Today is National Read a Book Day, a day meant to encourage everyone to pick up a book they will enjoy and spend the day reading it. Here at Jesus' Economy, we're readers. You could even call us bookish. Our reading has become the research that supports much of what we do. For my new book, Jesus' Economy: A Biblical View of Poverty, the Currency of Love, and a Pattern for Lasting Change, I assembled the following reading list, which I now recommend to you.

If you decide to buy any of these books, don't forget to support Jesus' Economy using AmazonSmile.

Reading List on Poverty, Missions, and Economic Development

While it’s often hard to quantify how ideas influence us and where these ideas eventually resurface, I know the following set of books greatly influenced my writing of Jesus’ Economy. It is the ideas of these authors that operate in the background of my writing.

It’s difficult to know if you will have the same epiphany moments I did when reading these works, but I hope that the combination of books listed here will cause you to think differently. I hope that in reading further on this topic, you will become a little wiser, a little cleverer, and more emotionally attuned to the needs of our world. I hope the writings of other authors will help you see more clearly how to live Jesus’ economy in all aspects of life.

The Short List of Books I Regularly Recommend

Seriously, You Have to Read This

The Bible. Pick a readable translation and get on a consistent reading plan where you regularly read the Bible in its entirety. Also, try a study Bible focused on the ancient context; it will help illuminate the text.

Knowing the Issues at Stake When Serving the Impoverished

Robert D. Lupton, Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It). | In 2012, I wrote an article for Relevant Magazine on lessons from Toxic Charity, "How Should Christians Help the Poor."

Jacqueline Novogratz, The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World. | At the inception of Jesus' Economy, I dialogued with The Blue Sweater in a series of blog posts; see "What I Learned from Jaqueline Novogratz."

Jeffrey Sachs, The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time. | Near the beginning of Jesus' Economy, I also wrote a series of blog posts interacting with The End of Poverty; see "What I Learned from Jeffrey Sachs."

Understanding Local and Global Poverty Firsthand

Miriam Adeney, Kingdom Without Borders: The Untold Story of Global Christianity.

Ron Hall and Denver Moore, with Lynn Vincent. Same Kind of Different as Me.

Tracy Kidder, Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World.

Tass Saada with Dean Merrill. Once an Arafat Man: The True Story of How a PLO Sniper Found a New Life.

What It Means to Be Christian, Church Planting, and Living on Jesus’ Mission

Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch. The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century Church.

Michael W. Goheen, Introducing Christian Mission Today: Scripture, History, and Issues

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.

Reggie McNeal, Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church.

Lesslie Newbigin, A Word in Season: Perspectives on Christian World Missions.

J. D. Payne, Discovering Church Planting: An Introduction to the Whats, Whys, and Hows of Global Church Planting.

William Wilberforce, A Practical View of Christianity.

Other Books Well Worth Reading

If you finish that first reading list and want to go even deeper into this subject, here are other resources I consulted while writing Jesus’ Economy.

Perspectives on Poverty, Power, Culture, and Justice

Sunday Bobai Agang, When Evil Strikes: Faith and the Politics of Human Hostility. | Sunday Bobai Agang is a Board Member of Jesus' Economy and has written widely in this space.

Anne Bradley and Art Lindsley, eds., For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty.

Paul Collier, The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It

Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself

William Easterly, The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good. | I also wrote a series of blog posts dialoguing with this book; see "What I Learned from William Easterly."

Duane Elmer, Cross-Cultural Conflict: Building Relationships for Effective Ministry.

Martin Luther King, Jr., Why We Can’t Wait.

Martin Luther King, Jr., The Measure of a Man. | For Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I wrote an article with accompanying infographic on how Dr. King thought we should each measure our lives. See, "The Complete Life According to Martin Luther King, Jr."

Eng Hoe, Lim, The Gospel of the Kingdom: Revealing the Heart of God. | At one point, I reflected on a conversation I had with Eng Hoe, Lim about "Spiritual Issues Often Associated with Poverty."

Robert D. Lupton, Compassion, Justice, and the Christian Life: Rethinking Ministry to the Poor.

Michael Matheson Miller, dir., Poverty Cure. DVD.

Michael Matheson Miller, dir., Poverty, Inc. DVD.

Soong-Chan Rah, The Next Evangelicalism: Releasing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity.

E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible.

Perspectives on Missions

Harvie M. Conn and Manuel Ortiz, Urban Ministry: The Kingdom, the City, and the People of God.

Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church.

Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society.

C. René Padilla, Mission Between the Times: Essays on the Kingdom.

Perspectives on Life Change, Balance, Calling, and Work

Leo Babauta, The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential…in Business and in Life. | See my review of The Power of Less on, "Minimizing to Be More Effective."

