Recommended Reading


Here’s a list of carefully selected books on spirituality, contemporary Catholicism, and practical ministry resources—three themes at the heart of my understanding of and approach to Adult Faith Formation.

I’m often overwhelmed by the “For Further Study” section at the end of some books. I know I’ll never read all the recommended works and I don’t know where to start. They also make me feel a tad dumb. This list is not like that.

In compiling my list I thought about books that I’ve enjoyed so much I wanted to tell friends about them, books that seemed to approach and capture their topic in engaging, accessible, and truly helpful ways.  Though none of them is fluff, neither are they scholarly tomes. The section on ministry resources may, of course, be of particular interest to professional ministers, but volunteer leaders may also find them interesting and provocative. 

Importantly, the list does not include the official Catholic documents and publications that I presume leaders already own and read, such as the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the General Directory for Catechesis (and their American counterparts), the U.S. bishops’ statement on adult formation, Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us, and so on.

Finally, I’ve arranged each category from rather general and foundational books to deeper, more challenging works. But feel free to just pick one that grabs your attention and go for it. Enjoy!


Spiritual Quest: A Guide to the Changing Landscape, by Thomas Hart (1999, Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ).  This is a fine introduction to the contemporary world of Christian spirituality. Well grounded, clearly presented, thorough without being overwhelming. I’ve recommended this for reading groups and have received nothing but positive feedback and gratitude.

The Holy Longing: The Search for Christian Spirituality, by Ronald Rolheiser (1999, Doubleday, New York).  If a book can become a classic in just a few years, this is it. The only reason this wasn’t first on my list is that it’s longer and a bit more challenging than Hart’s book. But here’s my strongest endorsement: I dearly wish I had written it! I’m not the only one to claim this is the best book published on Christian spirituality in recent years.

The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith, by Marcus J. Borg (2003, HarperSanFrancisco).  I read just about everything Borg writes. He’s always lucid, engaging, and challenging without being heavy-handed. Those traits are again on display with this wonderful book on a new vision of the Christian life. As one reviewer put it, “With great clarity and pastoral genius, Marcus Borg offers questioning Christians a way to keep faith without shutting down the search for truth.”

A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, by Parker J. Palmer (2004, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco). Palmer is one of the most thoughtful, eloquent, and challenging spiritual and educational leaders of our time. The particular gift of this book is its focus on the intersection between personal spirituality and community and its presentation of a ministerial method—“circles of trust.” This book sparked a great deal of my current thinking about the transformation of Adult Faith Formation.

Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer, by Richard Rohr (revised edition 2003, Crossroad Publishing, New York).  Over the years, I have listened to and read loads of Rohr’s work, and always profitably and gratefully. He is one of the great prophetic voices in the church today. Though remarkably short and “simple,” this book may be Rohr’s greatest work yet. Perhaps I am just old and wise enough to be ready for what he has to say. Great stuff!

Jesus the Teacher Within, by Laurence Freeman (2000, Continuum International Publishing, New York). Rooted in solid Christology, the book invites the reader into a profoundly contemplative relationship with Christ  .  .  .  and shows us how to get there. In many ways the most challenging of all the books on this list, it may also be the most gratifying. Simply brilliant.

Catholicism Today

American Catholics Today: New Realities of Their Faith and Their Church, by William V. D’Antonio, et al (2007, Rowman and Littlefied, Lanham MD). I had a hard time deciding whether to make this the first or last book in this section! Based on reliable research over the last three decades, it’s loaded with charts and statistics—not your usual “light reading”! But it’s filled with vitally important information and insight. As columnist and commentator E. J. Dionne Jr. puts it, “If you want to know who Catholics are, how they feel, and what they think, this is the book to read.”

What Makes Us Catholic, by Thomas H. Groome (2002, HarperSanFrancisco). I recommend this as a nice counterpoint to the social analysis of American Catholics Today. Groome offers a popular, pastorally sensitive, and engaging presentation of eight defining elements of Catholic life and practice. A slightly more challenging but very valuable work with a similar theme is Understanding Catholicism, by Monica Hellwig (second edition 2002, Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ).

