Many of our small groups will continue to meet on Zoom or a similar online platform as we begin 2021 and especially as we enter cold weather. Although video studies are an option for Zoom groups, it can be tricky and is not for everyone.
The NC Conference Media Center offers these suggestions of books that were published in 2020 and would make excellent choices for discussion in the new year. Review the lists below to find the perfect book (or books) for your group and then borrow a copy from the Media Center to make sure it is a good fit.
Request These Books
All of the books listed here can be borrowed for free by anyone involved with a United Methodist Church in the North Carolina Conference. We will mail them to your home! All you need to do is fill out the Resource Request Form.
Books on the Christian Life
Life in Christ: The Core of Intentional Spirituality by Steve Harper. Harper helps us recognize our tendency to search for life through rules and dogmas rather than in relationships with other people and with God. By living in relationship, we live as enlivened Christians, the abundant life God intends for us and the life we long for. He shows us how Christ can be the goal and pattern for our lives, motivating us to live as God’s beloved and as instruments of God’s love. Includes discussion guide.
When Christ Lives in Us / Cuando Cristo Vive en Nosotros by Justo L. González. We know we should be kind, loving, and forgiving, but sometimes it’s hard to know how to walk with Jesus in a more exacting manner. Explore how today’s Christians may walk with Jesus in eight specific forms and acts of ministry: calling, praying, feeding, healing, commissioning, teaching, witnessing, and giving. This bilingual resource is a combined student/leader book that includes discussion questions at the end of every chapter.
The Holy Living Series. The Holy Living series brings a fresh perspective on the spiritual disciplines, enabling us to apply their practices to our current lives. Each book in this series introduces a spiritual practice, suggests way of living the practice daily, and provides opportunities to grow personally and in a faith community with others who engage with the practice. Each book consists of an introduction and four chapters and includes questions for personal reflection and group discussion. The books in the series focus on Confession, Discernment, Neighboring, Prayer, Simplicity, Study, and Worship.
The Gospel for the Person Who Has Everything by Will Willimon. Bishop William Willimon brings the Gospel of Jesus Christ to life for the person who has everything – happy, fulfilled human beings, who don’t feel the same level of need expressed by the downcast, the outcast, the brokenhearted, and the miserable. We all have people in our lives who think they don’t need Jesus. This book is Willimon’s answer to the question, “What do you say to the person who says, through his or her neglect of the faith, ‘Thanks, but I don’t need it.’?” Bishop Willimon is actually available to join your Zoom group meeting if you discuss this book!
How Cancer Cured Me: Healing Brokenness and Disease by David Gira. Rev. David Gira, an elder in the NC Conference, shares fifteen ways God used his cancer experience, with all its challenges, to heal his life including ultimately providing physical healing. The topics range from becoming more courageous to finding his get-up-and-go. Rev. Gira is also available to Zoom group meetings if you contact him through his website. See our interview with him and learn more about the book.
What Would Granny Say? And Other Somewhat Embellished Memories by Tony Rowell. For decades, Rowell—a pastor, mission trip leader, songwriter, photographer and storyteller—has made it his passion to experience, gather and share stories of the Lord at work in big ways and small. Now, a lifetime of memories is offered in this collection of essays. From fishing with his granny in the Florida Panhandle to stumbling into boars and bear alike in the Carolina wilderness to ministry in Bolivia, Colombia and Latvia, Rowell weaves beauty with simplicity and good old-fashioned humor. Rev. Rowell is an elder in the South Carolina United Methodist Conference.
Books on Social Issues
I’m Black. I’m Christian. I’m Methodist. edited by Rudy Rasmus. Ten Black women and men explore life through the lens of compelling personal religious narratives. Each starts with the fact, “I’m Black,” but to resolve the conflict of being Christian and Methodist means confronting aspects of White theology, White supremacy, and White racism in order to ground an oppositional experience toward domination over four centuries in America. This book includes an essay by the NC Conference’s own Rev. Justin Coleman.
Who Stole My Bible? Reclaiming Scripture as a Handbook for Resisting Tyranny by Jennifer Butler. Jennifer Butler, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) minister and the CEO of Faith in Public Life, shows us the Bible’s liberative story arc from Genesis to Revelation through imaginative storytelling grounded in biblical scholarship. Each chapter connects a key turning point in the Bible to America today. She concludes each chapter with movement stories that connect each Bible passage to faithful strategies for resisting tyranny.
A House Divided: Engaging the Issues through the Politics of Compassion by Mark Feldmeir. Mark Feldmeir, pastor of a politically diverse United Methodist congregation, explores eight of the most divisive issues of our day—climate change, racism, immigration, healthcare, medical aid in dying, Islamic extremism, homosexuality, and social isolation and suicide—through the lens of “a politics of compassion,” the motivating, unifying ideals of the gospel that insist that we work together for the benefit of the common good. Each chapter includes a study guide for small group conversations.
