You’re a pastor, aspiring pastor, or church planter, which means you’re busy. Not to go all DeYoung on you, but you’re “crazy busy!” If you’re already pastoring, then you’ve got stuff to do, people to see, sermons to prepare, meetings to attend, hospital visits to make, and counseling sessions to work through. Then there’s home life – you’ve got kids in soccer, a house in need of some serious repair, a lawn so intimidating that your mower won’t start, and a computer on strike. And there’s always the relentless march of Sunday. Sunday is always coming, and you’ve always got to be ready.
The last thing you have time to do is read. Right?
While I can definitely relate, I want to share a small idea that has made a huge difference in the ministry vitality of many a pastor and preacher: You gotta read to lead.
In other words, you need to study. Specifically, you need to read and study books written by other, wise leaders, thinkers, and theologians. Now, make no mistake, Scripture should remain primary when it comes to your reading and study. However, in this post I want to talk specifically about the importance of reading and studying good books. Lots of them.
So, why study? Several reasons.
When we read and study, it expresses our commitment to godly discipleship. One of the first things I remember learning as a new believer was that the Greek word for ‘disciple’ (mathetes) literally means ‘learner’. To be called to Christ is to be called to learn, grow, and develop, so that we may learn to live in a manner worthy of the gospel (Ephesians 4:1).
The Apostle Paul was a guy with a lot of knowledge. He had studied the Mosaic law under Gamaliel, who was a top dog in the Pharisee school of instruction (Acts 22:3). He also had that whole direct revelation from Jesus Christ thing going for him (Galatians 1:12). And he had even seen visions of heaven itself (2 Corinthians 12:2). But Paul wasn’t content to rest on past study or past learning. In Philippians 3:12, Paul says, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” Paul was a man devoted to growing in the knowledge and grace of the Lord Jesus. In the same way, studying and reading is an expression of our devotion to grow, to press onward, to become what we are called to be.
If we are going to be training other men and women to press forward in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, we’ve got to be pressing forward as well. Study expresses that commitment.
We don’t merely read good books, we befriend them. We open our mind to them and grant the gift of influence. As friends, books feed us. It’s what makes them potent. It’s what’s makes them valuable. Just like they were for Paul.
In 2 Timothy 4:13, Paul relays some startling instructions to Timothy:
When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.
You know what makes these words so startling? Paul was in prison and was on the verge of death! If I was in prison, facing certain death, I’d probably be saying, “Hey Timothy! Bring me some decent food! Get me a better lawyer! Pull some strings and get me out of here!” But that’s not what Paul says. He instructs Timothy to bring him books. Books! When a guy on death row is asking for books, you know they feed the soul.
I can’t begin to recount how much reading good books has affected me. It’s not possible to quantify how my companionship with the messages of Charles Spurgeon has lifted me in dark moments of discouragement, or how Thomas Watson has armed me to fight for contentment, or how John Piper has pushed me to treasure God until my last dying breath. As good companions, books feed the soul and expand the mind. They help prevent ministry-lite, which is leadership based upon impulses, impressions, intuitions, and instincts. Spurgeon once said, “You need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritanic writers, and expositions of the Bible”.
Study feeds your ministry. Aspiring pastors and church planters listen up: ministry drains! Every day we’re pouring into communication, counseling, sermon prep, and a host of daily demands. In light of this pace, we must think strategically about how and when we will be replenished. Studying and reading can fill an empty heart.
As to when to read, it’s a dance that each leader must learn. Some find time right before bed, others block out time each morning. John Stott says that, “…one hour a day [of study] is the absolute minimum of study time for busy pastors.” Maybe you can’t do that right now, so you need to shoot for 15 minutes a day. The main point is to crack the book and cultivate the habit.
If you’re gonna lead, you gotta read.