If you're not part of the SBC or aware of its situation, this post might not be for you. I'll be back writing regularly on other less-drama-filled situations soon! In the meantime, you can argue about who should be in the College Football Playoff. If you need to catch up and have many hours, you can watch the streams here.
When asked for a word to describe the current situation with the SBC Executive Committee and its refusal to follow the directive of the messengers, the word I initially used was "disappointed." At the time I had the picture of being a teenager and doing something really stupid and my parents saying that they weren't mad but disappointed in me. I'd let them down. I'd failed them. I'd messed up and had done more than misbehave, I'd hurt them. That's what I meant by saying I was disappointed.
But perhaps a greater description takes two words: Colossal Failure.
I know sometimes we're captive in the moment and wrapped up in hyperbole. We're all victims of the recency bias with whatever the most recent thing we've done or eaten or seen is the best/worst thing ever. So it's important that when we use descriptors like colossal failure, we have to be more than captured in the moment. And that's where we as a Convention of churches find ourselves today, in the midst of a colossal failure of leadership and a failure of those we have entrusted to do what it is they have been tasked to do. Perhaps the most telling point that this is a failure of trust was when one of the trustees made the comment that the messengers have no right to tell them what to do. The second was when a trustee asked the question "How much is a little girl worth?" and was met with snide comments describing it as emotional blackmail. At least the quiet parts are being said out loud.
Pastors and churches are deservedly frustrated, angered, and questioning the very nature of our cooperation. Those feelings are way behind and way less important than the pain, trauma, and ongoing scandal we're giving to survivors of sexual abuse in our churches, whose stories have been questioned and dismissed for decades.
As one SBC pastor and messenger to the 2021 meeting in Nashville and, Lord willing, a messenger to the 2022 meeting in Anaheim, my individual voice is limited. But together, just as our spirit of cooperation says that we can accomplish more together than we can apart, we can speak truth to power and hold those accountable who should know better. Can I encourage a few ways of leveraging our collective voice?
1. Contact Executive Committee staff and trustees - Affirm their position of trust within the convention and the role they play in the 363 days the Convention is not in session. But also speak of their duty to fulfill the will of the messengers. Each state convention has representation on the EC, and you can find all their contact information on the EC website. Letters, emails, tweets, texts, and phone calls are all available for you. Authority in the Convention is not based in a board room at 901 Commerce Street, it's in the local church. If you are a cooperating church in the SBC, you have a voice.
2. Contact the Sex Abuse Task Force - They are put in a spot of being between a rock and a hard place. They are limited in time by the motion affirmed by the Convention in Nashville, and they have a responsibility to oversee a massive investigation. They are doing this service because of their love for Jesus, commitment to the SBC, and a desire to do right by survivors. They're discouraged, disappointed, and need encouragement.
3. Engage on Social Media - It's really easy to dismiss social media as a time waster and a collective angst. And in some cases it is. But there is redemptive value in the gathering of like-minded voices and influencers to speak truth to power. Join in the conversation. Engage with other pastors and leaders. Use the magnitude effect of social media to amplify the call for transparency and to fulfill the will of the messengers.
4. Support our missionaries and entities - The way our funding structure works is that the Executive Committee has the power of the purse to distribute CP giving to the appropriate entities, which include thousands of committed missionaries in North America and globally. Give them encouragement, find out how you can give directly to their sending agencies (NAMB and IMB), and commit to pray for them. Our six seminaries are carrying a great burden of preparing future ministry leaders in the SBC, and the future is bright. We are training leaders to carry the baton into the next generation.
5. Research your options - I know a lot of pastors are asking if they should continue their current mission giving or explore other formulas. Do your homework. Find out what your options are. There are avenues to explore how your church can be a part of God's mission through the SBC model. You can bypass the Executive Committee in your giving, and your state convention has a fiduciary (there's that word!) responsibility to do the will of its churches. So if you contact your state convention and say that you want to change how your mission giving is used, they have to follow your directive.
