The practice of reading is fading fast. In today’s culture of instant gratification, many people would rather watch a 15-minute TED talk than spend hours reading a book. Pastors are no exception to this phenomenon.
Pastors find themselves in a unique situation in that they are trusted to nurture the souls of those who claim to follow Jesus. It is a God-ordained task that they should not take lightly.
I have found that effective ministry is only possible with proper preparation. We can learn a lot through YouTube videos and podcasts. However, there is a wealth of knowledge that we could benefit from in books. Regular reading was not always easy for me. However, once I made it a habit in my life, I began to notice the benefits of doing so.
Pastors should read often and widely
One of the biggest mistakes that a pastor can make is to assume that they only need to read the Bible. Everyone reads the Bible through a particular contextual lens. If you only read the Bible and nothing else, you will always be superimposing your personal beliefs and opinions into the text. By all means, read your Bible as often as possible, but do not stop there.
It is not an easy task to select a mere five books that all pastors should read without falling into the trap of merely promoting my favourite books. Instead, in this article, I will suggest five topics that I believe should be essential areas of reading for pastors, and then recommend a book from each category that has contributed to my formation as a pastor.
Five areas of reading
John Wesley, the pioneer of the Methodist movement, utilised four tools to form his theology which has come to be known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. These four tools are Scripture, Reason, Experience and Tradition. I believe that these four tools (plus context) epitomise the four topics that pastors should be reading about regularly. These topics are not an exhaustive list of all the issues that pastors should be reading about, but they are essential to assist our formation as pastors in the Christian Church.
The Bible is the collection of books that we should be most familiar with as pastors. Many pastors are familiar with the words in the Bible, but not with the Bible itself. To best deal with the sacred Christian text, we need to remember that the Bible was written by particular groups of people, in a particular time in history, for a particular purpose.
Book suggestion: Inspired by Rachel Held Evans
A pastor should be firm in what they believe. Their assurance does not give them the right to enforce their beliefs on others. It ensures that they can stand firm during the many storms that are bound to present themselves in pastoral ministry. Pastors should educate themselves on what people think about God. As pastors learn about a wide variety of theologies, they can better formulate their own beliefs about God.
Book suggestion: The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr
Pastors today are not the first to do ministry. While fresh, innovative ways of doing ministry might be necessary, we first need to understand the history and traditions of the Church over the past 2000+ years. It is essential to know why the Church began, why it grew, and why it split apart. Our Church ancestors have learnt many valuable lessons of doing ministry, and have even made some dismal blunders from which we would be wise to learn.
Book suggestion: Christian Origins and the People of God by N.T. Wright
What better way to learn about the challenges of pastoral ministry than reading about the experiences of other pastors who have gone before us. One of the easiest ways to do this is through reading memoirs about (and reflections by) other pastors.
Book suggestion: The Pastor by Eugene Pieterson
Pastors do not perform their ministry in a vacuum, outside of time and space. In the same way that the biblical authors wrote in a specific context, pastors are ministering in a particular church, to a particular group of people, in a particular geographical location of the world. They must try to understand the context in which they find themselves.
Book suggestion: African Theology – An Introduction by Gabriel Setiloane
I have personally found the books mentioned above to be extremely beneficial to my ministry. If these do not grab your attention, I would still encourage you to read as widely and often as possible – in these topics and others.
One final comment: one of the biggest dangers is to only read books from people similar to you in looks and beliefs. When choosing books to read, try to find a healthy balance of authors across the spectrum of gender, age, race and theological beliefs.
Being a pastor is no small task. We need to be diligent in our preparation. I hope that you will be encouraged to reap the benefits that reading will bring to you and your ministry.