In light of recent events globally and regionally, I am realizing the utter importance of character development and accountability, particularly for Christian leaders. If the church is going to have a positive impact on the world, we must take our call seriously, not to convert others to our way of belief, but of living lives rooted in love, grace, and integrity.
My husband said this in a sermon last weekend, which I thought was brilliant: “Leaders in the church are called to a high standard of living. Grace is not an excuse to live a life contrary to the Gospel…but grace affords us the ability to be honest with each other and unafraid of judgment and shame.” It is in this vein of thought that I write, not with the intent of perfecting ourselves to earn our way into heaven (that’s not how it works!), but with the intent of taking seriously how we reflect our love in the world.
Whether you believe in Jesus, God, or any high power for that matter, these ten books will help you develop an integrated character and live into positive patterns of leadership in any career path. Some are Christian books, others are not. But each book speaks to a different character trait that has importance in both personal development and leadership development.
I would also argue that reading itself, is an act of character development. When we diligently scan the pages of people who have gone before us, we connect with bold insights from the past and present. When we read deeply, ideas permeate our character. When we read widely, diverse opinions help form our unique characters.
Here are my top ten recent reads on character…
1. Integrity: A Hidden Wholeness, by Parker Palmer explores “the journey toward the inner life” in a short volume. He discusses the various facades that we wear in life and how to integrate our inner and outer lives through a deep-rooted spirituality. Palmer writes, “Afraid that our inner light will be extinguished or our inner darkness exposed, we hide our true identities from each other. In the process, we become separated from our own souls. We end up living divided lives.” The wholeness Palmer speaks of can only happen when we live out the characteristics of integrity, mirroring our inner and outer lives.
2. Overcoming Adversity: Rising Strong, by Brene Brown, says, “If we are brave enough often enough, we will fall; this is the physics of vulnerability.” But, Brown posits, “rising strong” is the process where we get back up again, a spiritual discipline of experiencing and expressing grace in the midst of the seemingly insurmountable. This is what sets those with true, persevering character apart from the crowd.
3. Justice: Generous Justice, by Timothy Keller, flips the contemporary argument that Christians aren’t very just, on its head. Instead, Keller writes that if Christians are indeed Christian, they must pursue justice in their communities and around the world. This is so essential to the core of Jesus’ message of love in action, that it is a wonder it has gotten lost so often in Christian’s lives. Keller calls believers back to that character trait that God made so inherent to the core of the belief. He also calls upon the Bible to argue for the necessity of believers acting out justice in a world burdened by racism, sexism, war, famine, wrongful imprisonment, and the like.
4. Authenticity: The Broken Way, by Ann Voskamp, seeps into your soul like most of Voskamp’s work. Her authenticity in writing, allows the reader to question themselves as well—living into our brokenness. Particularly if you work in ministry, when you wear a mask of any sort, you are not practicing the character that Jesus Himself practiced. This book emphasizes realness, and challenges the reader to walk in the realities of this life head-on, cultivating authentic characters.
5. Boundaries: Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No, to Take Control of Your Life, by Henry Cloud and John Townshend says it all in the title! So many times in our culture we say yes to things we shouldn’t, and both overcommit ourselves, and underdeliver on promises as a result. Saying yes all the time creates overspent, exhausted people who desire to help one more person about as much as they want to eat kale for every meal! This is a must-read for developing good character and a balanced life.
6. Virtue: After You Believe, by N.T. Wright demonstrates the absolute need for Christian virtue in a world where relativism is king. Unlike the unfortunate ideology (counter to the Gospel) that demands we need virtue to get in to heaven; Wright correctly argues that the grace of Jesus necessarily changes us, and we practice virtue because of what has already been accomplished for us on the cross. This book offers methods of building up virtue in your own life as you grow in maturity in faith.
7. Honesty: Crucial Conversations, by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler, teaches that confrontation is actually a good thing, if done well and with the right motivations. Though Jesus famously spoke truth in love, the church often speaks love at the expense of truth or truth at the expense of love. It doesn’t have to be that way. “Crucial conversations” are those discussions in family, workplace, ministry, or otherwise that require tremendous honesty and character, but are always worth it in the long run. The practical principles within the book help make those conversations a reality.
8. Surrender: Small Victories, by Anne Lamott, presents the notion that we will surrender ourselves to something at some point. But in classic, comedic language, she writes, “The good news is that we’re all doomed, and you can give up any sense of control. Resistance is futile. Many things are going to get worse and weaker, especially democracy and the muscles in your upper arms.” Yet, underneath her terse wit, are layers upon layers of beautiful truths on surrendering and trusting in a higher power. We can go about life kicking and screaming, or we can simply surrender. When we choose surrender, we ground our characters in something greater than ourselves.
9. Humility: The Selfless Way of Christ, by Henri Nouwen, offers a counter-cultural character shift away from the norm and toward humility. Nouwen writes, “Our lives in this technological and highly competitive society are characterized by a pervasive drive for upward mobility…Our parents, teachers, and friends impress upon us from the moment we are able to pick up cues that it is our holy task to make it in this world…” but his counter-offer is selflessness, the only way of Christ. He coins the phrase “downward mobility” to describe the essence of the voluntary challenge of servitude we must adopt if we call ourselves believers.
10. Accountability: The Power of the Other, by Henry Cloud, explains, “Your own performance is either improved or diminished by the other people in your scenario.” Cloud offers expert research in the fields of psychology and leadership on how much other people affect us, and what to do about it. On the one hand, people offer accountability, on the other, they may drag us down with them. Cloud teaches character-building strategies for knowing the difference between the two and how to wisely navigate all of our relationships, “from the boardroom to the bedroom and beyond.”
So, join me, on my journey of character development through the written word! Let’s read deeply and read widely together.
What books have you encountered recently that challenge your character? Leave a comment!