Last November, a young college graduate talked to me after one of my last Sunday services at Prairie Heights Community Church in West Fargo, N.D., as the senior pastor. He asked for recommendations on books he should read. I congratulated him for his eagerness to grow and asked him to email me and I would reply with my thoughts. He was an engineering major starting his first professional job after graduation.

I replied to his email with three categories of books I thought would be helpful.

  • Leadership and personal growth. I recommended “The 21 Laws of Leadership,” “Today Matters” and “The Difference Maker” by John Maxwell. And for an engineer “25 Ways to Win with People” and “Everyone Communicates, Few Connect.” If men and women with detailed, analytical minds, trained in technical studies, who often are more naturally disciplined and organized, grow in people skills, they can soar in whatever direction their career goes.
  • Personal spiritual growth. I recommended: “Experiencing God,” “Grown-up Faith,” a book on prayer “Circle Maker,” and any other books by Mark Batterson, Craig Groeschel or Andy Stanley that focus on areas you want to grow in.
  • Books written for men to help them heal and grow as a Christian man: “Wild at Heart,” “Barbarian Way,” “Way of the Warrior” or “Play the Man.”

I said, “If you grow in those three areas: as a man of God, spiritual growth (prayer and the Bible) and in leadership … wow, look out!”

Two weeks ago, I received this email:

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“Pastor Jon, I wanted to reach out and give you an update from our short exchange back in November. Man … what a journey. In the past nine months I have read through 19 books, many of which you suggested in your email. The work the Holy Spirit has done in my life has been explosive. I now understand the concept of life-long growth and the importance of living with intention. On this journey I have turned away from alcohol, pornography, forgiven my parents, and stretched financially towards God. God is so faithful … and not afraid to prove it. The trajectory of my life has been radically changed.

"When I started school at NDSU in the fall of 2015 I began attending Prairie Heights. I fell into many of the common traps college students face, but was always drawn back by the messages at Prairie Heights (and I could walk there lol). I knew the Spirit was moving in Prairie Heights. I just had to be there. From a distance you have spiritually mentored me since then. I want to say thank you. Christ has changed my life through your obedience. You have been such a wonderful example for me. Thank you!

"I am now learning and living with an engaged faith … a higher focus. I have finally responded to Christ’s invitation to get off the sideline. P.S. I enjoy reading your columns each week. I’m glad to see you continued writing them through the big move!”

In the middle of a pandemic, a young man with an eager and humble heart for God, read books to spur radical growth spiritually, physically, relationally, and emotionally. Praise God! Growth is always optional and always available. The question isn’t where you have been or where you are at but are you growing forward!