A wise minister will sharpen his intellect on the anvil of writers who kindle fire in the soul.
I am a readaholic. Not only do I read almost everything I get my hands on, I read every time I have an opportunity. Life for me has few pleasures greater than reading good writing. Perhaps this is why I am surprised when I hear of ministers who do not read.
But is reading really important for every minister?
It would seem one’s reading pace could be decreased upon completion of formal education. But graduation from college or seminary should be only the beginning of an insatiable thirst for knowledge, a thirst that can be quenched only by reading.
Data abound to prove that the writer and reader are more powerful than an army. Great movements and revolutions have begun because a book stirred a man’s imagination and he acted on what he read. John Wesley felt his heart strangely warmed as he read Luther’s preface to the Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans; Methodism was born shortly thereafter.
In his volume Nationalism: Man’s Other Religion, Edward Shillito relates the story of three men eating their sandwiches and poking fun at a German Jew reading Hegel day after day in the British Museum. Described by these men as a “laughable figure, a mere dreamer, dealing with ideas, spinning cobwebs in his mind,” Karl Marx spun cobwebs that are still entangling the world in international conflict.
If Marx was moved to action by reading Hegel, an ungodly philosopher, and Wesley was moved by reading Luther, a righteous reformer, is it not safe to believe that a minister’s heart can be set on fire today by reading writing inspired by the Holy Spirit? And that he in turn can grind together what he has read and provoke his parishoners to set their world aflame for Christ?
But what should a minister read? With the flood of material issuing from the Christian press at mind-boggling speed, where does one begin?
A wise minister will plan to sharpen his intellect on the anvil of writers, past and present, who kindle a fire on the hearth of his soul. To light his flame, he will read, in addition to the Bible, material that will balance and enhance his ministry—varied material such as poetry, biography, drama, history, literary criticism, philosophy, psychology, current events, and even the much-maligned dictionary, as well as an encyclopedia.
Our people will know when we open our mouths to speak whether we have plodded through the world all week, or if we have taken time to put something of value into our minds.
But I hear someone exclaim, “I am a man of one book, the Bible, and I don’t need other books.”
The sage wisdom of John Wesley still applies to ministers in our century. “Read the most useful books, and that regularly and constantly,” he said. “If you read no book but the Bible, then you have got above St. Paul. He wanted others too. ‘Bring the books,’ says he, ‘but especially the parchments,’ those wrote on parchment. ‘But I have no taste for reading’ (you say). Contract a taste for it by use, or return to your trade.”
Simply put, if we do not read mindstretching material, we will eventually die from a lack of intellectual food and mental exercise.
But when does a busy pastor find time to read such material? Most ministers have more to do than they can possibly accomplish in any 24-hour period. Moreover, many ministers struggle with what should be given first priority each day without taking upon themselves more guilt. Unfortunately, legitimate daily pastoral duties—counseling, calling, sermon preparation, and the ever-abhorrent committee meeting—can become parasites to a man’s reading time if he is not careful.
In a day when the temptation to gain knowledge via the electronic media instead of the printed page is rampant (an exercise that produces shallow thinkers), we as ministers need to grab ourselves by our clerical collars, turn off the set, and take up a book by a great mind and read.
Next, the minister needs to become a discerning reader. Not everything that crosses his desk is important reading. Further, not everything has to be read word for word to extract the meat. Bacon said, “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”
To find the best books, read reviews in reliable magazines. If a review piques your interest, look at the book’s index and contents, and read a few pages—front, back, middle. Ask yourself, “Does this fit my ministry and will it help me become a better preacher or pastor?”
Establish a reading goal. Resolve to read a chapter a day, or a book a month in addition to general magazine and newspaper reading. Do this by setting a specific time each day to read.
Carry a book in your car or in your briefcase and read while you are waiting on others. Instead of setting your nerves on edge, set your mind on fire.
If you are pressed for time or on a tight budget, go regularly to the public library, just as you would to your study. It can put at your fingertips in one setting a bountiful menu of delightful reading.
Subscribe only to those religious magazines that focus on relevant issues. A good one will cover theology, highlight current religious events, provide crisp book reviews, perhaps some humor, and material affecting the church in today’s world.
Follow these rules and the written word will come alive with power and excitement, and reading will be a pleasure instead of a drudgery.
As God’s servant in a blighted world, every minister should read for effective preaching, for the benefit of his listeners, and for the life of his own ministry.
Mr. Hansen is pastor of First Church of the Nazarene in South Bend, Indiana.
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