you to live boldly in a culture of mediocrity.
#8. Blue Like Jazz (Donald Miller)
Why read it: The journey to discovering God is a long road. Embrace it.
What it’s about: Finding God and understanding his character isn’t a lightbulb moment. It’s a journey. Embrace it. Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be scared to ask hard questions. Don’t accept cultural norms. Surround yourself with people who love God. And learn the importance of authenticity. This book challenged a generation to do these things several years ago. It will challenge you to do the same today.
#7. The Circle Maker (Mark Batterson)
Why read it: Never underestimate the power of a single prayer.
What it’s about: Go. Go. Go. Make it happen. If you want something done, you must do it. These mantras are pervasive in America. But the answer to “changing the world” isn’t to do more, it’s to pray more. This book will rattle your perspective on prayer. It will challenge you to think big and pray hard. If there’s a more practical, convicting book on prayer, I haven’t read it.
#6. Surprised By Hope (N.T. Wright)
Why read it: Everything you do matters. Do it with excellence.
What it’s about: “Some glad morning when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away.” I sang these lyrics dozens of times growing up. While the song is beautiful, the lyrics are faulty. Heaven isn’t some far away land. It’s a reality that you live out everyday. This changes how you work. It changes how you interact with brokenness in the world. Why? Because if heaven starts now, every action moves beyond the realm of time into the realm of eternity. If you’re a follower of Jesus, regardless of how awful (or awesome) your job is, do it with excellence.
#5. The Go-Giver (Bob Burg and John David Mann)
Why read it: Give others what they want, and you will get what you want.
What it’s about: The greatest truths in life are wrapped in paradoxes. For example. Here do you climb the ladder? Get yours, right? Wrong. To climb the ladder, you must give more. But that’s not the only incredibly important paradox in this book. How do you increase your value? How do you become a leader others want to follow? This book answers these questions, and more. Whether you’re hustling inside a cubicle, grinding in medical school, or getting your hands dirty on a construction site, the truths in this book will force you to become a giver.
#4. The Rhythm Of Life (Matthew Kelly)
Why read it: Discover your passion and purpose.
What it’s about: Passion and purpose. Two buzz words in your 20s. Almost weekly, I thought about them. But here’s what I didn’t understand until this year. Discovering your passion and purpose isn’t about following a series of steps. It’s about embracing a holistic, healthy life. Everything is a choice. Stop blaming others. You have legitimate needs and secondary needs. Living with passion and purpose means focusing on your legitimate needs. Celebrate your unique self. Do everything with excellence. Implement a regular Sabbath. Live with courage. This book is holistic. It will help you improve almost every area of your life.
#3. Thoughts For Young Men (J.C. Ryle)
Why read it: Avoid the traps Satan sets particularly for young people.
What it’s about: “You may be careless about your souls. But he (Satan) is not…You are the grand object of his attack.” These are words I wish I heard earlier in life. As a young man, I believe Satan understands the importance of the next generation. He attacks with particular strategies. Pride, thoughtlessness, and love of pleasure, to name a few. And here’s the big lie Satan wants young people to believe: your actions today won’t affect your life tomorrow. It’s the oldest (and most destructive) lie in the world. This book will challenge you to consider the habits you form today. It will convict you to consider the way you live. It will re-direct your eyes towards the cross.
#2. Man’s Search For Meaning (Victor Frankl)
Why read it: Unlock the answers to a meaningful life.
What it’s about: Discovering the meaning of life seems as realistic as finding a unicorn…walking on a rainbow. Few people ever discover why they really exist. Even fewer make sense of suffering and love. This book will help you find the meaning of life through insane suffering. Victor Frankl, the author, writes about his experience in Auschwitz, a Nazi concentration camp. Through an unimaginable season of suffering, Frankl discovers the meaning to life. In the process, he provides extremely important reflections on suffering, love, hope, and community.
#1. Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis)
Why read it: Discover timeless truths for Christian living
What it’s about: Aside from the Bible, I believe this is the important book you will read as a Christian. It will challenge you to think deeper about the core components of the Christian faith. It will give you a strong foundation for Jesus as the son of God. This book changed the trajectory of my faith. It was the first book I ever read that rattled my core beliefs. It was the first book that helped me see the reasons behind my beliefs (and why many of them were faulty). This book is one of the few that can convict Christians and atheists.
I want to close with this. All of the books above can transform your life, but the Bible is by far the most important book you will ever read. I assumed most people understood this. But, in case, you’re wondering, please understand…NO BOOK is more important than the Bible. None.
What books shaped your faith? Leave a comment below and let me know.
I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!