Leaders are Readers

by Jim Pingel

Here are the best books of 2019 that I’ve read so far and think would benefit each of you greatly in your ministry. Any one of them would make for a terrific book club group too.


The title of this book is provocative all by itself in an age of specialization. Epstein starts out with a chapter comparing Tiger Woods to Roger Federer and makes a case for one’s upbringing and training over the other. Which one are you—a Roger or Tiger?

Each chapter reads like its own book, but I really enjoyed the chapters which elaborated on how to create a culture of continuous improvement and innovation. There is rich research here and wonderful anecdotes and metaphors which are sticky for reflection and teaching. Every Lutheran high school administrator should read this book and reflect on its findings. After all, who doesn’t want to improve his or her leadership range? 


Anything Marcus Buckingham writes is worth reading. A bit of a contrarian, Buckingham and his co-author, Goodall, take on such sacred cows and leadership mantras as “establishing a proper work-life balance,” “people need feedback,” and “the best plan wins.”

The book is worth purchasing for the first and last chapters alone. I found their research on the eight aspects of the highest-performing teams—precisely worded items based on their extensive research—riveting and immediately usable my own leadership positons. The last chapter of the book, “Leadership is not a Thing” is one of the most compelling chapters on leadership I’ve ever read. Are your bored or tired of hearing about cookie cutter approaches to leadership which spout out talk of BHAGS, mission, casting vision and the like? So are Buckingham and Goodall. They insist leadership is about you, emotion, and your spikes (you’ll have to read it to find out what spikes are). Their take on leadership—that it is much more an art than science—is refreshing to read and will resonate deeply with Lutheran administrators who serve a Creator God. 


Every time I saw this book on the bestsellers shelf this year, I passed over it. Why would I want to read about someone else’s boring, educational journey, especially when this person is a no-name individual without any historical significance? Stuck in an airport longer than I wanted to be one day, I purchased the book. Two days later, after finding every available minute I could to read it, I finished it. Totally engrossing, this page-turner reads like a novel, but it is a true story of a young girl raised in a secluded Mormon household in Idaho who eventually breaks free and gets “educated” all the way to her PhD at Harvard.

As a Christian, the book challenged me because it presented a religious family, albeit a Mormon one, in a degrading light. Tara Westover’s family is uneducated, superstitious, malicious, backwards, old school, ignorant, intolerant—everything a zealous, urban, lefty today might accuse a hard right, rural, evangelical Christian in the political arena. The book also heavily implies that the more degrees and secular education you have, the more wisdom and spiritual peace you will have.

These holy discontents, however, are what made me engage so intimately with the book. I kept thinking to myself, how would I respond to this situation as a Christian? How do Christians show people that we are not close-minded, superstitious, anti-medicine, anti-all government agencies, and consumed with conspiracy theories? How do we, as Christians, live in the world but not of the world? How do we show others that true wisdom comes from God’s Word, but that we also believe it is okay to take medicines prescribed by doctors or that we can handle reading literature that is contrary to the teachings of Scripture?

Do yourself a favor: Pick up the book. Enjoy the read. Wrestle with the image that many others might have of “religious” people like yourself. Then reflect on the current platform God has given you. Think about how you can share and teach the Word of God, in truth and purity, without trying too hard to blend and adopt the ways of a pagan world or by refusing to engage and witness to those who do.  

James Pingel - Dean of SOE.jpg

Jim Pingel

is the editor of the ALSS Journal and Dean of the School of Education at CUW and CUAA. He can be reached at james.pingel@cuw.edu.