6 Must Have Books For Every Youth Leader

6 Must Have Books For Every Youth Leader

For nearly my entire ministry career, I have tried to make reading a regular part of my accountability, a way to grow my knowledge, challenge my thinking, and stay current on the latest and greatest (and sometimes worst) trends culturally and theologically. But in my best-laid plans my first few years I was stonewalled by the lack of time and the overwhelming amount of materials available. There were just too many books, too many topics, and far too little time to wade through it all.

But professional and personal growth is an absolute must. I read an article several years ago that made the claim that high school sophomores are reading more challenging books than the average youth pastors and that high school students overall have a far longer reading list than most of their spiritual mentors. That bothers me. Even if only a fraction of that is true, it still bothers me. Time and resources cannot be an excuse. So I came up with a system, that I have used each fall (a teachers concept of a year).

So here is some must haves for your shelf…every year. Pick one book from each of these categories to be read this school year (August 2017-July 2018) and then start the process all over again.


There is certainly no shortage in this category. But don’t be intimidated. There are books on situational leadership, industry specific leadership, the newest trends in leadership, and even books on leading across generational lines. It doesn’t have to be a Christian book. But it is important to explore leadership from different angles and perspectives.

But what if you don't "lead" anyone? What if you are not technically a boss? That doesn't matter. The principles of leadership transcend into every facet of life. Recently, I read books on organizational change, boundaries in leadership, and leading a startup company. None of the situations in these books applied directly, but each of them offered unique insights in the world of leadership that helped me lead better.

My Favorite: Leading with a Limp - Dan Allender

Classic Volume of Theology

Pick up a copy of Augustine’s City of God or Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion . Don’t worry so much about denominational lines or theological perspective. What is important is to read theologians that have helped shape the current landscape of theological study. In other words, read what your professors are reading.

Once you finish some of the older texts, work into some of the more recent ground breaking favorites. Find something that challenges you. If you disagree with it, then use it to reinforce your perspective.  Don't just disagree; figure out why and do some additional research to back up your thoughts.

My Current Favorite (I know it's not old): Christian Origins and The Question of God - 4 Volumes, NT Wright

Re-Read a Favorite

This one is simple. We all have those books we just loved, or that changed us. Read it again. It will serve as inspiration, reaffirmation, and even a breath of fresh air. Every few years I re-read Mere Christianity . It is like watching your favorite movie over and over again. Every time you watch you noticed something more, something you missed before.

I remember the first time I read the Lewis classic. I read it out of obligation. It was “ok.” Then I read it again a few years later because I assigned it to a class. The more I read it; the more C.S. Lewis sounded like my wise old uncle. I wanted to sit and listen over and over.

Culturally Popular

It seems like every few years a book takes the world by storm. I still remember when Harry Potter first arrived on the scene. Everyone was reading it. On the one hand, I loved seeing students read before class began, or the minute they had some free time. On the other hand, I wasn't all that sure about it because I hadn't read it. Some were saying the books were great, others said it was garbage. However, not reading the book created an unnecessary gap between my students and myself. So when the Twilight series occupied the minds and hearts of nearly every teenage girl, I powered through it.

You are not going to like them all but read them. You will certainly question some of the content, but power through it. I promise you; it will give you powerful leverage and talking points when mentoring your students.

A Recent Release on Spiritual Formation (something that makes you a better disciple)

Books on theology will help grow your mind, but you also need to grow your heart. It might be a book that challenges you, but I would suggest something that fills you. Pick something that speaks to how you are wired.

When I was in my twenties, I had a pastor friend of mine give me a list of books that he suggested I read. I ordered them all and started powering through them. Each of them was pretty good. But only one of them changed my view on who God is, told stories that cut straight to my core, challenged me, and encouraged me. Find that book for you.

My Favorite: The Holy Wild , Mark Buchanan

Something You Want to Read

Literally, anything.


I know this seems obvious. But let’s be honest, even those of us in ministry sometimes can struggle with reading the Bible. When I graduated from seminary, I had to retrain myself to read the Bible for enjoyment and spiritual growth, rather than as a book to study for a class.

So I started picking a group of books for the year to focus on. This year I am reading through the gospels. I read them devotionally. I study them. I even grab some commentaries and others books about them. It keeps me reading for enjoyment, but takes me deeper and challenges my thinking.

So there you have it. Six easy ways to build a great library. Now go and order some books.

Steve Kozak

Executive Director of AwanaYM

Steve currently serves as the Executive Director of AwanaYM. Previously, Steve spent over a decade teaching high school theology from Detroit to LA. Steve holds a Masters in Theology from Moody Theological Seminary and a Masters in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. Steve speaks and writes on youth culture and apologetics. He resides in Chicago, IL with his wife and four children.
Follow Steve Kozak on Twitter: stevenmkozak


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