What Makes a “Best” Book?

When the Christian Century invited me to contribute to their Fall Books issue, I immediately said yes. All they asked was for me to select the five best books published on the practice of ministry since 2000. I could define “practice of ministry” any way I liked. I knew there were other people being asked, so I didn’t feel a lot of pressure to be definitive. I could do this.

A week later, I wasn’t so sure. What makes a “best” book? And best for whom? Is the best resource for me and my unique church and ministry really the best for anyone else? Does it have to be a best seller? Is there such a thing as a generic best?


In the end, I decided on the following:

  1. The “best” book is one that’s best for me and my context. It’s a personal choice rather than a generic choice.
  2. The “best” books on ministry practice offer solid, practical content.
  3. The “best” books are well-written and communicate clearly.
  4. As a group, the “best” books on ministry practice address the outward practice and the inward journey that are both part of pastoral ministry.
  5. As a group, the “best” books include diverse authors–women and men, persons of colour, different denominations, different backgrounds.

If I were choosing the “best” devotional books or the “best” mysteries; the “best” science fiction or the “best” cookbooks; the “best” books about art or race or social media or anything at all, I might well add some different criteria. For me, the best mysteries have both strong plots and strong characters. The best cookbooks feature natural ingredients.

What makes a “best” book in your particular area of reading? Can you identify what you look for in a book? Or is reading more subjective than that?

And what five best books of ministry practice did I choose? How closely was I able to follow my own criteria? You’ll have to wait and see when the Christian Century releases its Fall Books issue….