6. Support survivors - During one of the EC meetings, survivors were mentioned as "that lady a long time ago" or some other anonymous and dismissive tone. They have names. Jules. Hannah Kate. Tiffany. Christa. Jen. And thousands more. Use their names. Speak their truth. Share their stories. Affirm their pain. Pray for them. Speak encouragement to them. They have fought against stone walls to get their stories heard. They have paid their own way to get to these meetings and seek an acknowledgement of the truth.
7. Make plans for Anaheim - Decisions are made by those who show up. A lot of Twitter chatter surrounded the 2021 meeting in Nashville. But the only people whose voice mattered were those who held a ballot in their hands. I know that sounds harsh but it's reality. The Convention only assembles once a year for two days. They're important. And if you want to speak into what's going on in our Convention, you have to be in the room when the votes are taken. Hotels go up tomorrow, make your reservations ASAP.
If I may speak directly to the Executive Committee members and staff, truth and transparency matter more than our reputation or even the survival of the Southern Baptist Convention. If the independent investigation finds incidents of sexual abuse coverup and mishandling and our insurance companies refuse to pay, we deserve to be sued. If unsavory emails are discovered that taint the reputation of our heroes and we see the seedy underbelly of institutional sin, it's worth way more to be truthful than for us to think everything is ok. If at the end of this people are fired or potentially liable for prosecution, that's worth much more than any kind of PR hit or cover. Truth matters. Transparency matters. Trust matters.
Do the right thing. Waive privilege. Fully cooperate with the Task Force. And sit this one out.
If not, I'll see you in Anaheim. And my ballot will be used to make sure our trustees and institutions are accountable to the messengers.
I shared this letter to our church family and am passing it along if it's of any value to you in your ministry context. The file itself is available here.
In 2018 the Barna Research Group released a study that found "sharing faith is increasingly optional to Christians." While we'd all agree that it's important for individual Christians and churches to intentionally reach out into the community to people who don't know Christ, the data shows that it's something we don't necessarily do.
The natural bend of a church isn't outward, it's inward. It takes intentionality to keep focusing on the outside. It's not bad to look inward. We all enjoy fellowship and part of the church community develops into close relationships. We can and should rejoice at that. But without intentional outreach on the part of a church or individuals, we quickly become an inwardly focused and inwardly serving existence. As Thom Rainer says, the Holy Trinity of the inward facing church is "Me, Myself, and I."
Five common barriers to outreach, and a way to work through them, are:
1. The Church doesn't know its community - Communities aren't made of demographics, they're made of people. But demographics give us a glimpse at who is in our community. Do we know the trends of who lives near us, or do we assume that the community is the same as we moved in? Data is important, but not nearly as important as relationships. Here's an exercise: write down the names of the people you're connected to in your church. Now, write down the same number of names of people you know who aren't connected to a church or a relationship with Christ. Then write down the names of people you are connected to in your own neighborhood. If we don't know our community, we'll never know its needs.
Response: Drive the streets slowly. Prayerfully drive through your neighborhood today. Don't just breeze through until you get home. Pay attention to who you see when you go to the grocery, restaurants, and ball games.
2. Fear of rejection - Nobody likes being rejected. It's normal. We especially don't like to be rejected when it comes to sharing our faith. So we keep quiet instead of opening the risk of being told no. Recently I came across a figure that said the average adult hears a clear presentation of the Gospel on average of 7 times before trusting Christ. That means six rejections on average. Rejection is a reality of outreach. You'll invite neighbors to church only to be (sometimes) politely told no. Or you'll talk about the hope of the Gospel with a co-worker only to be brushed off. But chances are any time we reach out, we're doing the long work of God.
Response: Embrace every opportunity to share as a part of God's long work. Pray before sharing. Trust God with the results.
3. Not Knowing How - I get it that some people may not know what to do with an outreach event or conversation with someone who doesn't know Christ. Sometimes we can get clunky or nervous and we sound like Chris Farley nervously interviewing people. Or we don't know how to turn a conversation about football or weather or politics into a conversation about Jesus. It becomes a barrier because we buy into the myth that if we don't know how to do it as good as _______, or with the precision of an evangelist, or with the skill of our heroes, that we shouldn't do it.
Response: Tell your story of what God has done. Not someone else's. Not some parable. Your story.
