“Leaders are readers!” – Harry Truman. Leaders read books that engage their mind and challenge them to be better. Likewise, good pastors read books. Books about theology, history, practice, church ministry, and the like flood the desk of a good pastor. Good pastors will try to read a variety of books from a variety of perspectives and they will strive to understand viewpoints that are well beyond their personal opinions.
I can remember seeing the library of a particular pastor I had come to admire. He had three small rooms lined wall to wall with books, categorized according to topic. In addition to the walls lined with books, he had free-standing shelving that filled the empty space with more books. He was asked how many of these books he had actually read. He casually said, “Every book, cover to cover. With the exception of the reference works and commentaries.” The reference works and commentaries lined one wall of one of the three rooms. Then, pointing to a stack of about 10 books, he added, “Oh! And that stack on my desk. I’m reading those now.” Such a wealth of knowledge had made him a powerful pastor whose knowledge was used by the Holy Spirit to touch the hearts of all he came in contact with.
Contrast the aforementioned pastor with a particular pastor I knew in seminary. Having found him in the library, I asked if he had completed the assigned reading for the class. “Sure. I mean I got the gist of it.” Slightly appalled I asked for clarification. His response: “Oh, I didn’t actually finish the books. I mostly just skimmed them until I got the idea.” I didn’t understand! I was unaware that we could just skim a book and say we got the material down. Over the next few weeks of coursework, my friend began to fall behind in the class discussion. His lack of knowledge began to show and his ignorance of the subject matter drove him further and further into unengaged silence in the class. I cannot help but wonder the effect that failing to finish the books that are designed to equip him for the ministry has had on his pastoral ministry.
Don’t get me wrong. Many pastors are descent pastors in spite of not being strong readers. They love people and engage well. However, one cannot help but wonder how much more powerful they would be if they were disciplined readers. Reading is a matter of training your mind. I am assuming that most pastors are reading their Bibles in significant measure. If that assumption is wrong, then those pastors need to leave the ministry. In addition to the Scripture, pastors would benefit from reading other books as well.
I was not always a reader. I preferred a ball and a hoop on a blacktop over a book in a chair. Yet, God drove deep into my soul the understanding of my own need for discipleship and the wealth of spiritual discipleship available to me in books. As I began to pastor I started to realize that godly men had laid their souls out on page for me! So I began to read the works of Ravenhill, Edwards, Spurgeon, Tozer, Piper, Bonhoeffer, and Murray. I experienced in those authors words that have accelerated my spiritual growth. So, read dear brother! Read! If you are not a reader, here are three tips for getting started.
- Finish the book. There is nothing more tragic than reading 3/4th of an author’s labor only to quit near the end. Finish the work! If you have ever read the likes of AW Tozer or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, you know that the last chapters are paramount to understanding their efforts. Tozer particularly tends to put his greatest and most passionate applications at the end of his works. Read to the end, or you may deprive yourself of the best part.
- Vary your reading. I try to read one book that is an easy read (usually about ministry practice), one book that is a heavy read (usually theology), and one book for fun (often a book I’ve already read). In this way, I’ll feed myself a well-rounded diet of thought. Further, vary your perspectives. Read the heretics. Even if you spend the whole book fighting with them, read them. As a pastor, you will find it invaluable to be able to explain to your congregation members why you disagree with prominent authors. Do not be afraid of the heretic, they are here to sharpen you.
- Start small. I sometimes find myself reading 4-6 books at a time. If you’re not used to reading and engaging texts, don’t do that. Start small. Read one book at a time. Make your first work something easy but engaging. I’d suggest something from the Christian living section of your bookstore. As you get your feet under you as a reader. Read something heavier. Perhaps a puritan? Maybe something by Tozer? Go ahead! Dive in! But start small.
If you are not used to reading consistently and finishing the whole book here is a short list of books to get you started. I’ve broken them into four phases to kind of stair step you into reading larger more weighty works. Hopefully these help.
Phase One: Tuning your mind to enjoy reading spiritual material.
- Crazy Love by Francis Chan
- More than a Carpenter by McDowell
- Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron
- The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer
Phase two: Learning to engage deeper (a little).
- Don’t Waste Your Life by Piper
- Basic Christianity by John Stott.
- Knowing God by J.I. Packer
- Dug Down Deep by Joshua Harris
Phase Three: Moving Towards personal practice
- Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster
- The Bravehearted Gospel by Eric Ludy
- Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
- Absolute Surrender by Andrew Murray
Phase Four: Enjoying the journey of reading for worship.
- Heaven by Randy Alcorn
- The Holiness of God by RC Sproul
- Living in Light of Eternity by KP Yohannan
- The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer