Pastoral ministry is isolating and discouraging. Few people in your congregation understand what you face. For some, building relationships with other pastors is difficult because of schedule and other sundry reasons.
People may not be growing as you desire to see them grow. Your preaching and counsel seem to fall on deaf ears. There are seasons where the church needs to be led in a healthier direction, but you are the only one who sees it which causes friction.
Biographies can be a great aid in pastoral ministry. The lives of those who have gone before us encourage us and remind us that what we are facing is not unique.
Pastors also spend a lot of time with books. The Bible, commentaries, systematic theologies, and various other books. Pastors typically read a lot. Martyn Lloyd-Jones encourages pastors to read widely in Preaching and Preachers. You must read for your mind, soul, and pleasure. Biographies can help you read for your soul and pleasure.
Can I Be Personal?
I have focused most of my reading in 2019 on biographies, other than what I read for ministry. It has been refreshing. My mind has been rejuvenated. My energy for the work of the ministry has increased. And my understanding of human nature has increased. I have also seen again and again that there is nothing new under the sun. Things I go through someone else in history has also walked through. I’ve been able to learn from other’s mistakes and their successes.
What follows are a few of the benefits you will receive by spending some time reading an excellent biography.
A Source of Encouragement
In seasons when I have been discouraged biographies have been a great source of encouragement to me. Biographies have a way of refocusing our attention on what’s most essential and encouraging us to be faithful for the glory of God and the good of the people He has given you to shepherd.
Reading about Charles Spurgeon or Martin Luther encourages us that we can be faithful in difficult circumstances but that many saints who have gone before us faced difficulties much greater than our own. Spurgeon’s fight in the Downgrade is always a reminder to me that what I am going through, though difficult, is not as bad as I think it is which for me is always encouraging.
A Mental Break
An excellent biography provides a needed mental break. Pastoral ministry is a great deal of mental work. Even in areas others might not expect, such as pastoral, biblical counseling. That takes a great deal of preparation. If we do not give ourselves a mental break every now and then we are creating the atmosphere for burnout to creep in and take hold of us.
Biographies have a way of transporting you to another world, a past world in many cases. You begin to learn that nothing is really new under the sun. What you are walking through has been walked through before by countless others.
An Emotional Break
Additionally, biographies provide an emotional break. Reading about the life of Spurgeon will help us get our eyes off our situation and see that others have gone through similar difficulties and even worse than what we are facing.
They will also give us an emotional break because we can learn without being in the middle of the mess. Counseling is an essential work for the pastor, but it can also be physically, emotionally, and spiritually draining. It is rewarding but hard work. We often learn a lot about human nature through counseling, but it takes an emotional toll to learn this way.
Biographies teach us about human nature without having an emotional tie or investment in the situation. You can think through how you might counsel someone in this situation without being in the situation.
This invaluable emotional break will make you a better counselor but also preacher. Your increased understanding of human nature will help you in the counseling room and the pulpit.
What Type of Biographies Should You Read?
What kind of biographies should you read? The answer is it’s up to you. Since a biography is meant to refresh, you should choose those which pique your interest the most. I prefer reading about my favorite preachers and great historical leaders such as Presidents. Missionary biographies have been helpful as well.
Read for enjoyment. Read for pleasure. Read what interests you. There is no wrong answer here.
One type of biography that is a must is reading about other pastors. The encouragement and what you will learn is invaluable. I would especially encourage you to read biographies of other pastors if you feel isolated, don’t have a plurality of elders, or other pastors close to you.
Set a goal but start small. Who is your favorite preacher or world leader? Start there and see where it goes. You’ll be glad you did!