4. Lack of Resources - We serve the God who is the owner of the cattle on 1,000 hills. Nothing is too much for Him. He owns it all, and He is Lord of all. But your Outreach budget might not be very much. Your church may have a lot of willing bodies but not a lot of able bodies. Or you may not have very many bodies at all! It can be discouraging, especially if you're pastoring or part of a "smaller" church when you see the cool graphics and campaigns the "bigger" churches do. Seriously, I went to one for a community event that had a slide in their kids area. Our ability and opportunity to reach out to our community isn't dependent on our budget or bodies. It's dependent on our willingness to be faithfully obedient.
Response: Figure out what you can do. Every church, no matter what size, can do something to reach out into the community. If you have retired teachers, you can do a tutoring outreach. If you have handymen, you can do some basic home repairs. If you have an established church with a field, you can let a soccer club use it for practices/games.
5. Apathy - This one is the saddest. And honestly, the response is pretty brief. But sadly, I think one of the barriers to outreach for churches and individual Christians is that they just don't care enough to do anything about it. Maybe they know it's important, but not more important than what's on their calendar, or more important than the final round of the golf tournament, or more important than who the Masked Singer is, or more important than our own comfort. It's not that we don't care, it's that we don't care enough for it to change us. Apathy is the enemy of outreach because it shows that we don't see our neighbors and community as important enough for our time and effort.
Response: See the people around you as image bearers of God who, apart from Christ, will spend eternity separated from Him in Hell. If that doesn't break your heart, check your pulse.
One thing you can do as a church is an initiative published by Church Answers called Pray and Go. It's a low-impact, non-intrusive way of getting into your community by praying for your community and seeing what God does. I'm excited. Our church is launching it this weekend, and we're looking forward to how God uses this as a way for us to love our neighbors.
I was in Jacksonville for little more than 24 hours and I came away with one big observation: that city is all in on Trevor Lawrence. The local news was counting down the seconds until the NFL draft, they were covering every aspect of his workouts and endorsements, they were promoting Jaguars games on TV, and there were already billboards up. Even before the first pick is made, the city of Jacksonville has something that every city with the #1 pick has - hope.
Hope comes from wishing and longing for a better place. For long suffering football fans, it's the dream of being out of quarterback purgatory. Seriously. Ask any Browns fan what the last 20 years have been like. Or Dallas. Or Washington. Or basically everybody but New England until this past year. Everyone wants hope. Hope sells. Hope invigorates. Hope fuels. Hope gives.
Any football fan can tell you though that hope isn't a sure thing. Some cities land those top picks and get Peyton Manning, Baker Mayfield, John Elway, Troy Aikman, or Andrew Luck. Others get those top picks and get Tim Couch, JaMarcus Russell, Akili Smith, Jeff George, or David Carr. NBC Sports can even give you a list of notable NFL busts who were drafted with a banner of hope.
If you're a pastor or a ministry leader, you're a hope purveyor. You're not selling hope like an agent trying to get his client a high draft pick. You're not selling hope like a team telling the city they're saving space for the championship trophy. You're not walking into a press conference with big plans and big dreams. You're telling people about Hope personified.
Unfortunately far too many ministry leaders aren't purveying hope, they're pushing fear. Don't sell fear. Give hope. Hope has to start from within. Are you living by fear or hope? When you watch the news, do you want to retreat into a bunker (fear) or missionally engage (hope) a broken world? What motivates you? Pundits on TV using recycled talking points or new faces who don't look like you but need Jesus as much as you? What drives you? Are you worried about gaining or losing "market share" like churches are a business, or are you worried about seeing people die without Christ?
Live out hope. Live out the joy that comes from knowing Jesus and resting in His providence and care. And lead others to do the same. Because unlike a quarterback with knee problems, Jesus won't ever disappoint. Unlike a head coach who bolts for a new job or a pitcher with the yips, Jesus won't ever frustrate you. Why? Because He is our Hope.
Pastors, I get it. You're exhausted. This year has presented so many unique challenges it's hard to even remember where to start. On top of it all is an election we all knew was coming and the fallout ahead of it. It's been hard. And there's no guarantee that on November 3rd we'll have any resolution. It could make the 2000 decision look simple. Where's that giant meteor that everyone was talking about?