Edward R. Dayton and Ted W. Engstrom, Strategy for Living: How to Make the Best Use of Your Time and Abilities. | I discuss the relevance of this book in an article on, "Goals Are Often Selfish."

Donald Miller, Searching for God Knows What.

Ryan J. Pemberton, Called: My Journey to C. S. Lewis’s House and Back Again. | Ryan Pemberton serves on the Board of Jesus' Economy. See my review of Called on, "Calling Is Complex." You can also read an excerpt of Called on the Jesus' Economy Blog, "Faith as Beautiful as Fireworks: Calling, Atheism, and Oxford."

Richard A. Swenson, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives.

Hugh Whelchel, How Then Should We Work?: Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work.

Perspectives on Entrepreneurship and Business

Scott Berkun, The Myths of Innovation. | On some of the ideas behind this book, see my article on, "The Lightbulb Alone is Useless."

Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? | On some of Godin's ideas, see my article on, "Here's the Truth."

Michael Lewis, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. | On how the breakthrough of the Oakland A's applies to business, see my article on, "Playing Business Like the Oakland A's."

Michael Lewis, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine.

Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur, Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers.

T. J. Stiles, The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt. | See my full book review of The First Tycoon at, "Could You Be the Next Cornelius Vanderbilt?"

This recommended reading list was originally published in my book, Jesus' Economypages 172–175.

Call Me Bookish, But This is Why I Read

I once had a supervisor who said, "There are two ways to gain more experience: live longer and read." We read to expand our worldview, our experiences, and our mindset. We read because it helps us grow. We read because it helps us gain experience of the mind, accelerating the rate by which we become wiser.


Have you picked up your copy of Jesus' Economy: A Biblical View of Poverty, the Currency of Love, and a Pattern for Lasting Change? With simple, everyday choices you can make the world a better place. Learn how to live Jesus' economy, the currency of love.

“To oversimplify by a couple of gigawatts, the needs of the rich get met because the rich give feedback to political and economic Searchers [people searching for a solution on a case by case basis], and they can hold the Searchers accountable for following through with specific actions. The needs of the poor don’t get met because the poor have little money or political power with which to make their needs known and they cannot hold anyone accountable to meet those needs. They are stuck with Planners [people with a set type of solution, who insist on executing only that method].”

In his book, The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Help the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good, economist William Easterly explains why it is critical that the West learn from its mistakes in helping the poor. Easterly understands the primary problem with the way the West approaches poverty in the developing world to be the “Planner” mindset, versus a “Searcher” mindset. He insists that those who “search” for solutions with the poor will have a better chance of alleviating poverty than those who merely “plan” and then force their strategy on others.

We must go about our work of helping the poor as listeners first. It is our duty to learn the needs of the poor by walking alongside them, in their journey.

However, we cannot abandon a planning mindset altogether. For that matter, I don’t think even Easterly would argue for total abandonment of a planning mindset, because the examples of success he lists show planning and overall structure.

I believe Easterly’s viewpoint is best understood in terms of the standpoint an organization takes: Are you attempting to force your solution on others or are you going in listening first? It is good to have an overall plan and strategy—for that is how values are maintained and strong measures of success are established (things Easterly also argues for)—but that strategy must involve listening first. Analysis, then, that involves directly working with those you aim to help, is critical to any successful effort to alleviate poverty. It is not our job to force solutions on others, but to find solutions with them.

The model of Jesus’ Economy starts with a “Searcher” mindset. Our operations begin by asking questions and learning how we can best help—how we can walk alongside the poor. We’re listeners first. However, planning is also part of our framework, as we believe there is an overall model and idea that can be applied widely.

(This post is part of the blog series, “What I Learned from William Easterly.”)

One of the greatest advantages of capitalism is that it makes corporations accountable to consumers. The success of a company depends on the happiness of its customers—companies that meet the needs of their customers survive and ones that don’t go bankrupt.

The ultimate “customer” of a charitable, non-profit is the people they aim to help. It’s the people being helped who should have the loudest voice, but instead the loudest voice has often been granted to the funding source—which, in terms of aid relief, has often been outside governments.

Economist William Easterly in his book The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Help the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good emphasizes how backward this is. In the process, he cites a really positive example of a non-profit being influenced by market forces:

“The nonprofit organization Population Services International (PSI) … gets rewards for doing things that work, which enables it to attract more funding. This makes it act more like a Searcher [for the right thing for those in need] than a Planner [who decides what those being helped need, for them]. … PSI sells bed nets for fifty cents to mothers through antenatal clinics in the countryside, which means it gets the nets to those who both value them and need them. … The nurse who distributes the nets gets nine cents per net to keep for herself, so the nets are always in stock. PSI also sells nets to richer urban Malawians through private-sector channels for five dollar a net. The profits from this are used to pay for the subsidized nets sold at the clinics, so the program pays for itself.

