As we start 2021, I am excited about the resources available for disciple makers and church leaders. We have great digital content available from our 30+ disciple making organizations (courses and premium membership). Plus, the Discipleship.org Collective will move to the next level in 2021 with great content being released and important conversations being hosted every week.
But most of us like to work through books so that we can read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest valuable content. So, I want to share our Top 10 List of disciple making books that were published in 2020 as a way to encourage everyone to read them.
I reached out to our disciple making partners and national disciple making leaders for recommendations on these books. Then, I compiled the following list. For some of the reviews, I quoted one of the leaders of a partner organization.
My criterion for the list was that a book must help or explicitly champion Jesus-style disciple making.
This means I am neglecting books with unclearly defined concepts of “discipleship” or “mentoring” or “spiritual formation,” which do not necessarily connect to what Jesus did. I am not saying that the books specifically connect the dots explicitly to Jesus’ method, but they must connect, at a substantive level, to what Jesus did with his disciples.
The reason for this criterion is because at Discipleship.org we rigorously champion what Jesus did and how we can follow his method today, not what we consider vague or fuzzy concepts. (I am not including eBooks in this list, by the way, just print books.)
Our national study on disciple making churches in the U.S. revealed a big problem we want to help remedy: that discipleship means everything and anything to North American church leaders (click here to see that report).
If “discipleship” means everything and anything, it ultimately means nothing in particular (other than what a writer might invent). So, as much as possible, we champion clear definitions and understandings so that we can make a difference nationally with clear headedness and clear goals (click here to see our definitions).
Surely my biases are reflected in the ten that I have selected; it is impossible to be completely objective! But this list is my best attempt to highlight the top new books that I think leaders committed to Jesus-style disciple making should read in 2021.
The list is alphabetical, based on the author’s last name.
Dave Buehring, The Great Opportunity (Morgan James)
This book focuses on disciple making within one’s personal calling—an emerging hot topic—which research has identified as a top desire for 18- to 29-year-olds and which pastors need to address. Dave shows how Jesus-style disciple making works in the unique vocations of life. He shows you how to raise up and multiply disciple makers in these work and vocational spheres. Dave has been training and leading in this space for many years, including helping make disciple making a reality in the halls of the U.S. Congress and in the music industry, including helping the likes of Mandisa and Jeremy Camp to be disciple makers. It is a very practical and real-world book, revealing decades of experience by one of the country’s top disciple makers, who leads partnering organization Lionshare.
Matt Chandler and Adam Griffin, Family Discipleship (Crossway)
Can you imagine a book on family discipleship that champions Jesus’ disciple making method? There are very few of them. But Chandler and Griffin lay out the thesis of their book with these words: “Discipleship is both what we heard Jesus command and what we saw Jesus doing … to disciple your family as Jesus discipled his twelve, think less of your children as students in your home-university and more as apprentices invited to study and exercise the way of God they see in and hear about from you.” I predict that this will be the new go-to book on family discipleship.
J.T. English, Deep Discipleship (B&H Publishing)
This is an important book for the national disciple making community. If I were king, I would have every church leader in North America read this book—but I would also press English to focus more on the holistic nature of Jesus’ method of disciple making. Here is what I mean: Jesus’ disciple making method included in-depth Bible study, but it was more holistic than just educational discipleship. We need more of what he advocates! Most churches, including many disciple making churches, do not give enough emphasis to learning doctrine. English masterfully points out how this can be accomplished in a local church. It is unfortunate—because this book is so good—that in English’s mindset, too often equates discipleship with Bible education. Jesus made disciples and called us to make disciples the way he made disciples. That is why we focus on the language of “disciple making” – which includes close personal relationship, coaching, imitation, mentoring, questions, trial and error, etc.,. But that small critique aside, this is a great book.
Robby Gallaty and Chris Swain, Replicate: How to Create a Culture of Disciple-Making Right Where You Are (Moody)
Jim Putman (of the Relational Discipleship Network) does a good job describing this book. He writes, “Robby Gallaty is one of the few pastors in the country that has developed a weekend service that moves people into discipleship at every level. His focus on the real mission of Jesus (to make disciples, not coverts) has led to an ongoing movement that has influenced a whole denomination (Southern Baptists) and now churches of all kinds globally. He is not just a preacher but a disciple making practitioner—in my mind that gives him the most credibility. It’s easy to talk about discipleship that isn’t messy. Doing it is hard work, and he does it. This book will give you some real tools that can help the everyday Christian learn to disciple others, and it will help the leader in a church create their own pathway to developing a disciple-making spiritual army to storm the gates of hell, wherever they work, live and play.” (Replicate Ministries).
Brandon Guindon, Disciple-Making Culture: Cultivate Thriving Disciple Makers Throughout Your Church (HIM Publications)
This is the best book that I know on how to create a disciple making culture in a church. Brandon’s prescriptions and insights are not theory. He has led multiple churches to create and live out the disciple making culture he describes. He was Jim Putman’s executive pastor for many years at Real Life Ministries in Idaho, then he helped transition an established mega church to a disciple making focus, and he followed that by planting a disciple making church in Houston that now is planting multiple disciple making churches every year. When I am asked about the best pure example of a disciple making church in the USA, I point to Real Life Texas as a great example. *I must also disclose I am so persuaded by what he is doing that I want every leader I know to learn from Brandon. So I recruited him to write this book as a Discipleship.org Resource (our signature book series).