In the home stretch with less than 2 weeks until the Election, can I give you a few suggestions for your own sake and for the sake of the church you lead?
1) Unplug for a day, or two, or more - You gotta give your soul a break from seeing the constant flood on social media, the endless talking heads on cable news, the full email inbox from politicians. We were not made to consume the sheer amount we are. So unplug. Delete Twitter from your phone for a day or two (or longer). Disengage on social media. The internet is a breeding ground and amplifier for toxicity.
2) Love people - I didn't put a qualifier there. There's no need. Love people. There are people in your church who are nervous about another 4 years of Trump, and there are others who cannot imagine a Biden/Harris administration. However they vote or respond or pester you about things, you love them. Jesus did. And does.
3) Keep perspective - It's really easy during the cycle to get sucked into the vortex of "this is the most important thing in our lifetime." The cynic hears that and remembers hearing it 4, 8, 12, 16 years before. The fanatic hears that and jumps in wholeheartedly. Reality is in the middle. The message to share with your church and your own heart is this: elections are important and have consequences, but they are not binding on eternity.
4) Pray and let God worry - The posture of a Christian during tumultuous times is prayer. The posture of a Christian during good times is prayer. The posture of a Christian when facing national crisis is prayer. The posture of a Christian in every circumstance is prayer. God is the one who raises up princes and leaders, who brings about all the events above the fold and on Buzzfeed to pass. Nothing is beyond His authority. And He, not you, is the one who's holding the fabric of the universe together.
I know a lot of people who read this are serving in ministry. This article isn't for you. This article is for those who read who are members and attenders of churches. I want to give you some advice on what you can do this year for your pastor for Pastor Appreciation Month. October is traditionally the month where churches recognize and appreciate the work that pastors do. Paul talks about blessing God's ministers with a "double honor" which is a good thing to do. Pastors labor behind the scenes and carry the weight of the church on their shoulders. Compound that with the toxic political climate and the pandemic, 2020 is a year to really honor the work pastors do.
The first thing I'll say is not to get your pastor a Bible. Or a tie. But especially not a Bible. It's not that a gift Bible isn't a gracious thing to consider. But your pastor has (or at least should have) a number of Bibles. They might even have some very nice ones. Another Bible, no matter how well intentioned, is likely to end up on a shelf and won't be as fully appreciated as you'd like.
But what can you get or do for your pastor this month? I want to suggest a few options.
1) A gift card - Surely your pastor has a favorite restaurant, coffee place, or home improvement store. They can certainly use that card for a treat, an upcoming project, or to feed their coffee needs.
2) Remember their spouse - Ministry spouses are many times forgotten. It's not intentional. They're just not usually the ones in the public eye. They're taking care of the kids, they're working in their job during the week, and they may not be comfortable being in front of everyone. Like the gift card, find out what they like and see if you can do something to care for them.
3) Getaway - Some churches are blessed with having people who own vacation property or have access to a beach house or something like that. Consider giving your pastor and their spouse a weekend away at that property. Get their Sunday responsibility covered so they don't have that on them while they're away. Let them recharge, rest, and reconnect with one another.
4) Date Night - Sponsor a date night for your pastor and spouse. One of the hardest things for pastors with families to do is arrange childcare. Babysitters can be cost prohibitive for some couples. Take care of that for them so they can have an evening out.
5) Day trip - COVID has really messed up a lot of family plans. Many had to cancel vacation plans this summer, and with kids doing NTI and remote learning the fall break calendar is messed up. Consider gifting your pastor and family a day trip. It could be an amusement park, zoo, state park, or some other attraction. Most of us live close enough to something neat like that that a day trip is possible.
6) Extra vacation - Finances in your church may be tough. COVID hit some churches hard and really limited their budget. You might not be able to financially give anything to your pastor this year. Giving an extra week of vacation is another way of appreciating their work and thanking them for what they've done.
7) A conference - Conferences can be a really helpful thing for a pastor to recharge, fellowship, grow, and be sharpened for ministry. Whenever we can have them again, consider this as a possibility for your pastor. Several years ago this was a gift someone in a church did for me, and it was so encouraging to get away and grow. If possible, see if you can arrange to send their spouse as well.
