Feature

The Well-(re)Read Minister

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Have you been with a group of pastors and had one of them ask, “What good books are you reading?” It’s never singular—always plural.

I don’t know about you, but I always feel the pressure to be able to talk in “trend-speak.” That’s the ability to discuss the finer points of some Christian ministry bestseller by so-and-so or to be conversant on all the latest buzz words defined in the latest church “how-to” books. Church used to be so simple. But, alas, maybe that was a mega-myth.

There are so many books being published and so much buzz marketing going on that it makes a pastor’s head spin trying to keep up with everything. Christian publishers are running on all cylinders, and the number of books giving us advice is mind numbing. Not only are we expected to read the Christian books, but lately we’re expected to read the non-Christian books, too, if we really want to go from good to great. I guess you could say I’ve reached my tipping point.

I often ask myself, Do I have to keep up with everything? How many of the books buzzing around pastors’ circles will really help me to be more effective and better prepared for ministry? How many of those books will really inspire transformation in my soul?

I often come back to something written by one of my favorite authors, Gary Thomas. He shared a simple axiom that went something like this: It’s better to read a good book several times than to read several mediocre books. I think he’s right. If we’re not careful, we can get caught up in reading book after book, many of them mediocre, and at the end of a year, we’re really not much improved, either as a person or as a leader.

I read to expose myself to ideas that will affect me in a positive way. I want to experience transformation in my roles as a pastor, church leader, husband, father, friend and, most of all, as a follower of Jesus Christ. Transformation for me means that I am becoming more effective, producing greater fruits, experiencing growing fulfillment and living with more grace. That doesn’t happen through speed reading the bestseller list; it happens when I find the right book, slow down, take my time, read it again, meditate on ideas and prayerfully process what I’m reading. That’s when I sense something happening in my soul. It’s then when I feel the dynamic presence of the Spirit teaching, convicting, enlightening and encouraging me.

I have taken Thomas’ advice to heart and have a short pile of books on my nightstand that I come back to again and again. They’re my personal classics—the books that have brought about transformation in my life and in my ministry.

We have a mistaken idea of what it means to be well-read. We want others to say of us, “He’s extremely well-read,” because it means that we’re intellectually curious, informed and have mastered the discipline of reading. But if we’re not careful, we fall into a trap of believing that unless we’re picking up a new book every few weeks, we’re not making progress.

Being well-read shouldn’t mean that we’ve read everything but that we’ve read well. In other words, we’re finding the books that bring about God’s purpose in our lives and allowing God to write their lessons on our hearts. That usually doesn’t happen in one reading.

I’ve been a pastor for almost 15 years. I’m by no means an expert; I have so much to learn, so much transformation yet to experience. But I have observed this about pastoral ministry: most of the difficult situations we face every day—situations that make the difference between a good day and a bad day—call into question our hearts, our love, our grace and our wisdom. Most of the crises that involve us in peoples’ lives require the character qualities that are explored and explained in Scripture. Most of the really successful pastors I’ve known and worked with were people of great character and virtue.

There’s undoubtedly a place for reading books that can give us fresh ideas and perspectives about ministry. We need to understand the culture in which we proclaim the message of Christ. The Church must stay relevant and engaging. But let’s remember that in the end, the gospel is a message of the heart. Look for books that capture your heart, and read them again and again and again.

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