5 Books for 2015

I am a firm believer that one of the most important activities a leader can engage in is good reading. Reading exposes us to new and challenging ideas, expands our understanding of the world, and offers respite from our normal business.

Since 2010 I’ve started out the year by recommending books I’ve read the past year to other catechetical leaders. Here’s this year’s list:

  1. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull (2014); Whether you’re a Pixar fan or looking for leadership insight from someone with an impeccable track record, this book is an easy, delightful read. I’ve already taken some of his lessons to heart as a diocesan director.
  2. Confirmation: How a Sacrament of God’s Grace Became All About Us by Timothy R. Gabrielli (2013); Thinking about the Sacrament of Confirmation has absorbed much of my mental energy in recent years, and this small but dense book helped a lot in clarifying some of my thoughts. Gabrielli gives a thorough historical treatment of the Sacrament of Confirmation leading up to Vatican Council II and after, with a particular eye to its interactions with changing secular ideas about adolescence.
  3. Evangelii Gaudium by Pope Francis (2014); This is a bit of a cheat since it’s technically an apostolic exhortation, not a book, but “The Joy of the Gospel” continues to unfold its rich treasury of gifts as I unpack it in light of my own ministry. Don’t rush through this one: it rewards slow, deep reading.
  4. Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive by Thom Rainer (2014); This slim tome, by a Southern Baptist pastor, examines the factors that lead to a local church community’s decline and eventual failure. I posted a full review last May; suffice to say that there is much here that applies to Catholic parishes.
  5. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (1997); Recommended to me by the founder of LibraryThing, this science fiction novel tells the tale of the first Jesuit mission to another species on a distant planet. Russell does an outstanding job of portraying the rich faith lives of her diverse cast of characters — what could have come across as predictable and preachy is instead grounded, surprising, and tender.

Book Review: Autopsy of a Deceased Church

Thom Rainer’s Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive (based on this post from his blog) is a short but penetrating look at the symptoms indicating a sick church community.

The book is based on interviews Rainer conducted with representatives from 12 closed churches. Through these interviews he identified various patterns and symptoms of dying churches: lack of evangelization, a failure to budget for mission, no communal prayer, etc.

autopsyRainer’s purpose is not just to depress us, though. As he states in the outset, his hope is that this “autopsy” will help others to identify symptoms of an unhealthy church before it becomes a crisis. To that end he includes reflection questions at the end of each chapter to help church leaders discern the “vital signs” of their communities.

The book ends with suggestions for churches in various stages of decline. Rainer does not mince words. He advocates for drastic changes in drastic circumstances, something many communities will resist. But Rainer is not concerned with comfort; he is concerned with churches communicating the Gospel effectively.

A quick note to Catholic readers: while Rainer is Baptist and some of the examples in the book have a decidedly Protestant bent, the symptoms and suggestions identified by him are just as applicable to Catholic parishes. Any diocesan or parish leader interested in healthy parish communities would do well to read and reflect on Rainer’s work.