PSI’s bed net program increased the nationwide average of children under five sleeping under nets from 8 percent in 2000 to 55 percent in 2004, with a similar increase for pregnant women. A follow-up survey found nearly universal use of the net by those who paid for them. By contrast, a study of a program to hand out free nets in Zambia to people … found that 70 percent of the recipients didn’t use the nets. The ‘Malawi model’ is now spreading to other African countries.”

The non-profit sector is rapidly changing, partly due to necessity, but primarily due to a recognition of the best ways to help others. Jesus’ Economy is part of a new type of non-profit: one that aims to be sustainable and aims to make those being helped the primary voice in our work. In the first phase of any project, we listen, learn, and analyze. And the success of our projects will be measured by the results for the communities we're working with: Have they experienced life transformation for the better? We also work directly with church planters and entrepreneurs who are native to the region, which makes their voice primary in our work.

In addition, by going about our work utilizing market forces, like selling products, we have also added a further level of accountability: we're accountable to those we're helping and those whom they are creating products for. Without an awesome product, we are unable to fund our work, because people won't keep buying; by making this move, we're adding a new component to microloans. The component of market forces helps strengthen the position of the entrepreneurs we're helping and results in a fantastic product for the Western world. Both the developing world and the developed world wins in this scenario.

Also, we have full reporting and transparency on the results of our work, so that anyone can monitor our successes, and any failures, every step along the way.

Easterly is right about who should be the primary voice in the non-profit sector, but wouldn't it be great if all voices were heard? That is the type of non-profit we're creating.

(This post is part of the blog series, “What I Learned from William Easterly.”)

“Helping the poor today requires learning from past efforts.”

In his work, The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Help the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good, economist William Easterly explains why it is critical that the West learn from its mistakes in helping the poor. Near the beginning of his book, to illustrate the problem with the West’s efforts to alleviate poverty to date, Easterly lays out a basic timeline of past failures. When it comes to beginning work among the poor, it is critical that we keep this timeline in mind and learn from it.

January 2005

“At Davos [at the World Economic Forum] in January 2005, British prime minister Tony Blair called for ‘a big, big push forward’ in Africa to reach the Millennium Development Goals, financed by an increase in foreign aid. Blair commissioned a ‘Report for Africa,’ which released its findings in March 2005, likewise calling for a ‘big push.’ ”

July 2005

Gordon Brown and Tony Blair put the cause of ending poverty in Africa at the top of the agenda of the G8 Summit in Scotland in July 2005.

Bob Geldof assembled well-known bands for ‘Live 8’ concerts on July 2, 2005, to lobby the G8 leaders to ‘Make Poverty History’ in Africa. Veterans of the 1985 Live Aid concert, such as Elton John and Madonna, performed, as did a younger generation’s bands, such as Coldplay. Hundreds of thousands marched on the G8 Summit for the cause.”

But as great as these events were, in many ways, they ignored past failures. The G8, aligning themselves with the rest of the UN, essentially made the decision to put more money towards the problem of poverty without demanding any large scale reform of its current systems for alleviating poverty. To understand why it is critical that we reevaluate current methods for helping the poor, not just put more funds towards the problems, let’s revisit the past with Easterly.


“A ... [UN] summit, in 1977, set 1990 as the deadline for realizing the goal of universal access to water and sanitation. (Under the Millennium Development Goals, that target is now 2015.) Nobody was held accountable for these missed goals.”


“A UN summit in 1990 … set as a goal for the year 2000 universal primary-school enrollment. (That is now planned for 2015.)”

The UN Development Goals set for 2015 will likely not be met. But this is not a reason to despair, or to abandon the goals or the efforts. Instead, the problems thus far are an opportunity to learn from past mistakes and to do better in the future.

Major progress to alleviate poverty has been made, but it’s not enough. The current systems for alleviating poverty are also not as effective as what it is needed. In addition, even if the methods were as effective as they could be, not enough money is being designated by UN countries to meet the needs of those around the world.

There is no easy answer to the problem of extreme poverty. But there are things we can do. The Millennium Development Goals are noble and good, as are the efforts to meet them, but aid alone will never be enough.

There are underlying issues affiliated with poverty that government aid cannot address—these issues are ethical and spiritual. Aid is also not sustainable. Without jobs, people will continue to live in despair. In addition, aid often takes away the choice of people; aid efforts can force a solution upon people that they would not choose on their own. It can also create dependencies rather than economic (and life) independence. There is certainly a place for aid efforts, but they cannot be the final solution.

I am not sure what Easterly would think of the model of Jesus’ Economy, but his data, in many ways, points to its necessity. The model of Jesus’ Economy, I believe, is part of the solution that must be offered. It addresses many of the issues holding people back from a new and better life.

(This post is part of the blog series, “What I Learned from William Easterly.”)