Bill Hull and Brandon Cook, The Cost of Cheap Grace: Reclaiming the Value of Discipleship (NavPress)
I have found that anything Bill Hull writes on disciple making is really good and worth reading for church leaders. Brandon Cook joins with Bill in writing this book and it is a display of the message of the Bonhoeffer Project that the two men founded. The book points to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s path, which is the journey away from cheap grace and toward costly discipleship. This is an important book for serious Christians to work through. Kelly Williams stated it well when he said: This book was refreshing, life-giving, freeing, and deeply meaningful to my walk with God and to my pastorate. I was encouraged and challenged, and I received great hope to step into the responsibility of sounding the clarion call: Following Jesus begins and ends with grace, but the middle is filled with a path paved by our willingness to obey Jesus’ words and emulate his life through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Will Mancini and Cory Hartman, Future Church: Seven Laws of Real Church Growth (Baker)
Don’t let the title of this book confuse you – it is all about disciple making. Will Mancini is one of the most respected church consultants in the USA and this book marks a BIG CHANGE for Will. Here is the thesis of the book: “Future Church is all about returning the organized church to the passionate conviction of disciple making in the way of Jesus.” “Every pastor has begun to ask themselves,” Mancini says, “are we making disciples or faking them.”This book will become the new apologetic, effectively describing the crisis of the North American church and calling pastors to learn how to lead churches focused on discipling making. Mancini has become so persuaded as to the priority of disciple making that, as he told me in a recently, he wants disciple making to be the focus on his ministriy’s initiatives moving forward.
(TIE) Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity and Why This Harms Everyone (Pitchstone) and Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies (Penguin Random House)
These two books are NOT about Jesus’ method of disciple making, but I am convinced that they need to be read and utilized by everyone who is discipling others. They are the best two guides to help disciples understand the way the world has been discipled to think and act differently, in such a short period of time. In Cynical Theories you will find guidance to help you understand the new ways that our cultural influencers think and why. It is a book that explains Critical Theory – Critical Race Theory, Critical Gender Theory, etc. In short, this book will help you understand why more and more churches, church leaders, and conservative disciples will be labeled racist, misogynistic, homophobic, etc., – and why more and more church leaders and disciples will find themselves being cancelled and discriminated against. It is a MUST READ for every church leader who wants to be informed about the direction of our culture.
Dann Spader (likejesus.net) described Live Not by Lies as the best book of this year. Here is why: it is a book that seeks to help disciples respond to where our culture is going. More practical than Cynical Theories, it describes the emerging “soft totalitarianism” that more and more of us will be experiencing in universities, governments, human resource departments, etc., and what to do about it. The book describes how disciples of Jesus clung together in discipling groups (my language, not Dreher’s) to survive persecution under communism in the former Soviet Union. It is the best current field guide that will train disciples for faithfulness in the midst of hostilities that will come in the future, as more and more in the North American culture adopt a post-truth and cultural Marxist mindset.
Rich Villodas, The Deeply Formed Life (The Crown Publishing Group)
Drew Hyun and Pete Scazzero (from Emotionally Healthy Discipleship) brought this book to my attention. The thesis of the book is piercing: We won’t take time to go deep down within because we have often been discipled into superficiality. Writing about disciple making in an urban, multi-cultural context (New York), and with a Puerto Rican background, Rich provides a helpful lens of a disciple making church focused on spiritual formation. This is an important part of what Jesus did and what the apostles describe. It is an important framework for disciple making that includes an emphasis on emotional health. Rich also wades into practices that lead to racial reconciliation in the local church. Sometimes he seems to borrow the language and framework of Critical Race Theory, but everything that he actually says is helpful (see the review of Cynical Theories). Villodas wants people to be discipled at a substantive and in-depth level. Pete Scazzero describes his work this way: “He’s fleshing out ancient wisdom for this generation. He brings together both a rich breadth of reading, along with treasures discovered over time in the trenches of ministry. He’s taken this to the next level, addressing vast resources of spiritual formation to the pressing issues of racial reconciliation, sexuality, and Sabbath rest.” Pete goes on, “I recommend this excellent book by a great man following Jesus and pastoring one of the most multiracial, diverse churches in a unique place called Queens in New York City.”
David Young, King Jesus and the Beauty of Obedience Based Discipleship (Zondervan)
This book is a winsome exposition of Matthew 28:18-20 (the Great Commission) by a committed disciple maker, storyteller, and senior pastor, who happens to be a high level PhD in New Testament studies. The thesis of the book is seeing the theological beauty that Jesus has come as King of the universe. Those who give their allegiance to Jesus as saving King and trust and follow him in obedience-based discipleship, find the best life anyone could ever live. This book will change your perspective on Jesus and obedience. *Full disclosure, like Brandon Guindon’s book, I recruited David Young to write this book because of the clarity of his exposition on the kingdom of God and these key texts and it too is a Discipleship.org Resource (our signature book series).
As I worked through and prayed through this list of books, I found myself confronting a nagging question. “Which is the best or most important book on the list”?
I could not answer that question with integrity.
Perhaps the biggest reason I could not be pick a #1 book is because there are at least five that I would make #1. And the best book will depend on the needs of each person, leader and church.
But I can say one thing that stood out to me as I worked through all of these books. I am really pleased with the increasing number of books that explicitly champion Jesus-style disciple making. It may be that the culture moment for this emphasis in the North American church is getting closer … I hope and pray for that.
I am praying that God will soon lead us in a national revival of Jesus-style disciple making!
I cannot think of a more important emphasis for the local church.
By Bobby Harrington