On My Shelf helps you get to know various writers through a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their lives as readers.
I asked Dean Inserra—lead pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Florida, and author of The Unsaved Christian: Reaching Cultural Christianity with the Gospel—about what’s on his nightstand, his favorite fiction, books that have most influenced his thinking about ministry, and more.
What books are on your nightstand?
I was encouraged a few months ago by a pastor friend to pick an author “outside of my camp” and become as familiar with his/her works as possible. At first I rolled my eyes, thinking about how we all only have so much time to read. Spending that precious time reading all the published works of someone outside my tribe didn’t sound like the wisest use of my time.
But I decided to give it a try, and since I had a Methodist background as a child, I chose William Willimon from Duke Divinity School as my author from outside the camp. Reading Willimon has introduced me to a great deal of pastoral wisdom and has also allowed me to become familiar with his narrative style of preaching. It has been helpful to see how different people communicate the gospel. Works of his I am currently reading or have recently read are
- Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry
- The Collected Sermons of William H. Willimon
- Resident Aliens
- A Peculiar Prophet, a collection of writings about Willimon and excerpts from his books and sermons.
I highly recommend taking the time to become familiar with an author who influences a lot of the church but whom you haven’t been exposed to. It has introduced me to a whole new segment of the Christian faith.
In my theological persuasion, I currently am reading anything I can get my hands on from Matthew Barrett of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His book Salvation by Grace is fantastic. I’m about to start a book he edited on justification and his newest book, None Greater.
On my bookshelf is also The Life of John Calvin by W. J. Grier, which is a great introduction to Calvin’s life. I’m going to recommend it to the students in our college ministry. I’m also reading The Gospel of Our King by Bruce Ashford and Heath Thomas. I’m not sure if anyone currently in evangelical life is more read and researched in public theology than Bruce Ashford, and I’m really looking forward to this book.
What are your favorite fiction books?
I don’t read much fiction (I know, gasp!). I enjoy reading memoirs on American travel and especially of the old South. My wife really enjoys reading Rick Bragg, and she passes books by him on to me. I also read a lot of books about baseball. My favorite book about baseball is Baseball and Memory by Lee Congdon. I get my baseball book recommendations from a podcast called Baseball by the Book.
What books have most influenced your thinking about ministry and pastoral care?
- The Shepherd Leader by Timothy Witmer
- Seeing through New Eyes by David Powlison on pastoral care
- The Mission of God by Christopher Wright immediately comes to mind regarding overall ministry
When I was in my 20s and about to plant City Church in my hometown of Tallahassee, I had a passion to plant a theologically orthodox local church in my community that also cared a great deal about reaching the lost. I could never understand why so many Bible-believing and gospel-preaching churches were in such a secluded subculture that there was no real connection to the lost. I wanted my conservative theology to fuel mission in our city. I had a hard time 12 years ago finding someone who could articulate what I had been desiring. I walked through LifeWay and saw a book called Confessions of a Reformission Rev by Mark Driscoll. He wrote about “reaching out without selling out,” and although I approached things a lot differently from Driscoll, his writing on that topic resonated with me and helped me see that it was possible to be the church we were envisioning.
What’s the last great book you read?
None Like Him by Jen Wilkin
Reaching cultural Christians is a true passion of mine, and one of the main tenets of cultural Christianity is a generic or vague theism. Jen’s book is one I can and do put in the hands of my friends. It’s such a helpful book on seeing the God of the Bible, not a “big man upstairs” or distant force that’s so prevalent in cultural Christian thought. From content, readability, and Jen’s engaging writing style, I believe this is one of the better books recently written.
What’s one book you wish every pastor read?
Mark Dever’s two volumes Promises Made and Promises Kept. They have been helpful for my preaching ministry. I don’t preach in the style of Mark Dever (who can?), but they helped me to understand what it looks like on the practical level to preach books of the Bible through the lens of gospel centrality and biblical theology. I would encourage everyone to have these on their shelves and to use them for sermon prep.
I know I’m breaking the rules by having more than one here, but reading R. C. Sproul has been so foundational for me and helped me develop a love for theology. The Lord often uses people to perk an interest or cause a stir in our hearts, and Sproul has done that for me. My uncle gave me The Holiness of God for my 18th birthday and until then, I had never read a book in my life that wasn’t required for school or at bedtime with my parents when I was a little kid. Sproul’s classic truly rocked my world, and I couldn’t get enough. I think I read it in two days, which for a high-school senior was something. I’m currently taking a discipleship group through Sproul’s Chosen by God, and seeing their love for God grow as they think about God’s sovereign grace has been rewarding for me to witness. Pastors need to be able to explain deep truths to regular ears. Reading Sproul helps me to do that, as I am much more an everyday guy than an intellectual.
What are you learning about life and following Jesus?
I’m learning that I really have to deliberately distinguish in my heart and mind between what is my American spin on Christianity, and what is actually the biblical model for the Christian life. Far too often I unintentionally see everything through comfortable American eyes, and I’m trying to make sure I’m not guilty of a laughable attempt of trying to conform Jesus to my image. I’m also learning that we can’t define Christian maturity and growing in Christlikeness apart from being part of his mission. I’m convinced that we are the most like Jesus when we’re following him into the world.