Books for Cultivating Community

These are the books that I’ve read or have been reading that have impacted the way I approach the local church and the work of community-making. (This page is meant to be dynamic, and I’ll continue to add books as I come across them.) I hope they resonate with you!

(You can also click here to read my book recommendations for cultivating a life of faith — particularly when you’re struggling to read the Bible.)

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Seeking God Together: An Introduction to Group Spiritual Direction, Alice Fryling: This is one of my favorite books that I read in 2016. While I have no plans to start a spiritual direction group any time soon, the wisdom, guidance and questions offered here have changed the way that I approach every small group church experience. Well worth a thoughtful read.

The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction, Adam McHugh: A perfect follow-up to his wonderful first book, Introverts in the Church, McHugh approaches the important work of listening. From the publisher: “In this noisy, distracting world, it is difficult to truly hear. People talk past each other, eager to be heard but somehow deaf to what is being said. Listening is an essential skill for healthy relationships, both with God and with other people. But it is more than that: listening is a way of life.”

Why Can’t We Talk? Christian Wisdom on Dialogue as a Habit of the Heart, John Backman: In this book, Backman approaches the work of dialogue not as a means to an end but rather as a spiritual practice. Dialogue becomes a way to love and value one another. A way to do the long, hard work of peacemaking that Jesus calls us into.

Rather than focusing on techniques for “productive” dialogue, John focuses on our hearts. He reminds us that we are not defined by our opinions or perspectives, but rather by our “identity as image bearers of God.” And that when we remember this about ourselves, it’s easier to see that it’s true of others – even those who most frustrate and confound us. It’s a deeply helpful book in creating spaces for disagreement and unity within church communities.

Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans: Rachel has always been a really clear, compelling writer with a great sense of humor. But this book also had layers of beauty, poetry, and best of all, deep intimacy. I loved the honest ways she explored her issues with the church. And being a sucker for a compelling structure, I loved the way she organized the book by the church sacraments. The Communion section might have been my favorite.

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Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People, Nadia Bolz-Weber: From the publisher: “In a time when many have rightly become dis­illusioned with Christianity, Accidental Saints dem­onstrates what happens when ordinary people share bread and wine, struggle with scripture together, and tell each other the truth about their real lives. This unforgettable account of their faltering steps toward wholeness will ring true for believer and skeptic alike.”

Sacred Pathways: Discovering Your Soul’s Path to God, Gary Thomas: I think one of the most important parts of creating a healthy community with space for everyone is to recognize that we each approach God best in our own way. Some feel closest to God in nature, others while involved in activism, and still others when surrounded by symbol and sacrament. This book is essential for recognizing what each of us bring to the table, moving away from one-size-fits-all spirituality, and making space for one another.

Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes, Shauna NiequistSo much of the beautiful work of community happens around the table, which is why I loved this book. Plus, recipes. From the publisher: “Bread & Wine is a celebration of food shared, reminding readers of the joy found in a life around the table. It’s about the ways God teaches and nourishes people as they nourish the people around them. It’s about hunger, both physical and otherwise, and the connections between the two.”

Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, Christine D. PohlThis book is a bit dense (lots of information, lots of research), but it’s very insightful and well done. From the publisher: “Making Room revisits the Christian foundations of welcoming strangers and explores the necessity, difficulty, and blessing of hospitality today. Combining rich biblical and historical research with extensive exposure to contemporary Christian communities — the Catholic Worker, L’Abri, L’Arche, and others — this book shows how understanding the key features of hospitality can better equip us to faithfully carry out the practical call of the gospel.”

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