Nevertheless: American Methodists and Women’s Rights by Ashley Boggan Dreff. This book tells the story of American Methodist women’s efforts to fight for women’s rights, beginning with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and ending with the #MeToo movement. As women engaged in mission, they sought to not simply fix social ills but to prevent them from happening again. Dreff was recently named General Secretary of the General Commission on Archives and History.
A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community by John Pavlovitz. This book invites readers to envision a church that is big enough for everyone, by holding up a mirror to the modern church and speaking clearly on issues at the heart of the Christian community: LGBT inclusion, gender equality, racial tensions, global concerns, and theological shifts. This new expanded edition includes a small-group study guide. Pavlovitz is formerly a United Methodist pastor in North Carolina and currently resides in Wake Forest.
Becoming Brave: Finding the Courage to Pursue Racial Justice Now by Brenda Salter McNeil. Looking through the lens of the biblical narrative of Esther, McNeil offers a distinctly Christian framework for addressing systemic injustice. It challenges Christians to be everyday activists who become brave enough to break the silence and work with others to dismantle systems of injustice and inequality. This book provides education and prophetic inspiration for every person who wants to take reconciliation seriously.
Books for Coping with 2020
Building Resilience: When There’s No Going Back to the Way Things Were by Alice Updike Scannell. How do we develop the resilience that empowers us to be ourselves in the face of change? This book offers a path toward creativity in responding to change in your life, regaining some control over your circumstances, and overcoming feelings of helplessness.
Tempered Resilience: How Leaders are Formed in the Crucible of Change by Tod Bolsinger. Exploring the qualities of adaptive leadership within churches and nonprofit organizations, Tod Bolsinger deftly examines both the external challenges we face and the internal resistance that holds us back, showing how leaders can become both stronger and more flexible. A study guide for this book is also available.
Virus as a Summons to Faith: Biblical Reflections in a Time of Loss, Grief, and Uncertainty by Walter Brueggemann. This slim book applies Brueggemann’s deep understanding of scripture to the experience of COVID-19. He calls us to renew and live into our relationship with God. Will Willimon calls it “a quite wonderful book.”
God and the Pandemic: A Christian Reflection on the Coronavirus and Its Aftermath by N. T. Wright. Discover a different way of seeing and responding to the Coronavirus pandemic, an approach drawing on Scripture, Christian history, and the way of living, thinking, and praying revealed to us by Jesus. Wright shows that a careful reading of the Bible and Christian history offers simple though profound answers to our many questions.
Beautiful and Terrible Things: A Christian Struggle with Suffering, Grief, and Hope by Christian M.M. Brady. With deep faith, knowledge of Scripture, and the wisdom that comes only from experience, Brady guides readers grieving losses and setbacks of all kinds in voicing their lament to God, reflecting on the nature of human existence, and persevering in hope.
The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker. At a time when coming together is more important than ever, Parker sets forth a human-centered approach to gathering that will help everyone create meaningful, memorable experiences, large and small, for work and for play. This book will forever alter the way you look at your next gathering and how you host and attend them.
Next Generation Small Groups
Market Square Books, a United Methodist publisher, offers complete kits for virtual groups. The kits can be purchased at nextgensmallgroups.com. Each kit is based on one of their books and includes:
- Digital copies of each book, for distribution to members of the small group.
- A detailed Leader’s Guide in PDF format, which can be used by a group facilitator to walk the group through the session.
- A Powerpoint slideshow which can be used with each weekly session to assist the leader/facilitator in moving the group through the session.
- Participant handouts in PDF format, which can be sent to each group member before each weekly meeting.
The books available for these kits are:
- Hear It, See It, Risk It: How Faith Grows: A Bible Study on Hebrews 11 (2021 Lenten Study) by Steve Cordle
- Foundations: An Introduction to Christian Practices (Revised and Updated for the 2020s) by Phil Maynard
- Disciple Like Jesus: Making Disciples Like Jesus Who Make Disciples Like Jesus by Phil Maynard and Eddie Pipkin
- Impact! Reclaiming the Call of Lay Ministry by Kay Kotan and Blake Bradford
- Launching Leaders: Taking Leadership Development to New Heights by Kay Kotan and Phil Schroeder
Browse our lists of book studies on the Genre Collections page in our online catalog. These are books that include discussion questions or have an accompanying study guide. The lists are organized by general and subtopics.
More Ideas for Online Groups
Also check out our Study Ideas for Your Online Small Group that recommends free online videos, webinars, apps, online classes, curriculum, PDF downloads, and other books that your online group can study together.