Dr. Dwayne McCrary on the Amazing Art of Choosing the Right Books to Read


If you’re joining the blog for the first time this week, you’ll want to go back and read days one and two of this interview with Dwayne McCrary the editor of the most used Bible studies in the world, Explore the Bible for adults. Dwayne has already given us some incredible insights about how to create a transformational Bible study and some amazingly wise counsel on being a church leader.

Today, I’m simply going to ask Dwayne a couple of questions, questions that may change the lives of many of you.

Rick: Dwayne, all great leaders are readers. The problem for most of us is that we don’t know where to find the best books to read. In one of our conversations you spoke with me about how you determine what books you’ll give your time to. Would you share with those reading this blog what you shared with me?

Dwayne: We can’t read them all, but you can at least read some books. And the ones you read ought to be strategic. Here’s a way to narrow them down.

Pick your categories

First of all, I don’t read fiction. There are too many good true stories to be read. I’m not anti-fiction. I’m just pro-history.

Most of us are not interesting in becoming experts in all fields, but there are some areas that should interest us. For me, I want to be a better leader, educator, and Christ-follower. Therefore, business, history, education, and religion are my starting points. Every once in awhile I find a book that fits three of the four categories. That book becomes a must read for me.

Monitor the monitors of the pacemakers

There are people who set the pace in every field. These tend to be the people invited to speak at conferences and interviewed by national programs. These change. You will agree with some, and disagree with others. Read both. Doing so helps you think though why you believe what you believe and helps you develop an answer to their objections.

Different groups monitor who the pacemakers. Here are a few places I have found to be the most helpful.

  • Online Booksellers. Most websites list books by most sold.
  • National news outlets: several larger news outlets publish lists of top selling books and they usually do it by category.
  • Colleges: many colleges allow non-students to view course syllabi online. If your category is education, look at the books used in the education classes, especially the upper level classes.
  • Local business leaders: ask business leaders you know what they are reading.
  • Airport bookstores: airport bookstores are designed for two people: the vacationer and the business traveler. What you find here reveals what these two groups are reading.
  • Airline magazines: many of the inflight magazines include book reviews and reading suggestions. Once again, these are targeting the person on vacation and the business traveler. Many of these magazines can be viewed on the Internet without boarding the plane.

If you see the same book listed in multiple places, add it to the should read list.

Invite others to monitor with you

Ask two or three coworkers or friends to monitor with you. You may agree to monitor different things and then compare notes. Working with a team does three things. First of all, it spreads the load. You can now manage the search. The team also becomes a vetting committee. ou can each be reading different books, being critics for each other. The team also becomes a natural discussion group for what you are reading.

Ask the reading question

When you visit with your boss or some other leader, ask them about what they have read over the past few months. A good way to ask it is: What have you read over the past 6 months that you would recommend to others? If you have already read it, then let your boss know and include one thing you learned from the book. If it is on your reading list, move it to the top. If it isn’t on your list, add it.

One more thought: just because you have a reading list doesn’t mean you will read. You must designate some time to reading. Having a tablet may help, but always carry something to read with you. You never know when the opportunity to read may occur through your day. You may also want to schedule time in your day or at the end of your day to read. The issue is not when, but that you schedule the time.


Rick: Dwayne, I’m going to impose on you bit here if you don’t mind. As I continue to get to know you I realize more and more that you have a knowledge base that is beyond my comprehension. You’re amazingly astute when it comes to leadership, group life, doctrine… and the list goes on and on. This must come from your wise choices concerning what books and authors you give your time to. I hope it’s not too much to ask but, would you share with those reading this blog post a list of the books you’ve read over a lifetime that have influenced you most and what areas of study each of those books falls into? I’d be super grateful if you’d do that.


I have listed these by category and in alphabetical order within that category


Catastrophic Leadership – Echols, England (looks at lessons from nine challenges faced in a church setting)

Decision Points – Bush (regardless of political perspective, this gives a portrait of a decision making process)

The Leadership Challenge – Kouzes, Posner (commonly used in colleges)

Leading from the Second Chair – Bonem, Patterson (looks at the nuances of being the second in command)

Lincoln on Leadership – Phillips (summary of Lincoln’s leadership habits)

The Performance Factor – MacMillan (uses lessons from United Flight 232 to illustrate different dynamics of team and team development)

Spiritual Leadership – Blackaby (gives a basic overview of Leadership from a Christian perspective)

StandOut – Buckingham (looks at leadership styles)


Basics of Teaching for Christians – Pazmino (gives basics and includes how Holy Spirit influences the educational setting)

Called to Teach – Yount (education from the perspective of the teacher)

Created to Learn – Yount (education from the perspective of the student)

How Learning Works – Ambrose (gives 7 principles followed by the faculty of Carnegie-Melon)

Seven Laws of Teaching – Gregory (older book, Howard Hendricks and Bruce Wilkinson’s teaching books are built off this work)

A Theology for Christian Education – Estep (it is what the title states)


Leading Change – Kotter (looks at change from the leader’s view)

Leading Congregational Change – Bonem, Furr, Herrington (is is what the title states)

Managing Transitions – Bridges (looks at change from the view of the group going through the change)

Necessary Endings – Cloud (looks at change from view of leader and the baggage carried as a result)

Our Iceberg is Melting – Kotter (short story that illustrates Kotter’s ideas)


Crucial Conversations – Patterson, etc (strategies for having difficult conversations and confrontations)

Discussion as a Way of Teaching – Brookfield and Preskill (full of techniques for discussion)

Drive – Pink (looks at three elements that motivate people to work including volunteer)

A Fruitful Life: The Missionary Labors of Stephen Paxson – Drury (biography of one of the early American Sunday School missionary, written by his daughter)

A More Beautiful Question – Berger (looks at the creative process in three stages in terms of asking the right question)

Start with Why – Sinek (relates to communicating to gain buy-in)

Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life – Whitney (identifies spiritual disciplines and the practice of them)

Three Roads to the Alamo – Davis (tracks the lives of Travis, Bowie, and Crockett from the 1780s to 1836 as they defend the Alamo, lots of stuff about leadership and motivation)


Best Book I read in 2015

The Boys in the Boat –Brown (lots of lessons on leadership and team building)


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