The Christmas season is inextricably intertwined with Christian missions. Jesus was born in a manger so that one day he could suffer on a cross, be raised in victory and commission his people to make disciples of the nations. For that reason, some denominations even plan their annual missions offering to coincide with the Christmas season.
In light of this connection between Christmas and missions, here are a dozen (or so) resources I recommend to pastors, professors and students. I will describe each book and then rank its level of difficulty on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the most difficult. Level 1 is the category for a book you could give to any friend or family member. Level 5 is the category for a book more appropriate for a graduate student or a pastor who enjoys a challenge.
1. Bethany House Publishers, Men of Faith Series and Women of Faith Series. My parents introduced me to this wonderful biography series when I was in late elementary school. At first, they read the biographies aloud to the family. Later, I read them on my own. Many of the biographies focused on missionaries; some of my favorites include Samuel Morris, Hudson Taylor, Gladys Aylward, Mary Slessor and Eric Liddell. Level 1
2. Danny Akin and Bruce Ashford, I Am Going. Danny Akin and I wrote this book to help Christians understand how they can participate in the mission of God, whether their “home base” is in the United States or in another country. It is a small book, easy to read and filled to the brim with stories of everyday Americans who are participating in God’s mission in surprising and effective ways. When the book is purchased in bulk (20 books) from LifeWay, it is sold for $5 per book. Level 1.5
3, Elisabeth Elliott, In the Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliott. The story of Jim Elliott’s short life as a missionary before he was martyred. Riveting and easy to read. Level 1.5
4. Ruth Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions, 2nd ed. This book provides 100 or so brief biographies (two to three pages) of missionaries. An excellent resource for anybody, but especially for pastors who wish to weave missionary stories into their sermons. Level 2
5. Danny Akin, 10 Who Changed the World. A truly unique book. Each chapter combines the life story of a missionary with a biblical passage that crystallizes the ministry of that missionary. Level 2
6. John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life. This little book gives a powerful argument for Christians to center their lives on one driving passion: to joyfully display Christ’s excellence in all they do. It includes a chapter calling Christians to consider devoting their lives to missions. Level 2.5
7. Timothy George, Faithful Witness: The Life and Mission of William Carey. An excellent biography of one of William Carey, one of the most influential missionaries in Christian history. Level 2.5
8. Nik Ripken, The Insanity of God: A True Story of Faith Resurrected and The Insanity of Obedience: Walking with Jesus in Tough Places. The Insanity of God is the gripping account of missionary Nik Ripken’s spiritual and emotional odyssey, as he and his family ministered in some of the most dangerous locations on the globe, including Somalia. The Insanity of Obedience challenges Christians to commit their lives to global discipleship rather than settling for the status quo. Level 2.5
9. Jonathan Edwards, The Life and Diary of David Brainerd. David Brainerd was a missionary to Native Americans. Although he died at a young age, his life story has been the inspiration for many missionaries and mission-minded pastors such as William Carey, Jim Elliott, Jonathan Edwards and John Piper. Level 3
10. John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions. When I read this book in 1997, it shook me to my core. It is a theology of mission that combines Bible, mission and biography in such a way that the reader would have to work very hard to defend against the message or keep it from penetrating the heart. Level 3
11. John Dickson, The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission and/or Christopher Wright, The Mission of God’s People. Both books show how Christian mission should include both words and actions. We should proclaim Christ with our lips and promote him with our lives. Level 3
12. Michael Goheen, A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story. Goheen’s book is a “missional ecclesiology.” It traces the entire biblical narrative from Genesis to Revelation to show the reader how God always intended for his people to be a light to the nations. This book is so good that I outlined it and then memorized the outline. Level 4