On the Reading Desk: Theory

In general I like to be reading several books at once. My reading can be broken up into two general groups, ‘personal’ and ‘professional,’ but being a pastor the two cannot be so easily divided as perhaps they might be if I were, say, a civil engineer. Often what I read on the personal side has profound implications for what I believe, preach, or teach, and what I read on the professional side moves me and effects how I live my personal life. It’s a wonderful place to be.

I think it important to separate what I’m calling here my professional reading from my labor to produce sermons and classes. They may overlap, but the reading I’m speaking of here is reading that is designed primarily to feed me spiritually and professionally. That sounds on the one hand a selfish thing. But for a church to have a pastor who himself is spiritually deprived and whose vision is limited by the trials and struggles of his own situation is never good. It is a wise church that encourages its pastor to invest time in his own growth and maturity.

The temptation will be for a pastor to read what is currently creating a stir. Sometimes the stir is so great that I give in, but generally I let the fads pass. Rather, I try to steer my reading in four directions, listed here in no order of priority:

1. Professional

2. Practical

3. Historical

4. Theological

There is much written that is designed to help pastors do the varied tasks that are before them. Topics may concern preaching or counseling or leadership or the nature of the church. One could be consumed and read nothing but these things. Or one could think one is above all of that and neglect what is helpful. Neither option is good.

Secondly, I am of a reflective and contemplative nature. It is important that I read works which direct my thinking toward the practical nature of the Christian life – books on marriage, on sanctification, on evangelism, on idolatry, or the like.

Thirdly, there is much to be learned from the saints who have come before us. General history or biography are important in keeping me grounded with a well rounded sense of where we have come from.

And fourthly, it can be too easy for a pastor to narrow his reading to his own area of theological interest. To counter that, I always have some work of general theology on the list to be worked through.

And I should add, I will now and then read something that just seems fun, or which seems aimed at a hole in my heart. Appetite can lead to wonderfully nourishing meals.

This is my thinking. Tomorrow, specifics.