Whatever you do, I hope you'll do something. Don't do what some churches do to their pastors and send them a note that says "Appreciate that you have a job." (This has really happened) Ministry is hard. Doing something to show your appreciation for your pastor can be a boost for them, and encourage them in a year where things have been even harder than normal.
It's fitting to write this while our church is hosting a weekly homeschool community through Classical Conversations. CC's motto is "To Know God and make Him known." It permeates everything they do. I hear my wife singing to her group of "Apprentices" about the Boston Tea Party and the class directly across the hall is using a clap/stomp beat to learn Latin. At the core of the CC curriculum is knowing God, who is the author of Truth and has revealed Himself to us.
Recently the 2020 State of American Theology report was released by Lifeway Research. For research nerds this was like Christmas morning. Nothing warms our souls like fresh data neatly arranged in spreadsheets and tables with a robust statistical analysis. As a pastor, it's also like Christmas morning because we can get a sense of not only the theological worldview of the church but the culture at large! There's so much value from the study, and if you're a pastor or ministry leader you'd be wise to read it.
Here are my 9 takeaway from it:
1) Non-evangelicals hold to non-evangelical positions - It shouldn't be a surprise at all that on issues of theology, ethics, sexuality, and salvation that there are distinct breaks between what people who claim to be evangelical and those who don't believe. It shouldn't be a surprise as the culture at large moves slowly away from traditional/historic understandings of morality. This magnifies the difficulty that many Christians have in engaging their neighbors and friends.
2) Evangelicals also hold to non-evangelical positions - Surprisingly, there were a few places where those who identify as evangelical had views that were a bit off. For example, almost half of evangelicals polled believe "God accept the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam," and around 30% agree that "Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God," and over half agree with "The Holy Spirit is a force but is not a personal being." While Obi Wan would be pleased with that last one, it's not a biblical view.
3) Entertainment isn't as important as we think - One of the more interesting findings was that almost half of non-evangelicals thought churches needed to provide entertaining services to be effective. One of the myths that we buy into is that if we're going to reach people we have to dangle some kind of carrot of entertainment to capture their attention. As a pastor, it's encouraging to know that we don't have to compete with Disney World, we just need to stay in our lane and be faithful in our worship and service planning.
4) Staying home is a real factor - Almost half of those who identify as evangelical agreed that "Worshiping alone or with one's family is a valid replacement for regularly attending church." When this was written it was before COVID. No telling what that number is now. Beyond the pandemic, it confirms what has been presented by others like Thom Rainer that "regular" church attendance can be defined as around 2x a month. We're seeing a lesser emphasis on the local church gathering. As pastors, this is tough. We need to teach, lead, and model that there is an invaluable element to the church gathering in-person. Virtual and streaming options are fine to do, but they cannot replace the in-person nature of corporate worship.
5) Abortion & Homosexuality are the Hot Buttons - No surprise here. Around 40% of non-evangelicals believe abortion is sinful, compared with almost 90% of evangelicals. Less than 20% of evangelicals agreed that the Bible's views on homosexuality don't apply today, while more than 60% of non-evangelicals held to the same view. Going forward, these will likely continue to be the flash points in the public square as we continue to see a growing chasm.
6) Gender identity is a generational discussion - When asked about "Gender identity is a matter of choice," there were clear breaks along age lines. Adults 18-34 were 50/50, while Americans aged 50-64 were much more likely to disagree (> 60%). Among evangelicals, almost 25% agreed with the statement. Navigating the complexity of the issues of gender and sexuality is something Christian leaders and pastors need to be trained on. I commend the work of the SBC's ERLC and Barna's research on helping to understand the climate.
7) Politics and Religion are Mixed - Only about 1/4 of evangelicals agreed that "Christians should be silent on issues of politics." And even fewer older evangelicals agreed with that statement. The extent and context of those political views aren't listed. But it confirms what we see in the news cycle every election season and especially in the Trump Era of Christian political engagement. If anything, the rise of the Moral Majority in the 1980s served as a third launching point of Christians into political engagement (after abolition and prohibition).
