Bring the Books 9
"Eight? Seriously? You're killing me, here."
Quit whining. Toughen up. Endure hardness as a good soldier, bub.
There. Now that I have gotten off to a good, compassionate start and empathized with my reader let us proceed apace.
In my view, there are eight different categories or areas which you ought to be reading constantly. And I mean in addition to your normal, routine sermon prep. I am not always reading books in all eight of these categories at the same time, but I am constantly reading books in these eight areas. So without further ado, here they are.
Leadership. The scriptural definition for minister is servant, but the scriptural definition of pastor is shepherd. Simply put, a shepherd must lead or else he will be a lousy shepherd.
In this category, I place books written primarily for me as a minister teaching me how to be a better minister. This would include books on leadership, various aspects of pastoring, staff development, time management, even books on preaching. I do not like the term self-improvement, but that's what this category largely holds – books that help me to develop my potential in fulfilling my responsibilities to the people around me to whom I minister.
Theology. I did not have a class on systematic theology in Bible college. I got my class in books instead. I do not mean to say that I am always sitting around reading treatises on systematic theology, but I do mean I am constantly reading books about some aspect of theology. I am a Baptist. That implies a certain ecclesiology. I am premillennial. That (usually) implies dispensationalism. I am not a Calvinist. That implies common sense. Sorry, I could not resist… Anyway, these are all theological subjects. They raise questions that need thought and study to answer well. So I constantly read books related to some aspect of theology.
Areas in which you are weak. Although this list is not given in order of importance I place this one here because there is often a crossover between the need to study theology and the need to study areas in which you are weak. All of us have things we claim to believe, things that if the truth were told we have done very little study to support. Baptists don't speak in tongues! Why? I do not mean you heard two sermons about it and read a pamphlet from Curtis Hutson. I mean have you ever dug into it, comparing Scripture with Scripture, reading up on its history and process. Do you know what you believe about the gifts of the Spirit, about continuing revelation, about the fullness of the Spirit, about the power of the Spirit, etc.? And that is just a few aspects of one subject.
Throughout my ministry some of my most profitable studies have been undertaken specifically to shore up areas in which I knew I was weak. Prophecy. Music. Alcohol. Holiness. The history and meaning of fundamentalism. I have a further list of another six or seven that I could give you off the top of my head, areas that I have not studied in depth but areas I know I need to. Some are theological, some are practical, some are historical, etc. I want to be a well-rounded preacher. I want to be able to give a good, detailed explanation of the truth as I teach the Word of God. The only way to do that is to constantly work on the gaps in the walls of your knowledge base.
Relationships. I believe life is largely a matter of relationships. If I am going to build a good life, if I am going to live it well, I need to be good at relationships. More importantly, if I am going to shepherd my people well I must be able to help them to build healthy, close, permanent relationships. So I have 50 books in my office about various aspects of marriage and parenting. I work through those routinely, and just as routinely add new ones to the stack.
In this sense – and this is a critical point – this area is different from the one that precedes it, areas in which you are weak. I knew I was weak on what I knew and believed about alcohol so I studied it out. But I have largely finished that study. I fixed what was a weak area, took good notes, preached through it, blogged through it, I am good in that area now. But although I already have a wide knowledge base about relationships, and even though I have preached and taught on it at some length, I am still going to constantly read up on it. It is too big and too important to my life and the life of my people for me just to study it once, set it on the shelf, and move on to something else. That section of my bookshelves sees frequent use and it always will.
Background. I think a man who preaches several hours a week for consecutive decades to the same group of people needs to develop a wide base of knowledge. It helps to keep his preaching and teaching new and fresh. So I am constantly reading books on background, books that do not specifically help me to prepare for anything in particular. This is history (religious and secular). This is biography (religious and secular). This is current events. This is economics. This is science. This is sports. This is politics. This is medicine. Etc. etc. And I do not mean that you read this from a newspaper. There is little accuracy and even less detail in a newspaper article. Read a book about it. A man who talks for a living should know something about everything. It not only allows him to enter into conversation intelligently with just about everyone, it seasons his public speaking, gives him a wealth of illustrations at his fingertips, and keeps his mind fresh. As previously mentioned, I do this on the secular side with Audible. I do it on the religious side with physical books.
What interests you. All study is tiring, but if your entire approach to reading and study is "I have to read this" it will be wearisome in the extreme. Break it up with something that you are reading just because you want to read it. For me, one of these areas is music. I have read dozens of books about music, but I am always on the lookout for another good biography, another good history. I find it simply fascinating. Other times, I put all my books aside, go to my shelves, and pull out something that just looks good. I still even read a little science fiction, now and again, just because I want to. And I would argue this kind of reading is good reading, too.
What God emphasizes. Years ago, I attended Clarence Sexton's week-long Pastor's College for two consecutive summers. It helped me, in fact it changed my life in at least two ways. One of those ways was this statement: "Place the emphasis where God places the emphasis."
Everything in the Bible is important or else it would not be there, but it is not all equally important. Jesus plainly said there were weightier matters of the law, that there was a greatest commandment, etc. Simply put, there are some things God emphasizes in Scripture more than others. My primary task is to preach the Word of God. I need to do it in such a way that I place the emphasis in my preaching where God places the emphasis in His Word.
For example, I have and do preach about how Christians ought to look, their appearance, and I do not apologize for it. In fact, I am doing a series about it on Wednesday nights right now. But if you stacked up my preaching you would find I have spent a whole lot more time preaching about the condition of our heart than I have the condition of our hair. Why? Because that is where God places the emphasis. I have studied the Word of God to find the things He discusses again and again and again, and I have sought to place my attention there. Faith. Love. Prayer. Holiness. Praise. Wisdom. The Word of God. Witnessing. Doctrine. The Second Coming. Who God is. Comfort. These are things that come up again and again in my preaching because these are things that come up again and again in the Word of God. If this is what God emphasizes it what I ought to emphasize. To ensure I do that I seek to keep thoughts related to this flowing across my mind all the time. So I am always reading something related to these great themes of Scripture.
Lastly, and most importantly, Jesus. He is the sum and substance of all that we believe and practice. He is the great what, the great how, and the great why. As the old song says, "Everything is Jesus, and Jesus is everything." Brethren, we ought to be constantly reading about Jesus. He is to be the great theme of our life, of our study, and of our preaching. He is to be lifted up. He is to be proclaimed. He is to be taught. He is to be praised. He is to be explained. He is to be applied. He is to be explored. He is to be modeled. He is to be obeyed. He is to be served. He is to be preached. He is to be taught. He is to be loved. Whatever else you read, read Jesus.