It’s one thing to write a book that helps the reader know something; it’s quite another to write a book that really helps the reader do something. Here is a personal selection of twenty good “how-to” books published during the first half of 1976. They are not necessarily the best books on the topic, nor even the best recent books. But if you are at all interested in the subjects, you are likely to find in these books at least some practical help. Often you will find a great deal of help.

MARRIAGE The people who will most object to The Act of Marriage by Tim and Beverly LaHaye (Zondervan) are the ones who need it the most. The subtitle aptly describes the outlook: “The Beauty of Sexual Love.” In some ways this is a Christian counterpart to the secular best-seller The Joy of Sex. It will doubtless stir “fundies in their undies” jibes; the conservative credentials of the authors are impeccable. Some readers may think the LaHayes are still a bit too cautious, but their basic intention is to celebrate the God-givenness of pleasurable sex within marriage. Moreover, they deal quite specifically and at length with technique. This is an outstanding book, in my judgment, for both married and soon-to-be-married Christians.

BIBLE STUDY Foundational to Christian belief and practice is the study of the Bible. Regrettably, many Christians merely read Scripture and let authoritative teachers tell them what it means. What one hears and reads must supplement, not replace, one’s own serious Bible study. The Joy of Teaching Discovery Bible Study by Oletta Wald (Augsburg) is meant to help teachers introduce their students to personal Bible study. The companion book for the students is The Joy of Discovery in Bible Study, released late last year. The two new books sensibly replace an older combined edition that has won widespread acclaim over many years.

DISCIPLESHIP John White, a psychiatrist who formerly ministered to students in Latin America, has called his practical handbook for Christian living The Fight (InterVarsity). If praying, studying the Bible, getting guidance, getting along with fellow Christians, witnessing, and the like are struggles for you, here’s your book.

Another book that faces up to struggles, indeed stresses their positive value as God’s “pruning” for greater fruitfulness, is Andre Bustanoby’s You Can Change Your Personality (Zondervan). Bustanoby was formerly a pastor and is now in full-time counseling, and the book grows out of his experiences in both ministries. He discusses various personality types and the adaptive and harmful ranges of behavior within them. Like the rest of the authors in this selection, he goes beyond simply theory to give practical suggestions for change that can promote spiritual maturity.

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Another kind of struggle is “how to make the best use of your time and abilities,” the subtitle of Strategy For Living by Edward Dayton and Ted Engstrom (Regal). These two leaders with World Vision have been conducting seminars on managing time for several years, and now they offer what they’ve been saying in book form. If you feel overwhelmed, make time to read it. (Here’s the place to slip in an extra book, a valuable reprint: How to Save Time in the Ministry by Leslie Flynn [Baker].)

EVANGELISM Sharing God’s Love by Rosalind Rinker and Harry Griffith (Zondervan) has chapters on ten categories of persons to whom the Christian might witness, including spouse, opponent, casual contact. This book will be helpful for all Christians, and especially for those who are too tied to following a certain procedure in witnessing, regardless of whom they are encountering.

The author of Every Christian a Soul Winner (Nelson), Stanley Tam, is a businessman with a very widespread ministry of evangelizing and of encouraging others to evangelize. A book like this could provoke a “that’s easy for him to say” reaction, but Tam comes across as genuinely concerned with helping the vast majority of Christians who are not like he is but who do want to be more used by God to introduce others to Christ.

What should happen when someone becomes a Christian? Gary Kuhne provides an answer in a thorough manual, The Dynamics of Personal Follow-Up: The Art of Making Disciples (Zondervan). Too often new believers are pretty much left to fend for themselves. This book is aimed at the Christian who wants to help the convert get off to a good start. (The Fight, mentioned earlier, is a good book for the convert himself.)

It is much easier for a writer to help a reader think than to help him do. These books successfully help the reader to act.

Church Growth: Everybody’s Business by E. LeRoy Lawson and Tetsuno Yamamori (Standard) is a little different from the others in this category. It does not go into detail on techniques, but it does tell how to evaluate both the situation in one’s own church and the attempts to spread the Gospel at home and abroad. Its chapters include “How Can I Make My Church Grow?” and “Where Should the Missionary Dollar Go?” For those who want more, the same authors and publisher issued a textbook last year, Introducing Church Growth.

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COUNSELING Just as it is widely recognized that all Christians should evangelize even though only a few are primarily evangelists, so we are coming to recognize that counseling should not be left solely to full-time pastors or counseling specialists. The well-known Christian psychologist Gary Collins has written How to Be a People Helper (Vision House) specifically to help the ordinary disciple to be a counselor and to know when professional assistance is called for.

CONGREGATIONAL LIFE The books mentioned so far tend to focus on the individual and his relations with others. Those in the remaining categories treat corporate aspects of Christianity more directly.

Strategies For New Churches by Ezra Earl Jones (Harper & Row) features nitty-gritty chapters like “site selection” and “planning and financing a building.”

In All Originality Makes a Dull Church (Vision House) Dan Baumann looks at nine mostly well-known, differing congregations (including Thomas Road, Coral Ridge, Peninsula, Church of the Saviour) in order to find out what other congregations can learn from them.

Somewhat similar is the approach of C. Peter Wagner in Your Church Can Grow (Regal). He uses numerous illustrations to undergird a presentation of seven vital signs of a healthy church with brief pointers on how to move in the right directions.

LEADERSHIP Management training is crucial to business and government, but Christian organizations, both congregations and specialized agencies, have been slow to recognize its necessity. Olan Hendrix has served as a pastor and in various other leadership roles. His Management For the Christian Worker (Mott Media or Quill) is basic and well done.

They Cry, Too! What You Always Wanted to Know About Your Minister But Didn’t Know Whom to Ask (Hawthorn) is by Lucille Lavender, a pastor’s wife. Many a minister will wish everyone in his congregation would read this book. The author not only presents the problems but also gives helpful suggestions on how to do something about them, to the benefit of both pastor and people.

SUNDAY SCHOOL The longest book in this selection (400 double-column pages) is sure to have something for everybody: The Successful Sunday School and Teachers Guidebook by Elmer Towns (Creation), a well-known writer on the subject.

From a somewhat different theological stance comes the much shorter New Life For Your Sunday School (Hawthorn) by Iris Cully, a former professor at Yale Divinity School.

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PREACHING In view of the number of person-hours invested weekly in listening to or preparing sermons, anything that leads to even slight improvement is significant. Preaching the Good News by George Sweazy (Prentice Hall), professor of homiletics at Princeton, is a full-length textbook that can serve as a refresher for the old grad (and thereby for his congregation).

Preaching For the People by Lowell Erdahl (Abingdon), a Lutheran pastor, is briefer but packed with pointers.

SERVICE More and more books and articles seek to raise Christian consciousness about widespread human needs. Much more difficult to produce are books that tell specifically how Christians can do something to help. See Peace on Earth Handbook by Loren Halvorson (Augsburg), which is described as “an action guide for people who want to do something about hunger, war, poverty and other human problems.”

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