8) Science & Scripture need a DTR - Almost 40% of non-evangelicals agreed with the statement "Modern science disproves the Bible," and less than 20% of evangelicals agreed with it. I honestly expected the non-evangelical number to be much higher (it was among Americans 18-34). The correlation of disagreement is connected to the number of times attending a worship service in a month. Those who attend more frequently are less inclined to believe science disproves the Bible.
9) Truth matters - Surprisingly, almost 1/3 of evangelicals agreed with the statement "religious belief is a matter of personal opinion; it is not about objective truth." It's not a surprise that more than 70% of non-evangelicals would agree with that. But it is a bit surprising that it's as common within the church. The same population affirms the resurrection as a historic event (98%), and that the Bible is 100% accurate in what it teaches (91%), but leaves a lot to opinion. It's been said that the current state of Christianity in America is that there is an appreciation for the Bible, but not a reliance on the Bible.
Much to take from the research. Feel free to share your reflections and thoughts on it!
When was the last "precedented" day you had? Ours was March 12th. I don't remember anything about it. That's the point. The next day we took the boys to Disney expecting it to be one of the last times, and met up with some friends while there. That was when the bottom started coming out. Our friends got a call that the school she taught at was shutting down. We started hearing churches suspending in-person gatherings. Our agenda for the Sunday leadership meeting was changing while I was waiting in line for a ride at EPCOT.
It's been 146 days since then, or in 2020 time about 105 dog years. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't had more than a few days where I was about to crack, and a few where I did crack. The uncertainty of not knowing what's going on, the emergence of social media epidemiologists and sociologists, and the constant reality of the Lord's call for the church to be a beacon of hope. It's been tough. Pastors, how about you?
I know we're all in different stages depending on where you live. But we're surrounded by the ever present barrage of information and opinion. If you're a pastor, consider doing these things to keep from living inside your own head during all of this.
1. Delete the apps - As much as I love social media for information, communication, and digital community, it's an absolute cesspool and magnifying glass of negativity and toxicity. Some people have responded by pulling the plug and withdrawing completely. If that's you, good on you. But at the very least, consider deleting the apps. Twitter, Facebook, Parler, all of them. Just knock them off your phone. For a day, a week, until 2021, whatever you need to do. Deleting the app means that you have to work a little harder to access your account, and it frees you from the toxicity of constantly refreshing your feed.
2. Get out of the house - Go for a walk, a run, go to the beach (nice perk of living in Florida), a park, the forest, wherever you can nearby. Just get out of the office and the house. Fresh air and activity can be a balm to your anxious heart. Take that time to enjoy your family, or to get your heart rate up in exercise. Our house has felt like it shrunk since March, and chances are yours has too. Take your family to the park for a picnic and enjoy some takeout or sandwiches from home. Just get out.
3. Read - I'm a big fan of reading, and encouraging pastors to read beyond theology and church ministry. Pick up some biography, fiction, classic literature, current events, or something that interests you and read for a while. It'll pass the time, it keeps you off Twitter, and you might learn something along the way. You know you have a stack of books you've wanted to read "if I only had time." Well... what else you got now?
4. Talk to your doctor - I was talking about this with my dentist yesterday. Well, let me rephrase that. I grunted while they talked since they had their hand in my mouth. But we were worried about people. This is a hard time. It's the combination of economic uncertainty, seasonal affective disorder, social unrest, and routine breaking. Mental health is just as real as your cholesterol numbers. If you're feeling anxious, depressed, or generally in a funk, talk to your doctor. There's absolutely nothing wrong with getting help, even medical help. Pastors aren't immune to discouragement, and sometimes we need a little white pill to help us balance everything for a season.
5. Call people - One of the hardest things about this season of life has been that it has totally disrupted the very foundation of our calling and responsibility as a pastor: spending time with people. We can't visit our members in nursing homes. We can't do hospital ministry. Many people aren't comfortable having people in their home. But we can call, text, message, and otherwise stay in touch with people. Familiarity is a comfort during these days.
Pastors, how have you kept your sanity together during this difficult season? Comment and share so we can encourage and support one another.
And if you find yourself in really dire straits, call the NAMB Pastor Care Line: 1-844-PASTOR1.
The hardest work for history is how to sift through and handle people who leave behind a complicated legacy.
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.