In Winn Collier’s novel, Love Big, Be Well: Letters to a Small-Town Church (Eerdmans), an out-of-work pastor named Jonas McAnn forges a bond with a pastorless congregation through a series of handwritten letters on faith, life, and everything in between. CT asked Collier, a pastor and writer living in Virginia, to choose five books to read when your church is searching for its next pastor.

Jayber Crow, by Wendell Berry

I would argue that Jayber, the town barber, serves as Port William’s true pastor. He receives confessions, buries the dead, and welcomes the outcast. He enters the town’s pains and joys, knowing them as his own. In unexpected and artful ways, Jayber Crow models the kind of pastor and church many of us want, even if we haven’t realized it.

One: Unity in a Divided World, by Deidra Riggs

In any church, moments of transition—where the future is uncertain or visions diverge—are ripe for conflict. Deidra Riggs offers a wise word, reminding us that though “love is hard . . . whatever keeps me from loving my neighbor is in direct opposition to God’s desire.” Further, Riggs offers a penetrating challenge, reminding us how the gospel’s call to unity insists upon repentance and racial reconciliation. If a church is assessing its hopes and priorities for the years ahead, what better time to take a serious look at persistent divisions in Christ’s body?

A Prayer Journal, by Flannery O’Connor

If prayer does not fuel all the church does, then we have lost our way. O’Connor’s lovely journal of petitions, written while she was cementing her earnest desire to live in abandoned devotion to God, are vibrant and human. She scribbles down her questions, boredom, desires, and theological wrangling. This line stops me short: “I do not wish to presume. I want to love.” What if we stopped presuming our plans and agendas for our church, and in simplicity and faith sought out the God of love?

The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, by Eugene Peterson

Whatever kind of pastor a church may need (charismatic personality, visionary leader, bold activist), Peterson reminds us of what we need most: a pastor immersed both in God’s life and our lives. For Peterson, the foremost question on a pastor’s mind ought to be: “Who are these particular people and how can I be with them in such a way that they can become what God is making them?”

The Jubilee: Poems, by John Blase

They say that whenever stress rises, creativity is the first thing to go. Maybe this is why poetry often gets ignored. But we need poetry. Blase has written a marvelous collection filled with life, with God, with friendship and loss, hope and despair, love and regret. If a search team read one poem at the start of each meeting, it might move hearts in surprising ways.

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