“Have you read….?”
Spend any time with a group of ministers and you’re likely to hear this question.
“Have you read so-and-so’s newest book on the Trinity? I liked his premise but thought it fell a little short overall.”
“What about (insert-well-known-minister’s-name-here)’s memoir? It made me like her even more.”
“You mean you haven’t read that book on missional theology? Oh man, you have to. It’ll change your whole paradigm of how you do missions!”
Simply said, we ministers can be bookish people. Walk into most any minister’s office and take a look at their book shelves. Most of the time, especially if that pastor has been at a church for several years, the shelves are full to overflowing with commentaries, scholarly journals, books the pastor’s been given or had lent to them, books they’ve read until they’re dog eared, and those they haven’t gotten to yet. Children’s Ministers tend to have whole sections dedicated to children’s books, and I know one Minister of Education who has an impressive collection of puppets for use in children’s sermons.
While it’s not true that all ministers enjoy reading or have lots of books, in my experience it tends to be the norm. Part of this, I think, is ingrained in us during seminary because there’s just so much to be read! Articles, commentaries, book chapters, biblical passages -the pages and words add up alarmingly fast. My seminary called Spring Break “Spring Reading Week” which I thought was a joke my first year. It wasn’t.
The other part of this reading focus is that ministers tend to be on constant lookout for ideas or information to make their ministries better. My preaching professor encouraged us to read constantly and read everything; books, newspapers, blogs, poetry, academic texts, even comic strips. All of it is potential fodder for a sermon. Finding creative ideas for activities for youth and children is much easier if you’re willing to read through some of the myriad blog posts you can find online. I’m constantly surprise by the creativity of other ministers and how willing they are to share what worked in their settings.
It seems that reading and ministry often go hand-in-hand, which is why I felt so guilty for taking a reading break after seminary. For three or four months after graduation I didn’t read anything – at all. When I did get back into the reading swing I stuck strictly to fiction, finding a murder mystery series I really enjoyed. I finally got around to reading The Help and The Hunger Games, and several other novels I hadn’t had time for during school. Later I worked into some non-fiction with a pulpy book about the Tudor monarchy and several biographies. And on I went, on a diet of mostly fiction with some variety thrown in here or there.
It wasn’t until after I started here at KBC that I felt the pull to immerse myself in religiously related material again. I started slowly with books about youth ministry and things I’d begun in seminary and never managed to finish like Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the World. What I’ve discovered is that the break I took was good, necessary even. But now it feels good to start working my theological muscles again, to read things that challenge me and make me think about God in new ways.
So far during our “You Would Love My Church” campaign things have been said about Sunday School, our music, the sweetness of our children, the deep well of talent that makes up our congregation, and our work in the community. All of those things are true about this church. But I find as I sit in my office on a quiet Friday afternoon, one of the things I love most about this church is having the time and space for reading. For church members who give me books for my birthday. For the resources that allow us to have libraries for adults and children. For comfy chairs on the Mezzanine that beg you to pick out a book and lose yourself for a little while. For being able to read and wrestle with a book like Jimmy Carter’s A Call to Action in the company of my church family.
We are a congregation that understands the importance of books and of reading, and for me that’s another reason #ywlmc.