In Defense of Self-Help Books

This is a guest post by Alicia Hope Wagner. She is a novelist, devotional writer, and poet. She blogs at Faith Imagined and is active on Twitter.

I once heard a person say in a disdainful tone, “I don’t read ‘self-help’ books.” With this seemingly innocuous verdict, he slammed the door on a multitude of voices eager to push him to God’s best for his life.

A Young Woman Reading Alone - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #12887821

Photo courtesy of ©

He severely limited his exposure to wise counselors and leaders available to him. And he drew a curtain across a world of extraordinary and supernatural influence.

I wanted to argue the point, but the task was too daunting for a moment in passing. The sad truth, though, is that many people share this man’s opinion: They don’t need to read books written by people whose sole focus is to edify, encourage and motivate them. In effect, what these people are suggesting is that they don’t need mentors.

Mentors are the editors of our lives. Without many of them, we will never have a polished vision that is able to change the world. Our visions will grow beyond our immediate circumstances. If we whole-heartily run our visions toward the end-zone, we will exhaust our own experience, knowledge and abilities. Therefore, we must surround ourselves with mentors to help us successfully, efficiently, and confidently bring our visions to fruition.

I can honestly say that I have a very influential circle of friends. I have their knowledge, life experiences and passions bundled up nicely in books stacked throughout my home. I’ve had insightful pillow-talk with Max Lucado. I’ve chatted with Donald Miller at my local café. I’ve had life-changing discourse with T.D. Jakes on my back porch. I’ve laughed with Shelia Walsh while relaxing at the beach. And I’ve stayed up late while Ben Carson told me his life story. I have an amazing group of mentors, and I get excited whenever I bring a new one home.

Although my ultimate mentor is Christ and my sole resource is the Bible, I know that God also provides me with “many advisers” for my success (see Proverbs 15:22). Leaders don’t write books for fame, money or fun; they write books because they have a passion to influence lives.

If you are about to abandon your vision or on the verge of settling for a lesser one, I encourage you to go buy a book. Find an author who is living out his dreams, and you will obtain valuable knowledge that can be applied to your own situation.

Books are your mentors. The more you read, the more prepared you will be to cultivate and achieve your vision. Make time to read. Seek wise counselors. Gain new perspectives. Glean deep insights. Surround yourself with people who have achieved the impossible, and they will direct you to your own victory.

You become who you hang out with, so hang out with life-changers, and your life will be changed. Read. You will never be the same.

Question: Who are some of your favorite mentors?
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  • Janel Sohl

    This is an encouragement to me, Alisa! Remembering that we can learn from people, regardless of their perceived knowledge level, helps us to keep in mind that we are all flawed children of God. We can push ourselves to move beyond what we "think" God says about something to reading new ideas, and checking those with God's truth statements in His love letter. :) Thank you Alisa for your continual insight!

  • Lynda Young

    Great article, Alisa. It makes a very good point. We need to be more open to mentors. Our faith is a living thing that requires growth and learning. We can't do that on our own.

  • Teresa

    Great post! Although, I must say that I love what Lisa Bevere said, "We don't need any more mentors within the church, we need 'mother's'. Mentors duplicate themselves, however, 'mother's' (and 'fathers' ) want more their children than they ever wanted for themselves. I love your examples of the different people who have spoken into your life; whether it was 'pillow talk' time, cafe time, on the beach, and even on your back porch. There is nothing wrong with going to resources. However, we must be sure we are going the Source of all resources. This article is beautifully written Alisa! Who is my mentor ('father'/'mother')? Jesus Christ, my husband, Lisa Bevere, and you!

  • David Knapp

    Lately, Eugene Peterson and Gordon McDonald. I don't know what kind of person I would be today without the influence of older men who share their wisdom through the books they write.

  • dewittrobinson

    Great post Alicia! Thanks for sharing the insightful thoughts about the variety of mentors.

  • Steve Leigh

    Awesome thoughts. I never considered the fact that that these authors you mention, most of whom I have read, as mentors, but it is the truth isn't it/ Great job. Thanks for the insights.

  • @CalebGriffin

    It's interesting that you should broach this topic. Years ago, Seth Godin, an advice (or self-help) author, told a story about his conversation with the New York Times editor about self-help books.

    True story: When the Times switched from 10 books on the Hardcover list, they created a list of 15 Hardcovers and a list of 5 Advice, How To and Miscellaneous titles. I wrote in and asked the editor why they only had 5 titles on this list and 15 on the others. She wrote back and said,

    "Because we don't want people to read those books."

  • Shay Lee

    very informative article. i am going to check out some of the authors that you mentioned.

  • eleanagarza

    This was an awesome post! Thanks for sharing!

  • Anne Marie

    Great, great post! I've read several books on finding God's will for your life and being all you can be and my favorite of that which has really helped me is Joel Osteen's Your Best Life Now. My other mentors would be St. Francis de Sales, of course the "Comforter, Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, Treasury of good things" Speaking of books being mentors, I would include also those within books, mine being Frodo Baggins, Sam Gamgee and Aragorn son of Arathorn.

  • Kyle Stowers

    Awesome post Alisa. I never thought of self help books in this way.

  • Cyberquill

    I've read several great self-help books. Without a control clone of myself, it is difficult to ascertain whether I'd have accomplished even less so far had I not read them. But it's certainly possible.

  • Michelle

    I love a good, inspirational read. It can propel me into a whole new place!

  • Dean Spencer


    This is a great post. I admittedly am one of those who shun self-help books. I seek study books that help me to stretch my thinking in Scripture. Perhaps unknowingly I have read a self-help book or two, but they would most likely be Bible related. But even then, I try to know who the author is because I don't trust all who claim to faithful to God's Word.

