How Do You “Read So Much”? – Part 3 (Timothy Raymond)
I hate writing a series entitled “How Do You ‘Read So Much’?”, since I really don’t think I read all that much. I’m quick to recognize myself as a person of average intelligence with probably a slightly below average reading speed who needs around eight hours of sleep a night. Yet based on several conversations, I gather that I do read noticeably more than many pastors. So in an effort to help you, my brother-pastors, here are my final three recommendations for reading more and better in pastoral ministry. (For the rest of this series, see part 1 and part 2.)
Don’t Bother With Most of the Latest Best-Sellers
I might get some flak for this, but I’m of the persuasion that we should give books a bit of time for a “survival of the fittest” sort of process to take place. Many of the books which are hot today won’t be remembered in a decade, whereas people will likely be reading John Calvin until Jesus comes again. Consequently, the vast majority of the books I read are at least a few years old and often a decade old (or a century old). Occasionally I’ll read something newer if it’s particularly unique or relevant or has something directly to do with my ministry. But it’s a general truism in God’s created universe that it takes a while for the cream to rise to the top.
Read Big Academic Books One Bit at a Time
I’m a firm believer that pastors need to be reading solid academic tomes such as James Hamilton’s God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, John Frame’s A Theology of Lordship, or Piper and Grudem’s Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. The challenge for pastors, though, is finding time to read such large books in their entirety. My approach is to chip away at them a couple pages at a time. I’ll pick a selected “big book” and then set a goal of reading two or three pages of said book at a time. I’ll even put this as an item on my daily to-do list (e.g., “Read 2 pages of God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment”). Last year I read an entire systematic theology this way, and this year I’m hacking through a technical introduction to the Old Testament. I’m hoping to one day make it through Bavinck’s Dogmatics with this approach (anybody want to join me?). As you might expect, this makes for very slow, almost painful plodding. But with time and discipline you’ll finish these big books in a year or two, and be very glad you did.
Discuss Your Reading With Others
This is not just the perfunctory admonition to beware of being a bookworm and actually talk to people. Discussing your reading with others has manifold benefits. It will help you better remember what you read; it will spur healthy conversation and debate; it will fuel your desire to read more; it will encourage others to read and will (hopefully) supply them with good recommendations; it will help you tie your reading to real-life concerns you may not have anticipated; and, if you’re reading good Christian books, it will be a means of grace both for you and the person with whom you are discussing. For me, unless I know for certain that the person is not a reader, I’ll often ask a friend or church member in casual conversation, “What have you been reading lately?” And as a pastor, questions like this can help cultivate a culture of reading in your congregation and stimulate godly conversation.
Pastors need to read like humans need to eat. And what I hope I’ve illustrated through this miniseries is that, even if you are a busy husband-father-pastor, reading several excellent quality books this year is within your grasp. But only if you really want to do so.
And therein lies the great problem. If you’re not convinced that reading is absolutely essential to healthy pastoral ministry, you won’t fight to make times for it. You might get around to occasionally reading the latest spy novel, a collection of hunting stories, or that political book your father-in-law gave you last Christmas. But you’ll never make time to read what you need to read. In all actuality, you’ll probably just fill your spare time with watching football and surfing the web. In a decade or two, you’ll find yourself in the intellectual nursing home preaching dull, shallow sermons. And your congregation will be the worse for it.
So I’m asking you, brother-pastors, do you believe that reading is a basic survival skill for pastoral ministry? Is reading quality Christian literature infinitely more valuable than endless hours of empty, mindless television? If so, will you make the little commitments now so that you can read more and better in pastoral ministry?
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.