In the section on ‘The Manner of This Oversight’ in the Reformed Pastor, Richard Baxter makes the profound statement, “Study hard, for the well is deep, and our brains are shallow.” The pursuit of sound biblical knowledge ought to be the goal of every Christian, especially the pastor. Among the many weekly responsibilities, the task of studying – I’m convinced – is one of the most important in pastoral work. As one called by God to proclaim His Word he must be devoted to the study of the Word. At the heart of studying is the discipline of reading. Every minister knows that sitting in their study among their books brings a deep sense of joy plowing the depths of truth. There is also a startling realization that in his finite mind he doesn’t know nor can he comprehend all there is about the particular subject he is studying. Whether it is exegesis, theology, or history the quest for truth begins with humility as one seeks to explore what ancient and contemporary authors have to say concerning a subject.
So Much to Read and So Little Time
Ecclesiastes 12:11-12, “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.”
As I began my undergraduate degree in Biblical Studies I soon found out that I had to cultivate a discipline for reading. This was intensified in graduate work. I remember that According to Plan by Graeme Goldsworthy was the first academic work I read for a hermeneutics class my freshman year. It was at this point that Biblical Theology seized my attention. I jumped straight into the deep end, swimming in the waters of authors and arguments forgetting to catch my breath at times. As a result I began to neglect the most important book – The Holy Bible. The axiom that the Preacher wrote several centuries ago, “much study wearies the body” is true if one completely replaces their reading of Scripture with books teaching us how to read Scripture. Studying must begin with the daily discipline of reading Scripture.
Cultivating a Healthy Reading Discipline
Here are a few suggestions that might help in cultivating a healthy reading discipline:
First, make Scripture the Priority. When Scripture speaks, God speaks. At the heart of every sermon, every ministerial visit, every devotional time must be Scripture. This is the first principle for cultivating a healthy pastoral reading discipline. All the books in your library are subordinate to Scripture. Indeed the commentaries may give you insight into the text but Calvin’s commentary on Ephesians is not the biblical text written by the Apostle Paul. It does not carry the same weight. Being called to pastor solidified this conviction in my own life. I am called by God’s grace to feed God’s people with His Word, therefore I must be fed myself from that Word. Academic, Christian living, and other genres of books can only go so far in edifying your Christian growth in the truth. Give yourself to Scripture. Soak in it. Follow the example of the blessed man in Psalm 1:1-2 who delights and meditates on the Law of God.
Second, make time to read. There are some books that are a must for a pastor to read. There are many books that simply take up time that could be used for something more productive. Time management is important for a pastor, especially those of us who are serving bi-vocationally. For me personally with family, church, work, and graduate school my time is very limited. That is why I must make time to read. If you are “trying to find time” you probably won’t find it. Set aside time in the morning to read a few pages. Use your lunch break at work to skim the material. When your kids go to bed take that time to make your way through a chapter. Planning to read requires a disciplined use of time to read.
Third, read good material. Read books that contain good material that will edify your spiritual growth. This was the issue I faced during my early Christian walk. I didn’t realize it at first but the first few books I read as a Christian were in error theologically. This caused me to realize that not all books are created equal. Be disciplined a make a list of good books to read. Ask other ministers about their favorite books. If you don’t know what to read check out these recommendations.
Fourth, read different genres of good material. Regarding the previous suggestion I’m not advocating we dismiss the works of Charles Dickens for John Owen because The Death of Death is more spiritual than Tale of Two Cities. The “secular and sacred” divide are simply false dichotomies. On the contrary, I’m convinced that there is an intrinsic beauty in good literature that reflects the glory of God (see Echoes of Eden by Barr). To be honest I’ve read so-called “Christian books” that left me spiritually dry due to the poor material, while I’ve read T.S. Eliot poems that have greatly encouraged me. Choosing good books will edify you, whether it is a work of fiction or non-fiction. The best thing for pastors might be to put down the latest theological publication and pick up a biography or a work by Hawthorne.
Finally, whatever you do – just read. Spurgeon once said,
“Give yourself unto reading. The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own. You need to read.”
We live in a culture where biblical and literary ignorance is rampant. Unfortunately many pastors pride themselves on their lack of education due to their lack of reading as a model to be followed. As a result the Church is producing people who know very little about biblical truth and who lack the desire to grow in that truth. Therefore, pastor, set the example for your people by your reading. Don’t wave the flag of “I’m more spiritual than you because I read more than you.” Instead humbly speak about what you are reading. Recommend books. Give your people books. Dare I say let your people borrow books from your own library! Whatever you do pastor, read, and encourage others to do the same.
An Appeal to Read for the Glory of God
God created the heavens and earth with His Word, Jesus Christ is the Word made flesh, and the Holy Spirit inspired men to write the Word. It follows then that we must be people who read and obey this Written Word as it bears witness to the Living Word. God by His grace has provided His Church with teachers, pastors, and scholars who have devoted their lives to explore the depths of Scripture and produce God honoring material. Those of us in the ministry would be wise to humble ourselves by acknowledging “our brains are shallow” and explore truth by reading for the glory of God. In the words of Alistair Begg, “Read yourself full!”