Pastors wear many hats in their congregations. On any given day, someone may ask them to explain a particular Bible verse or help mend a marriage or supervise an audit of the church’s finances. No wonder the average U.S. pastor buys four books a month, according to a 2013 Barna report! Pastors have a need to know.
Because reading is so important to ministry, pastors must think carefully about what and how they read. Over the years, I have developed 10 convictions about my own reading habits that may be helpful to you.
- Reading is a spiritual discipline. A spiritual discipline is any habitual activity that helps you become Christlike. Obviously, Bible reading is a spiritual discipline, but so is all reading. You are — or you become — what you read.
- What you read shapes how you lead. Reading also shapes your ministry. Practical leadership books do this directly, but other books do it indirectly. Great insights into leadership often come from unexpected sources.
- People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. The goal of pastoral reading is to become, and to lead, more like Christ. Being well-informed is important, but the Bible prioritizes love over mere intelligence. As Paul wrote, “Knowledge puffs up while love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1).
- Well-read is better than widely-read. Whenever I go to a bookstore, I think, So many books, so little time! Given limitations on your time and budget, prioritize reading classics over fads.
- Read both widely and deeply. This conviction stands in tension with the previous one, but it’s still true. Because you wear so many hats, you need to know a little about a lot. So read widely. But because you are leading your church to Christ, focus on core topics: Bible, theology, ethics, spiritual disciplines and church history. On those topics, read deeply.
- Read your friends, neighbors and strangers. For me, “friends” equals fellow Pentecostals. “Neighbors” means authors from non-Pentecostal Christian traditions, such as Calvinists or Methodists. “Strangers” refers to authors from non-Christian religious or non-religious backgrounds. Reading these groups helps you better understand both the breadth and the borderlines of Christianity.
- Old books often say it best. “Every age has its own outlook,” wrote C.S. Lewis. Including our own. That outlook isn’t true just because it’s contemporary or because it’s ours. The only way to test its truthfulness, Lewis went on, is to “keep the clean sea breeze of the ages blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.”
- The best book is a shared book. If it’s good, it’s good enough to share with others. If it helped you, it will help them.
- It’s OK to read fiction. Fiction has been defined as “the lie that tells the truth.” The events it describes didn’t happen, but they nonetheless accurately depict the human condition. Perhaps that’s why psychologists have found a connection between reading fiction and empathy. The best novels help us understand others better.
- Above all, be homo unius libri — a man (or woman) of one Book. Your church needs you to be an expert on the Bible more than anything else. So, read many books, but read the Book most of all.
In the Introduction to his volume of sermons, John Wesley wrote: “[Christ] came from heaven; He hath written it down in a book. O give me that Book! At any price, give me the Book of God. I have it; here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri!”
May that be a well-read pastor’s prayer too!
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2018 edition of Influence magazine.
P.S. This article is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.