Best Books for Missionaries (that aren’t for Missionaries).

photo coutesty shutterhacks @flickrAs a missionary, many books are written for you as the intended audience.  However, there are many books that do not have missionaries as the intended audience – but they are still valuable for missionaries to read.

What are the fifteen best books for missionaries (that aren’t for missionaries)? [No affiliate links!]


book-decisive-265x4401. Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, by Chip and Dan Heath.

What makes it good: Most of us do a pros and cons list, pray, talk to some people wiser than us.  Is that all there is to making decisions?  The Heath brothers offer the best practical wisdom on how to make decisions.

Why is it good for missionaries? We live relatively disrupted lives and make many decisions that affect lots of people.  Often, we are overwhelmed by the decisions we have to make.

Best takeaway for me:  If facing a tough decision, ask yourself this: “What would I tell my best friend to do if they were in my situation?”

2.  Switch: How to Change things when Change is Hard, by Chip and Dan Heath.

What makes it good:  Several examples are given where change indeed take place, even in situations that seemed impossible (even in government)!

Why is it good for missionaries?  Missionaries want to bring about change, but often don’t know how to do that on a day-to-day practical level.

Best takeaway for me: Large and complex problems do not require complex solutions.

3. The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Achieving More With Less, by Richard Koch.

What makes it good:  Interesting explanation of a rule of nature: a small amount of inputs produce a large amount of outputs – regards of the field or topic!

Why is it good for missionaries?  Faced with daunting tasks, we too often focus on activities that will keep us busy, but they may not lead to the results we long for.

Best takeaway for me: What activities are “low-value” uses of time?  Which are “high-value”?

4.  So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, by Cal Newport.

What makes it good:  Passion will only get you so far (not very); at some point, you need skill.  This book shows you how to acquire skill so that you are, well, so good they can’t ignore you.

Why is it good for missionaries?  We often have to learn language and acquire other skills.  This book shows you the ingredients that make up effective practice to get the best results.

Best takeaway for me: Practice that pushes me to the limits of my current ability (though uncomfortable) has a huge payoff.

[Note: See Bounce below.]


resonate_cover5.  Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences, by Nancy Duarte.

What makes it good:  Best author on how to present.  (See her other book: Slide:ology).

Why is it good for missionaries? As a missionary, you will present to raise funds or present for those your ministry targets – but you don’t want to be just another boring PowerPoint!

Best takeaway for me: Using a physical prop is so simple, but so powerful.

6.  Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip and Dan Heath.

What makes it good:  In ministry, it can feel like nobody “gets” what we’re saying.  When raising missionary funds, we wonder if we are communicating effectively.  Made to Stick will help you craft your communication so that it, well, sticks.

Why is it good for missionaries? In evangelism, discipleship, and raising funds, we need our messages to stick with people we are communicating with.

Best takeaway for me: Stories, stories, stories stick.


wealth_povety_of_nations7. The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some are So Rich and Some So Poor, by David S. Landes.

What makes it good:  The best attempt to explain why the West had such economic growth over the last few centuries

Why is it good for missionaries?  If you are a missionary reading this in English, you probably come from the relatively affluent West.  You are probably a missionary in a place less affluent.  Wealth and Poverty of the Nations will help you understand why.

Best takeaway for me: Although I’m not sure the author uses these terms, it is clear that worldview matters.

8.  The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism and Western Success, by Rodney Stark.

What makes it good: Westerners often believe that Christianity has historically been an obstacle to the advancement of science and economics.  Stark argues just the opposite.

Why is it good for missionaries?  Many missionaries want to bring about holistic change.  This book shows that, historically, advancement in science and good business grew out of Christian soil.

Best takeaway for me: Ironically, missionaries today use business as  means to minister to others.  Historically, the best business came after there was a significant Christian influence.

9.  Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem, by Jay W. Richards.

What makes it good: Addresses the common objections against capitalism.

Why is it good for missionaries? Most of us will encounter and attempt to address poverty at some level.  This book argues that capitalism is the best economic option.

Best takeaway for me: Interesting discussion about interest/lending/usury.  [Also read a great post about it on Kevin DeYoung’s blog that quotes from this book.]

10.  Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy, by Robert A. Sirico.

What makes it good: Like Richards’ book, it addresses common objections to capitalism, but the author has personal background that previously opposed free markets.

Why is it good for missionaries? Free markets are too often viewed to be cruelly unfair – so how can Christian missionaries be involved in ministries that fight poverty and have free market principles?  This book answers this question, but it also shows how the alternatives worsen a society.

Best takeaway for me: Helped me see that a business isn’t just a job, but a positive force for good in society.

Just Plain Good, Interesting and Useful:

Antifragile-cover11.  AntiFragile: Things That Gain From Disorder, Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

What makes it good:  Anti-Fragile things and systems improve and strengthen through stress.  Fragile things break easily with stress.  Durable things simply endure the stress, but don’t improve.  We should treat things in each category differently – or face bad consequences.

Why is it good for missionaries?  Missionaries often try to fix things.  Antifragile will help you discern if your solution fits the kind thing you hope to fix.

Best takeaway for me: Kids are antifragile!  Subject them to some randomness, and they will thrive.  (You may have to read the book to understand what I mean by this).

12.  The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness, by Dave Ramsey.

What makes it good: The most effective book to help people get their financial house in order, thus allowing you to give more.

Why is it good for missionaries? Missionaries can be dragged down by debt, or they can be prevented from every going because of debt.  Total Money Makeover is the best system that addresses this.  [Note: According to Switch , see above, Dave Ramsey’s snowball method of getting rid of debt is the best.]

Best takeaway for me:  Regular people do indeed get out of debt and give generously.

13.  The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business, by Josh Kaufman.

What makes it good: Easily digestible bites that explain what business is and how it works.

Why is it good for missionaries? Missionaries are more frequently engaging with business in some capacity, but often feel lost in the midst of business.

Best takeaway for me: The building blocks of business are simple, and business is not some mystical skill that a few talented “businessmen” possess.

14.  Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain.

What makes it good:  As missionaries, we of all people should know that we have cultural “blind spots.”  The West’s preference for extroversion is a “blind spot” that Cain exposes and explains.

Why is it good for missionaries? Many missionaries are not extroverts but  more introverted.  Introverted characteristics can be more valued in cultures we minister to, even if our own western culture does not value it as much.

Best takeaway for me: Even as an introvert, I do need some varied input from people each day.

15.  Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success, by Matthew Syed.

What makes it good:  Demonstrates how important practice is – regardless of talent (which is overemphasized in our society).

Why is it good for missionaries? We often have to wear different “hats,” and thus need to learn how to be good at a variety of things, even without talent.

Best takeaway for me: I’m not gifted at language – but with motivation and practice, I can get much better.


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