[This is the first, of hopefully many contributor posts on this blog. I will continue to seek out pastors in various ministry situations who are willing to post about their experiences or from any wisdom they have gained in ministry. – Shepherdsnotes]
There are many hats that a pastor must wear, and there are many disciplines that he must embrace in order to minister to the people of God. First and foremost the pastor is the resident theologian of his church. He must, therefore, master the word of God so that he can serve it weekly to his parishioners. And though we know that God can use even the most unlearned of men to accomplish his purpose, the heart of the pastor should be to ever improve so that he may be a “sharp tool in the hand of God.” This is why I believe the pastor should be an avid reader. Immediately after that last statement, many pastors will begin to construct a wall of defense. They will think to themselves, “I already have little time as it is, how can I add one more thing.” Many will simply say they are not readers, but it is to them that I write. The benefits of becoming a reading pastor far surpass the effort and sacrifice that one will put into it. So what should pastors read and what are these aforementioned benefits?
First, any pastor worth his salt reads the Bible vigorously. The Holy Scriptures are not just required reading for pastors, but it is the life-blood of the pastor. Just as the word of God brought life in creation, so the word of God brings life to every aspect of the pastors life. It is Word of God that powerfully calls sinners from their spiritual graves. It is the Word of God that enables sinful rebels to become holy children of God. It is the Word of God that empowers the man of God to do the work of God. A pulpit not planted in scripture will not produce a spiritual harvest. At best, and only by the grace of God, it will create malnourished children and at worst it will create nominal Christians. However, a pulpit that is biblically robust will produce a harvest of men and women who love God and seek to live for his glory. Charles Spurgeon said it well, “Visit many good books, but live in the Bible.” It is only the Bible that can make a man complete and grow him up into salvation.
“A pulpit not planted in scripture will not produce a spiritual harvest.”
Not only should pastors live in the Bible, but they should also seek to read books on theology, church growth, Christian living, etc. The premise behind reading books written by other Christians is a confession that we do not know it all. As believers, we are a part of a vastly diverse family. Many who have gone on before us can impart to us spiritual wisdom and insights that can swell the soul and enrich a ministry. Even so, many pastors practice an arrogance of omission by neglecting great works of Christian literature. There are unending fountains of wisdom to be enjoyed in the works of our fellow brothers and sisters. As pastors, it is by reading some of these great works that we are able to help our congregations to grasp the greatness of God. We gain knowledge, not for the sake of knowledge, but to impart it to our flocks. Whether it is a helpful illustration of the struggles of sanctification, or simply a statement that sparks an epiphany that leads to an increased fervor for missions, not only will pastors benefit, but our people will as well. So I encourage all pastors to read about holiness from J.C. Ryle, discover what it means to give your life to the propagation of the gospel by examining the journals of men like David Brainerd and Jim Elliot, and dive into the depths of biblical theology and thought with men like C.S. Lewis, John Piper, Jonathan Edwards, and others as your guide. Read dead men and praise God for them.
But even still, one of the deepest and richest deposits of knowledge and grace goes unmined by the average pastor. A major area many pastors unwittingly neglect is reading well-known works of literature. There is seldom another avenue for understanding people than studying the human being from literature. Why should we read stories? Well apart from the benefits of an increased vocabulary and exercising our minds, stories have a deeper and more powerful magic that many do not understand. Simply put, God is the great story-teller. When human beings create our own stories we are tapping into the depths of the imago Dei. All stories find their genesis in God’s great story. Great art naturally begets art. This is so in human history. Humans create because God created. Humans speak because God spoke. Therefore, Steinbeck and Faulkner can show us a vivid picture of the darkness of sin that mere words cannot describe. Through the eyes of Lady Macbeth, we will come to understand the indelible spot that sin makes upon our lives and our inability to remove it. We will mourn with the Fellowship of the Ring at the loss of Gandalf, but in his sacred act of self-sacrifice, we will come face to face with the heart of our Savior. Theological works can make us wise; literary works can help make us human. Through these works, we will come to understand ourselves and the people that God has entrusted us with, on a deeper more impactful level.
“Theological works can make us wise; literary works can help make us human.”
So I encourage you, “Take up and read.”
For as the old saying goes, “a Pastor who is well read will have a congregation that is well-fed.”