Yep. You read that title right. I want to make the argument that pastors should not read theology books. In fact, all of us in ministry would do well to put them down. I guess now that I've got your attention, I should clarify that I mean we shouldn't read theology works exclusively. I believe pastors should read broadly, and that includes reading things that aren't published by Crossway or B&H. We need to pick up fiction, biography, current events, culture, literature, and novels. Our default is to read theology. I get that, totally. Many of us in ministry spent years getting degrees in theology or theological fields, we love the richness that comes from their pages, and we spent a lot of money on them!
But we can't just read theology if we're going to be well rounded readers and leaders. We need to broaden what we're reading. Dare I say, our ability to pastor well depends on a broad reading.
1. Reading broadly expands our imagination - I'm not using imagination like Mr. Rogers' neighborhood of make believe. I'm using imagination in the sense of our mental constructs. Our imagination is the categories we think in. And when we read broadly, we are able to think across multiple categories and fields. We can think about how God has wired us to appreciate the beauty of story, the movement of history, the fascination with biography, and the lasting impact great books and literature have.
2. Reading broadly helps us be cultural exegetes - This isn't new. Spurgeon said that every day a pastor should read his Bible and newspaper. When we read broadly, especially current events or cultural issues, we're able to understand more where people are coming from, especially those outside our bubble. Guess what pastor, that means you'll have to read things you don't agree with. And you don't read them to rip apart the stuff you don't like. You read to understand, so that you can make an informed and biblical perspective. I've got two on deck that have been popular and controversial. Will I agree with it all? Of course not.
3. Reading broadly is exciting - I'm in the middle of a book about a KGB agent who secretly worked for MI6 during the Cold War. It is riveting. I'll probably finish it this afternoon. Before that I read the autobiography of a black cop who was a card-carrying KKK member, and another about life in Appalachia and how generational dysfunction has shaped an entire region. Going through the bestseller list or book recommendations online is a great way to find new things to read, or dusting off that library card once local restrictions are lifted.
4. Reading broadly keeps us out of our echo chamber - It's really easy to surround ourselves with people who agree with us, think like us, behave like us, and reaffirm us. That's what Twitter is. It's an echo chamber. And I think what many pastors do is unintentionally build themselves into a reading echo chamber where they only read that which is safe, clean, has passed a rigorous doctrinal test, and wouldn't dare ruffle us. That's unhealthy. We need to read things we disagree with, not so we can nitpick and find faults, but so we can be sharpened and prodded. A lot of this is built off #2, where we have to move out of our friendly confines. It doesn't mean we buy into everything we read, but we at the least can have an informed response.
5. Reading broadly sparks illustrations - When you're reading from a variety of books, you're basically diving into Scrooge McDuck's money vault of illustrations. They're everywhere. That's the beauty of words. Words convey images (that's why the book > movie) which allow us to make connections. Some people can retain huge chunks of what they've read and catalog it for later, but for those who can't, just write down things that spark from what you're reading. You never know when it might come in handy during a teaching/preaching moment.
6. Reading broadly forms an orbit - Think about our solar system. What's at the center? The sun. For pastors, the center of our reading solar system is always Scripture. That should be what grounds, informs, shapes, and forms our reality. We should read good books, but always come back full circle to the Bible. It's the greatest book. And just like the gravity from the sun keeps the planets in orbit and in their place, so does the Bible keep what we read in its place and in proper alignment.
What are you reading now that isn't theology, and how has it shaped and helped you as a pastor?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.