Fred Smith Sr. has been a mentor to some of the most well-known Christian leaders of our day. Fred popularized the phrase, “Leaders are readers,” and also said, “Make clear decisions about what you read and why.”1
Most pastors are readers, but they read too much of the same thing. By this I mean that pastors tend to gravitate toward books dealing with the ministry—reading for information rather than spiritual formation. I often wish they would read books other than the ones they take the time to read.
It is always somewhat exciting to start a new book—especially one you have reason to believe will be really good. Clean, stiff, untouched…soon it will be bent, written on, underlined, stained. I’m not nice to my books. And a good book will not be nice to me.
There is a place, I guess, for nice books, but the best books are never nice. Good books are intrusive, forceful, and inconsiderate of your feelings and comfort. A good book, unlike a nice book, confronts, challenges thought, and forces you to think, reconsider, or change. A good book will take you where you’ve never been before—often times kicking and screaming.
Most pastors read, but they read nice books. It’s a shame that with the little amount of time they do have to read that they bother to read the stuff they do: commentaries, church growth/management, books that develop their skills or give them new ways of doing the same old thing, all the while ignoring the books that deal with the pastor’s true self—his center or her soul.
Balanced people are balanced readers. There are three types of reading: educational, recreational, and inspirational.
1. Educational: For pastors this means books like commentaries, leadership development, church health/growth, etc.
2. Recreational: Fun stuff, reading just for the pleasure of it. Nothing work related.
3. Inspirational: Reading that stretches your soul. With this type of reading, you are not looking for information as much as inspiration—inspiration that deepens your intimacy (into-me-see) with Jesus.
All three are needed for balance. Most pastors are good at educational and recreational reading, but not so good at inspirational reading. What are you reading for inspiration?
I’ve never been able to confirm this quotation from Thomas à Kempis, so don’t quote me on it, but supposedly only one scrap of paper with his actual writing has survived and it reads: “For rest, respite, repose on this earth, I’ve looked high and low, but couldn’t find it, except perhaps in out-of-the-way nooks with out-of-the-ordinary books.”
The best books are out of the ordinary, they get your attention and transform your soul, and they form you more than inform you.
The above article is an excerpt from my book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care For Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us. Find your copy here.