How Do You “Read So Much?” – Part 1 (Timothy Raymond)
The other day I was eating with another pastor and we were talking about books and reading. I had mentioned several books I had finished recently and he said something like this, “Tim, you’re a husband, father of five young children, and a busy solo pastor. How do you find time to read so much?” The question literally surprised me and struck me as a bit odd, since I really don’t consider myself a true book-devourer. I recently heard Don Carson at a conference and he mentioned that he typically reads somewhere between 300 and 500 books a year (gad-zooks!!!). If you take those numbers and lop off a zero from each, that’s about how many books I typically read annually. I consider myself very much a person of average intelligence with probably a slightly below average reading speed who needs around eight hours of sleep a night.
I have gathered, however, that many pastors hardly read at all. Not including what’s absolutely necessary for sermon and lesson prep, I get the impression that many pastors might read three or four books a year, none of which are serious academic books. I believe this is unfortunate and likely a contributing factor in the overall weakness and ineffectiveness of the evangelical church in America today (especially since we have such easy access to so much good stuff).
I want to help remedy this situation. So today and in the next two posts I’ll be giving you nine recommendations for reading more and better in pastoral ministry.
1. Consider Reading a Basic Survival Skill for Pastoral Ministry – As with most habits, how you view the importance of reading will determine how much you actually read. If you put it in the same category as cleaning out the attic, you’ll probably read as often as you clean out your attic. But if you consider reading an absolute must, you’ll find time to do it, and even eliminate frivolous things to make time for it. So begin here. Believe that keeping your mind sharp is essential; remaining acquainted with what’s going on in theology and biblical studies is essential; knowing what’s going on in our world and history is essential; improving your preaching is essential; feeding your own soul is essential; developing new skills is essential – I could keep going. Looking back on my pastoral ministry, there are many things I wish I had done differently, but reading less is definitely not one of them.
2. Turn Off the TV – I wonder if in 200 years Christians will look back on how evangelicals today tolerate so much television in the same way that we look back on how evangelicals in colonial New England tolerated the institution slavery. And I’m not criticizing television merely as the avenue by which lots of godless filth enters our minds. I’m talking about its simple power to eat up our spare time like Packman and leave us vacuous and frankly dumber, with no eternal benefits whatsoever. So if you’re a pastor and not reading much, examine how much television you watch. Consider watching considerably less TV, or even cancelling TV all together. Maybe limit yourself to watching one good movie a week. I’m embarrassed to admit that I made time to watch every episode of that abysmal show Lost. I can’t think of a single book I’m embarrassed I finished.
3. Take Advantage of Every Free Minute to Read – If you’re a pastor, you’re likely busy. If you add a wife and kids into the mix, you’re busier still. What this means for reading is that most pastors don’t have the luxury of cloistering themselves up in an ivory tower for hours on end to read in solemn silence. So learn the art of reading everywhere. I take one and sometimes two or three books with me wherever I go. I’ve got them lying on the dashboard, stashed in coat pockets, tucked under my arm, and stuffed into backpacks. Currently I’m reading a missionary biography while I brush my teeth (someday I hope to write a blog on how to read entire books while brushing your teeth), a journal article on Exodus while resting in the men’s room, an autobiography of a Holocaust survivor while sitting in the car as my wife shops, a serious book on ethics and a scholarly introduction to the Old Testament when I have some time sitting at my desk, and an adventure story of a boy who goes whaling in the Arctic Ocean in the 17th century to my sons before they go off to sleep. Those are just a few illustrations of how I’ve learned to greedily snatch up bits of time here and there and take advantage of them for reading. Admittedly, it doesn’t make for finishing many books quickly. But if you keep at it, you’ll be surprised by how many books you’ll get to in a year.
Lord willing, next time I’ll continue this miniseries by giving you three additional suggestions for increasing the quantity and quality of your reading.
Timothy Raymond is an editor for Credo Magazine and has been the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Muncie, Indiana since April 2006. He received his MDiv from the Baptist Bible Seminary of Pennsylvania in 2004 and has pursued further education through the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation.