Solomon concluded the book of Ecclesiastes, his breathtaking reflection on the meaning of life, with a memorable word about writing: “Of the making many books there is no end . . .” (Ecc. 12:12b). In that vein, there were many, many excellent books published in 2018 related to ministry, including several about Paul’s two-pronged admonition to Timothy for ministers to “keep a watch over your life and doctrine” (I Tim 4:16).

I’m confident many useful books for pastors will roll off the presses in 2019, but as we close out the old year and usher in the new, here are several of the best ministry-related books I read in 2018. If you missed some of these, I’d recommend moving them near the top of your reading in the New Year.

  • Reformed Preaching: Proclaiming God’s Word from the Heart of the Preacher to the Heart of His People(Crossway) by Joel Beeke. A temptation for the theologically-driven pastor is to dump all the good things he’s learned on his first congregation. In this excellent book, Joel Beeke (one of my favorite living preachers) shows how Reformed preaching avoids the twin fallacies of sounding like a lecture of being a mere emotional appeal. The best preaching takes theology and appeals to the affections, informs minds and engages hearts. Along the way, Beeke provides insights on preaching from a survey of the Reformers and Puritans, who rediscovered and filled out what he rightly calls “Reformed experiential preaching.”
  • The Man of God: His Calling and His Godly Life(Trinity Pulpit Press) by Albert N. Martin. This work is the first of four volumes in the highly-anticipated series on pastoral theology from a veteran pastor who has mentored dozens of men of God over the past several decades. Volume one examines the call to pastoral ministry and the critical call for God-called men to set a watch over the walls of his life.
  • The Privilege, Promise, Power & Peril of Doctrinal Preaching(Free Grace Press) by Thomas J. Nettles. How did popular preaching become so weak and doctrine-free? SBTS historian Tom Nettles traces the decline of doctrinal preaching from the robust days of Jonathan Edwards to the modern-day “life coaching” of Joel Osteen.
  • Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as Worship(Crossway) by John Piper. It’s far too easy for those of us who prepare sermons every week to forget that our preparation and execution of sermons is, most fundamentally, an act of worship. Piper, like perhaps no contemporary author can, reminds us of this critical truth.
  • The Pastor’s Soul: The Call and Care of an Undershepherd(Evangelical Press) by Brian Croft and Jim Savastio. This book is written by two dear friends, both of whom have spent decades in the trenches of local church ministry. I can’t think of two men better positioned to show pastors how to take care of their life and doctrine. This little book is unique in that it details how a pastor should care for his own heart. One of the most helpful chapters is a call to the spiritual discipline of silence, which Southern Equip excerptedthis summer.
  • The Preacher’s Catechism(Crossway) by Lewis Allen. These 43 questions and answers, written to reflect the format of historic catechisms, seek to nourish for weary pastors in the thick of ministry. Each chapter features content designed to care for your spiritual health, feeding your mind and heart with life-giving truth aimed at helping you press on in ministry with endurance, contentment, and joy. It’s a good spiritual vitamin for pastors. Read one per day for six weeks.
  • Prayer: How Praying Together Shapes the Church(9Marks/Crossway) by John Onwuckekwa. How often does your church pray together? This powerful little volume calls the church back to returning corporate prayer to the heart of ministry. Concise and well-written, the author instructs the church on prayer through two of Jesus’s best-known prayers — the Lord’s Prayer and his petition at Gethsemane. Perhaps my favorite aspect of the book is the way in which the author uses personal anecdotes and even touches of humor to promote the centrality of prayer in the body of Christ.
  • Living Life Backward: How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us to Live in Light of the End(Crossway) by David Gibson. Earlier this year, I, along with my fellow elders, preached through the book of Ecclesiastes. Gibson’s volume was an incredible help to me and helped me point the congregation to Solomon’s central truth that living in light of the finish line helps keep one properly focused on Christ during the race. This little commentary is one of the most compelling books I’ve read on what has become one of my favorite OT books.
  • Watchfulness: Recovering a Lost Spiritual Discipline(Reformation Heritage) by Brian G. Hedges. This was my favorite book I read all year and is now one of my favorite spiritual discipline books of all-time. Through biblical exposition and the best of Puritan spirituality, Hedges teases out all the crucial implications of Matthew 26:41—the necessity for all Christians, of keeping a close watch on your life. This lost spiritual discipline is vital for all Christians, but is particularly important for pastors who are called to keep a watch over their own lives as well as the lives of their sheep. This powerful little volume is best read slowly, carefully, and reflectively.
  • Graciousness: Tempering the Truth with Love(Reformation Heritage) by John Crotts. For this book, I would almost ditto what I wrote above about the Hedges work. Crotts is an SBTS graduate and a veteran pastor and his impactful little volume provides a much-needed reminder that we are to communicate the truth in a manner befitting the humility of our Lord. The latter chapters include some excellent practical ways for developing graciousness as our default setting in our preaching and teaching as well as in private conversations. Every pastor and future pastor should read both this book and the Hedges work.
  • Remember Death: The Surprising Path to Living Hope(TGC/Crossway) by Matthew McCullough. With life expectancy twice what it was 200 years ago, even Christians—who ought to know better—tend to live as if they are never going to die. Death is not somebody else’s problem, it’s mine. McCullough, a Boyce College graduate, has written the most compelling book I’ve ever read about death. While this is not directly related to ministry, reading this book served as a powerful (and much-needed) reminder of how to live in light of Jesus’s promises now and positioned me to better teach my congregation how to do the same.

Two I contributed to in 2018

Collin Hansen, who serves as editorial director for The Gospel Coalition, and were privileged to edit two multi-author volumes this past year aimed at pastors in their first few years of ministry, and I’d like to humbly commend them for your reading.

  • 15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me (TGC/Crossway) seeks to show that seminary education is immensely valuable but is only half the important part of becoming a pastor. A God-called man is only able to learn how to put to work those good things learned in seminary while serving on the front lines of local church ministry. In his preface, SBTS President Albert Mohler compares ministry preparation to basic training in the military—seminary equips you to fight in the war, but only the battlefield makes one a battle-ready soldier.
  • 12 Faithful Men: Portraits of Courageous Endurance in Pastoral Ministry (TGC/Baker), seeks to show that suffering is normative in pastoral ministry. The book examines the lives and ministries of 12 men from church history — ranging from the apostle Paul to John Calvin, John Bunyan, Andrew Fuller, J. C. Ryle, and a few less-recognizable names — and details the ways in which they suffered while serving the local church but grew into humble, effective instruments in God’s hands through their affliction.