For most people, the Christmas holiday is a wonderful time of the year. Families come together to celebrate Christ’s birth and exchange gifts. Churches welcome one and all to worship Christ, the real Reason for the season. The words “Merry Christmas!” and “Happy Holidays!” seem to be on everyone’s lips.
Not everyone is having a good time, though. It’s a myth that suicides increase at Christmastime. But it’s a very real fact that some people are sad and lonely during this season. As Christian leaders, how do we help the hurting during the holidays?
That’s the question I’m talking about with Dr. Don Lichi in Episode 162 of the Influence Podcast. Dr. Lichi is a licensed psychologist and interim president of Emerge Counseling Services in Akron, Ohio.
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.
I write the “Read Like a Leader” column in Influence magazine. I recommended the following three books in the August/September 2017 issue:
Debating Religious Liberty and Discrimination John Corvino, Ryan T. Anderson, and Sherif Girgis (Oxford University Press)
All Americans support religious freedom and oppose discrimination — except for when they don’t. “But the devil is in the details,” write John Corvino, Ryan T. Anderson, and Sherif Girgis, “and these topics are rich with controversial details.” Debating Religious Liberty and Discrimination presents a point-counterpoint debate between Corvino, who argues that contemporary religious-freedom claims constitute “a license to discriminate,” and Anderson and Girgis, who argue that laws prohibiting LGBT discrimination needlessly violate religious freedom. Many Americans despair of contemporary political discourse, but this book shows that debate on a hot-button social issue can be conducted with both substance and civility.
As Kingfishers Catch Fire Eugene H. Peterson (WaterBrook)
Near the beginning of his pastorate, Eugene H. Peterson found himself tossed about by “the winds of the times.” The 1960s were a tumultuous decade, and many voices clamored for his attention. On top of that, he felt “increasingly at odds” with his denominational advisors, whose ideas of leadership came “almost entirely from business and consumer models.” So he turned to God’s Word to see what it said about doing God’s will God’s way. As Kingfishers Catch Fire is a collection of 49 sermons which consider that theme. It is a master class in what Scripture says about the pastoral care of souls. (Check out my longer review here.)
Multipliers, Revised and Updated Liz Wiseman (Harper Business)
Leading a church is hard because of what David Allen calls “new demands, insufficient resources.” Or, as Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37). Too many pastors respond to new demands on their own. They fail to see God’s resources in the spiritual gifts distributed throughout their congregations. In consequence, pastors burn out and followers feel underutilized. Wiseman wrote Multipliers to figure out how leaders can grow the intelligence and capability of their organizations. It contains insights about leading others that are relevant in ministry. (Check out my longer review here.)
In the 100th episode of the Influence Podcast, Chris Railey, John Davidson, and I discuss the challenges named in the title, as well as books Christian leaders should read and why Assemblies of God pastors should come to the Influence Conference on August 7-8 in Anaheim, California.
Kristi Northup begins a three-part series about serving on pastoral staff with your spouse. This quote resonated with my experience: “Church is a more chaotic structure than business or institutions. There is a constant redefining of roles that helps it grow. Rather than letting this become a source of frustration, I have realized it is an inevitable part of ministry, regardless of staff size.”
I review Eugene H. Peterson’s new book, As Kingfishers Catch Fire (WaterBrook, 2017). As with Peterson’s other writings, this book brims with pastoral wisdom on every page, so I highly recommend reading it. As I put it in my concluding paragraphs:
This is not a book I would recommend to some pastors. For example, if you’re looking for a book that gives you a fool-proof three-step process to ______ (whatever it is that you’re trying to do), skip this one. Or if you’re looking on Saturday night for a three-point sermon you can preach the next morning, don’t read this. Peterson’s sermons are ongoing conversations, not plug-and-play outlines.
However, if you’re tossed about by the winds of the times or you’re tired of slapping Bible verses on business principles or if your ministry lacks congruence between the means of discipleship and the ends of Christlikeness, please read this book. It will feed your soul, and through you, the souls of your congregation.
Finally, my colleague Christina Quick notes Barna Group research about loneliness in America, which disproportionately affects the poor. ” On average, U.S. adults surveyed reported having five close friends. Economically disadvantaged individuals averaged half that number, with 20 percent claiming no close friends and 47 percent saying they had no one to call on in an emergency.” There’s a ministry opportunity here for churches with eyes to see…