Catholicism in Motion: The Church in American Society, by James D. Davidson (2005, Liguori/Triumph, Liguori, MO). Sociologist Davidson is one of the co-authors of American Catholics Today and in this book he draws from much the same statistical data, so there’s some overlap between the two books. However, he’s also a journalist whose column appears in a number of diocesan newspapers. This book is a collection of over 90 of those columns, so each piece can be read independently and offers more bite-size information about Catholic life and practice today.

Sense of the Faithful: How American Catholics Live Their Faith, by Jerome P. Baggett (2009, Oxford University Press). A challenging but profitable read that provides an in-the-pew, up-close-and-personal portrait of American Catholicism. Baggett grounds his analysis in 300 in-depth interviews with active Catholics from six very different but representative parishes in the Oakland-San Francisco area. He puts a real face on a lot of the research available today, and his analysis benefits from a deep and nuanced understanding of Catholic theology and history.

A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America, by Peter Steinfels (2003, Simon & Schuster, New  York). The first line in the introduction to this book pretty well sets the stage for Steinfels’ work: “Today the Roman Catholic Church in the United States is on the verge of either an irreversible decline or a thoroughgoing transformation.” Well, that’s quite a spectrum of possibilities! As a former senior religion correspondent of the New York Times and 2003 recipient of Notre Dame’s prestigious Laetare Medal, Steinfels brings great background and credibility to his work. No one will agree with everything Steinfels says, but they’ll sure want to think and talk about it.

Adult Faith Formation Resources

A Concise Guide to Adult Faith Formation, by Neil A. Parent (2009, Ave Maria Press). For four decades Neil Parent has been deeply engaged in Adult Faith Formation as a practitioner, theorist, and national catechetical leader in a variety of highly influential roles. He knows the terrain of Catholic AFF as well as anyone in the country--its pathways and pitfalls, tested roadmaps and challenging excursions, its history and (potential) future. While avoiding Pollyaninish fantasies (he’s been around too long for that!), Neil continues to offer a compelling vision of what we might offer our adults and practical guidance on how to get there. Good stuff.

Toward an Adult Church: A Vision of Faith Formation, by Jane E. Regan (2002, LoyolaPress). Respected for both her academic background and pastoral insight, Regan is one of the few people to aggressively advocate for what others pay lip service to—a genuine commitment to putting adult formation at the center of all religious education programming. In this book she makes her case both in theory and with detailed pastoral and programmatic applications.

Appreciative Inquiry Resources:

The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry, by Sue Annis Hammond (1998, 2nd edition, Thin Book Publishing, Bend OR). A very simple, basic introduction to AI.

Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change, by David Cooperrider and Diana Whitney (2005, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco). Perhaps the best single volume introduction to AI. Highly recommended.

Appreciative Inquiry in the Catholic Church, by Susan Star Paddock (2003, Thin Book Publishing, Bend OR). A brief overview of AI followed by many examples of AI in practice by Catholic leaders throughout the U.S.

Living Your Strengths: Catholic Edition by Albert Winesman, et al (2008, Gallup Press, New York). This version of the popular StrengthsFinder inventory focuses on the spiritual and religious implications of the strengths-based approach. Includes a code for accessing the online inventory. An excellent resource for helping people get in touch with their particular and unique giftedness, a key element in my approach to AFF. 

Growing an Engaged Church: How to Stop “Doing Church” and Start Being the Church Again, by Albert L. Winesman (2006, Gallup Press, New York). Describes scientific research on what leads individuals to deeply connect and commit to a faith community, which the author terms “engagement.”  In addition to the book itself, Gallup provides services and resources for assessing the level of engagement in a parish/congregation as well as strategies for increasing it among members.

Holy Conversations: Strategic Planning as a Spiritual Practice for Congregations, by Gil Rendle and Alice Mann (2003, The Alban Institute, Washington, DC). The Alban Institute is a primarily mainline Protestant organization dedicated to leadership development and congregational change. I encourage you to check out their Web site, Many of their resources can be quite easily “catholicized” with an occasional change of terminology or pastoral examples. This manual offers both a theological framework and a great many practical strategies that are easily applicable to my vision of AFF.