Soul Survivor, currently underway, sees 30,000 young people to descend on the small English town of Shepton Mallet each year. Andy Croft, its deputy director, has been almost a permanent presence on the Soul Survivor main stage these last few years and has had the privilege of seeing literally thousands of young people come to faith there. He made time in his intense preparation for the events to talk to me about his passion for books and about the three that changed his life. Here's what he said:
Why do you make time to read as a Christian leader?
Reading has always had a massive role in me growing as a Christian. It's one of the main ways that I learn, and one the main ways that I discover things that God has taught other people.
Which are the books that you find yourself recommending new Christians?
One of my favourite things to do is to read biographies of people who have had adventures with God. I find those incredibly inspiring and challenging. I've found that it's been one of the key ways that God actually has spoken into my life over the years.
Which is the first of the Christian books you would say changed your life?
When I was about 20 I came across a book called The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen and in reading it God really spoke to me profoundly about forgiveness. Nouwen is kind of meditating on the parable of the prodigal son and he uses a painting by Rembrandt to do that. If you're not into art don't be put off because he's really digging in to the scripture. He draws out the forgiveness of the father, what it is to receive forgiveness in the younger brother and then the story of the older brother (I always connect with the older brother). He talks about what it is to come to know joy and to be welcomed home. I found through reading that I was able to forgive other people in my life, receive God's forgiveness and receive his joy in a whole new way.
Can you think of another book that has had as deep an impact on you?
Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster is one of the best books I have ever read. You feel like every word he's written is full of wisdom, everything is there very intentionally and he manages to capture how you grow as a Christian. He emphasises both the grace of God but also the fact we have a role to play in that and then he walks you through some really simple daily practices that open us up to hearing God speak, to becoming obedient and to becoming like Christ. I've learnt how to submit a bit better. I've learnt how to study God's word better. I've learnt how to meditate and pray better. It's one of the most practical, godly books of wisdom I've ever come across.
You have said how much you like biographies, tell us about one that has particularly inspired you.
J Hudson Taylor: A man in Christ by Roger Steer is a book that I read year after year after year. I've highlighted bits all over it and I come back to them again and again and the reason is he's just a really normal guy. Hudson Taylor was around in the 1800s and went as a missionary to China. Today millions of people in China would trace their kind of knowing Christ back to the influence of the China Inland Mission that Hudson Taylor started. What I love is that I see his failures and I also see his successes. Each one of them encourages you to step out to take a risk to believe and expect God in prayer and to understand that He can use your life, your really simple life, to make a difference for Him. I think it's impossible to read it and not be inspired.
You can order Andy Croft's top three books here or pop into your nearest Christian bookshop.
Dr Krish Kandiah is a contributing editor to Christian Today, the founding director of Home for Good and the executive producer of Books for Life. You can catch up with last month's interview with Canon J. John here.