We’re getting to the end of the year, and thus it’s time for everyone to start putting their “lists” out there. Not everyone enjoys these posts. I do. I like reading what others found to be particularly helpful, because it helps me get to know them a bit better and to cut through some of the flood of information that comes my way every day.

So, I’m putting together a mini-series of “Top 5” lists as we head into the final stretch of 2011. My hope is that by doing some top 5 lists (rather than one top 10 list), it might be a bit more helpful to you. The posts will be shorter and more targeted. Going top 5 means things have to be really good to make this list. These are books I read in 2011. Most came out this year, but a few came out sooner and I’m just now reading them.

Here are the five best books I read in 2011:

5. What is the Mission of the Church? By Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert. I have to hand it to Kevin DeYoung: he isn’t afraid to tackle any controversial topic. A summary of the book online says: “Some argue that the mission of the Church is to confront injustice and alleviate suffering, doing more to express God’s love for the world. Others are concerned that the church is in danger of losing its God-centeredness and thereby emphasize the proclamation of the gospel. It appears as though misunderstanding of mission persists.” That’s a good summation of the book’s deep issue. In the end, DeYoung and Gilbert argue that making disciples is the mission of the church, and various social justice ministries are good works in which disciples are called to participate–but the not the actual mission of the church. One of the most helpful contributions of this book is their addressing of what makes “kingdom work” such–and what separates it from simply good deeds done by anyone anywhere. I disagree with DeYoung and Gilbert a bit around the edges, but agree with the overarching premise of the book. I promise if you read this one, you’ll get upset (in a good way) somewhere along the way. In following DeYoung’s online discussion with Ed Stetzer with a little Justin Taylor in the mix, I actually agree with both of them–and like the spirit of the discussion.

4. The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood, by William Bennett. This book is essentially a “Book of Virtues” for men. In a time when “manhood” is getting harder to define and perhaps even eroding on a broad scale, Bennett compiles some of men’s greatest hits–great speeches, great achievements, noble daily behavior, etc., with hope of inspiring men to be better men. He accomplishes his goal. This is a really enjoyable read. He really needs to put together a corresponding volume for women or the Sisters may get on his case though 😉

3. The Collected Sermons of Fred B. Craddock, edited by Fred Craddock and Barbara Brown Taylor. If Fred Craddock and Barbara Brown Taylor decided to make an exercise video, I would buy it. These two giants of preaching together compile some of Craddock’s sermons which always come to life when read because of Craddock’s superb storytelling ability. If you want to learn to preach, or just like good sermons that will warm your soul, read this one.

2. The Meaning of Marriage, by Timothy Keller. I love this book! I loved Sacred Marriage, by Gary Thomas which came out first and engages some of Keller’s main points at a more popular level. I’ve had a hard time recommending any other marriage book to a couple thinking about getting married until now. Keller’s book is a welcome contribution to this important area of practical theology. That’s what I love about The Meaning of Marriage. It is theological but accessible and view marriage as a context for spiritual formation and living out the way of the Cross. The book doesn’t say the self doesn’t matter at all, it just argues that marriage is not fundamentally about having one’s own needs met. It’s about following Christ and learning His Way with another person. It’s short on cliches and long on wisdom.

The New Vintage Leadership Book of the Year was a relatively easy choice, actually.

1. Great By Choice: Uncertainty, Luck, and Why Some Thrive Despite Them All, by Jim Collins and Morten Hansen. I’m sure Collins and Hansen didn’t write this book with ministry in mind, but there is so much helpful material in here on leadership amidst chaos. We live in chaotic times with great uncertainty. Great by Choice looks at companies that outperformed their competitors by ten times in times of great chaos, luck and uncertainty for all companies in their sector (meaning, it’s apples to apples). The big question of the book is: Why do some companies thrive amidst chaos and others do not? His leadership principles like SMaC, the 20-mile march, leading above the death line, firing bullets–then cannonballs, and ROL (Return on Luck) have amazing applications for churches. Both Good to Great and Great by Choice need to be in every church leaders library.

Your turn: Give me a book you think absolutely must read. Or, if you want to comment on any of the books mentioned above, please do.