    I do think mentors are so important, but I personally think in person is the best method. I certainly am not wanting to discourage others who do benefit from mentors in self-help books. God can certainly use different ways to reach a wide variety of peoples. Because one way doesn't work for one doesn't mean it won't work for another. Thank you for sharing this post.

  • bluecottonmemory

    Max Lucado is mentoring one of my sons right now. I think I need to spend time with Shelia Walsh – I need to laugh! Combining the need to listent to wise counsel with books that mentor is a heady combination! I love it!

  • Miriam Kinai

    Joyce Meyer is one of my favorite mentors. My mind was in a bind. I bought Battlefield of the Mind. I read it and the Word of God set me mentally free through her writing.
    Bishop TD Jakes is another of my favorite mentors. My job was very stressful. I bought 10 Commandments of Working in a Hostile Environment. I read it and learned to keep the storm outside my ship.
    Judy Jacobs is another of my favorite mentors. My ministry was besieged. I bought Take it by Force. I read it and learned to fight spiritually and advance forcefully.

  • Jaimee

    I also heard someone say recently that they don't read self-help books. I think they were meaning mainly in the secular realm. Their reasoning was, "Why would I want to search myself or dig deep within myself to set forth change? I can't fix myself. But if I let the Lord search me, then I can be transformed." It sounds good, but I also agree with your perspective. It's all in context I guess. Good post.

  • Amanda Patterson

    Guilty!! I feel like this was about me! Was it? Just kidding. I need to look at books more for purpose rather than for my pure satisfaction. I am guilty of reading novels or fiction for pleasure and turning my nose up at non-fiction or self help books. And I love to read! Thank you for opening my eyes to the mindset of these authors being mentors to me in my spiritual walk. Thanks Alisa! Great Post!

    • @alisahope

      It's about all of us! I used to say the same thing!

  • Jennifer Keller

    Another great article! Thank you Alisa. What a great perspective on those mentors we wish to meet. Yes, these mentors have changed my life for the greater good. Beth Moore always seemed to do the trick for me. As I read her books, I was always encouraged by her wisdom, thinking to myself, " oh, is that what that verse meant?". It's great I read this article when I did because I just moved from some of my most beloved mentors. Now I can appreciate the ones that are at my bedside.

  • DeeDee

    Love this Alisa! I definitely have grown through the insight and encouragement of others!

  • Dave Cotham

    Alisa, __As always, I am encouraged as I read your post. God has definitely gifted you in the literary arts. I am confident that you will continue to inspire and motivate others through the "self-help" you give, (and get), every time you write a post, article, or book. I understand that many of the things we share with others are taken right off the pages of our lives. Ephesians 3:20

  • James Cohen

    This is a very good post Alicia. Two of my mentors are Benjamin Franklin and Joseph Campbell. Both avid readers for self-development. These mentors help us unearth the hidden potential within us. Campbell said "It takes courage to do what you want….I did. I went into the woods and read for five years." Thoreau of course was another avid reader of self-help books. Your last line is just pure bliss: "You become who you hang out with, so hang out with life-changers, and your life will be changed." I could not agree more and these teachers of truth illuminate our path. Thank you, James

  • Clint Cora, Speaker

    Self help books are also one of the best ways to really get into the minds of experts. And now with the introduction of audio books as well, aborption of important concepts can be enhanced even further.

  • Warren Baldwin

    I've read a lot of your posts, and this is one of your best. I read an article today about the affects of technology on reading. Reading is taking a beating, and the author of the article was making a defense for turning off the technology and reading a good book. Your article is a great follow up read to that first article. I like the statement that books are the editors of our lives and also our mentors. Thanks for the article, and thanks Michael for hosting it.

  • Julie-Ann

    You are absolutely right! Self-help books can open the door on personal and business improvements. Even if you don’t subscribe to every recommendation, these tomes provide you exceptional insight you just might be able to use. In business, self-help articles, such as… can go a long way toward helping companies and create a more successful environment. I applaud your defense of self-help reading!

  • Molly

    Wonderful! As many people have already mentioned, I love the analogy of books as mentors. That is right on the mark! My most recent mentor is "Principle Centered Living" by Rev. Dr. Sheldon E. Williams it focuses on staying true to our values in everyday life – not only the imporance of it, but also how to do it! It covers topics such as principles, faith, family, health, leadership, friends, business, finances and time and provides biblical verses and foundations for the information. It's an enligthening read and a useful tool. Here's the link – I highly recommend it.

  • Robert Harris

    Thanks for defending self help books and clarifying that self help does not mean you do it without God. I just finished my book and am looking for the right publisher and or agent, but have had a hard time with the words self help book when describing it. I was a homeless teenage who called on the Lord, heard from Him and walked in His ways, to be delivered and set on solid ground. My brothers were not so fortunate, though, and I am believing the paths I took out are still relavent today for many who have ever asked the Lord why and how do I rise up out of this?

  • Sherrie Yunker

    Reading through the comments I have nothing to add but my thanks. I am encouraged and enjoy your writing, Alisa. I have respect for Mr. Hyatt and his obvious wisdom asking Alisa to guest on his blog.
    Since we all are alotted one lifetime it seems a shame to forego the wisdom from those who have walked the path before us. I live in Alaska, everyone seems to have their personal preference on who and how to fish, travel, etc.. Why wouldn't we seek seasoned guides on our walk with the Shepherd.
    Thank you both.

  • Michael

    Great article, I was told many moons ago, if you want to be successful and positive, follow(read, learn from) successful, positive people……It changed my life.

    I recently read a book that really impressed me. "Success is in the cards"

    Thanks again for sharing,

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