Read or Get Out of the Ministry

John Wesley told young ministers to “read or get out of the ministry.” Those are strong words, but Wesley believed reading was essential for development. Of Wesley, A.W. Tozer wrote, “He read science and history with a book propped against his saddle pommel as he rode from one engagement to another.”

Oswald Sanders, in his classic work Spiritual Leadership, devotes a chapter to the subject of “The Leader & Reading” and insists that “the leader who intends to grow spiritually and intellectually will be constantly reading.”

While I would not consider myself a “reading expert,” reading has been a significant part of my development for the last 20 years. I view reading as an opportunity to interact with great thinkers and leaders. I typically am working through multiple books at a time. Before kids entered our world, I averaged reading two books a week. The quantity of my reading has slowed for this season, but I still take reading very seriously. Here are some suggestions based on my experiences with books.

Suggestions for reading:

1) Choose several categories you want to dive into

Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President of Southern Seminary, suggests a disciplined plan in the first point in this post.

I hesitate to add to his blog because of his pure awesomeness in reading. If you think you are an avid reader, a trip to his library will quickly remind you of your mortality.

I suggest you plan your reading every year or every few months. Choose several categories you want to read in and select books in each category. Common categories for me have been church ministry, leadership, organizational design, and theology. I will often choose a particular discipline as a category where I feel I need more learning and development, and I will read a lot in that category for a season. For example, when I moved into the role of leading the Church Resources Division at LifeWay, I felt I needed more development in the discipline of finances, so I made that a category for a season.

2) Choose wisely the books in each category

Francis Bacon said, “Some books are to be tested, others to be swallowed, and some are to be chewed and digested.” When seeking development in a specific discipline, I want the books that can be chewed and digested—the books that will help form me.

Returning to my example of my recent reading in the discipline of finance, I emailed several business leaders I respect and asked for their top financial reads. I also perused several MBA class syllabuses online to discover what is being taught in top universities. Then I formed the list of books I would read.

How do you know if you have read enough in one discipline? One of my seminary professors suggested, “read and read until it all starts to sound the same.” That is when you are intelligibly conversant in a particular subject.

3) Maximize spare moments for reading

I find it helpful to have multiple books in different places: I keep some books on my iPad that I plan to read, a current book in my home office, and one in the bathroom. On Saturday mornings before the kids wake up, I enjoy reading with a cup of coffee in my office. When traveling, I use my iPad in the spare moments that travel affords. If Kaye falls asleep while I am still awake, I will hit a book.

4) Mark them up

For physical books, I suggest making notes and then using the front and back cover to jot down page numbers with reminder notes to yourself (Example: p88 – great illustration on integrity).

Many have said that you will be the same person in several years except for the people you meet and the books that you read. Books can form you and develop you. It is a great leadership mistake not to use them wisely.