Dude, there are a lot of books. As I turn around and gaze at the plethora of titles tucked tightly into my living room shelves, it feels overwhelming to think of how many I still have not read. But I like books. I mean, I’m supposed to, right? I order them off Amazon, buy them at conferences, collect them during my travels, and discuss them with other pastors constantly. There’s something oddly satisfying about having a beautifully bound hardcover by some dead guy sharing space with someone hoping to be that guy in a hundred years. Truth be told, I’ve always envisioned myself having one of those grandiose nineteenth century libraries like Thomas Jefferson’s at the Library of Congress. There I am, after a quaint, casual dinner party with friends, nonchalantly reaching for a title off the shelf and quoting something profound from memory.
The point I’m trying to make is, with all of these choices, what books should I be reading? As someone who’s been in ministry almost a decade, and in my third year as a church planter, what kinds of books would be most helpful? In other words, is there a daily diet of book reading that would be most helpful for someone who has to wear a multitude of ministry hats and doesn’t have an abundance of leisure time to complete one of the great works of literature every two or three days?
Below are some category breakdowns that have helped me put it all in order, and maybe will help provide you with a more intentional reading track for your life. If you can add to the categories, great, because it’s far from exhaustive. Just so you know, I’m in no way able to read something from each of these categories on a daily basis, but I like to try to digest a few of them at a time to keep my reading diet diverse and interesting.
Remember, reading is a marathon, not a sprint. Pay no attention to those Facebraggers who claim they read two books a day, before breakfast. They’re either lying, speed reading, or worse yet, moonlighting as book reviewers. You want your reading diet to be like your eating diet: healthy and balanced. So here we go:
Are you devoting time to reading this book called The Bible every day? Although reading the classics will enlarge your mind, your heart will surely shrink without disciplined time in God’s Word. Let me be as straight as possible about this: you don’t have time to not do this. To accompany my time in the Word, I also read a short devotional called “Tabletalk” by Ligonier Ministries. When do I do this? Early AM, every day. If I have a 6am appointment, I’m up at 4am to pray and read. It’s a non-negotiable. It should be for you too, because your personal holiness for your people depends on it.
You’re preaching every week now. The minute you wake up on Monday morning, the clock starts ticking because you have to have something to say in six days, and it needs to be correct, clear, and compelling. Preaching and Preachers by Martin Lloyd Jones has helped me to improve these three things a little better every week, by God’s grace. Some other easy to read preaching books that you can cycle through are Expositional Preaching by David Helm, Preach by Mark Dever/Greg Gilbert, Why Johnny Can’t Preach by T. David Gordon, Preaching? by Alec Motyer, The Work of the Pastor by William Still, and The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter. Plenty more where these came from, but these are fairly easy to breeze through.
More likely than not you are implementing some version of small groups, life groups, growth groups, community groups or, as I like to call them…groups of people from your church who meet in houses to eat and pray on Wednesday nights…every week. How do you explain to your people why it’s so important that you steal one of their precious weeknights every week to hang with a bunch of church people? Some books that have helped me explain these things and keep them sharp in my own mind are Community by Brad House, Total Church and Everyday Church by Tim Chester/Steve Timmis, Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall/Tony Payne, Follow Me by David Platt, and two coming out this month: Saturate by Jeff Vanderstelt, and The Compelling Community by Mark Dever.
It’s good for church planters, and those of you who need to be planting churches, to read about church planting, even if you’ve already planted a church. The Church Planting Wife by Christine Hoover is an incredibly helpful read, not only for the wives, but for you too, oh plaid and bearded one. Church Planting Is For Wimps by Mike McKinley, Church Planter by Darrin Patrick, Center Church by Tim Keller, Church 3.0 by Neil Cole and Church In The Making by Ben Arment have all been helpful. Don’t forget to read everything put out by 9Marks for continued healthy churching.
This will probably come as a shock to you, but ministry is hard on your marriage. Like, super hard. Instead of neglecting the most important relationship you will ever have, besides your relationship with Christ, try to read some of the marriage books your wife has been begging you to read right after you “finally finish Calvin’s Institutes.” Some good ones are The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller, When Sinners Say ‘I Do’ by Dave Harvey, What Did You Expect? by Paul David Tripp, You and Me Forever by Francis and Lisa Chan, The Mingling of Souls by Matt and Lauren Chandler and…Sheet Music by Kevin Leman, just to keep things sexy. This is barely even touching the tip of the iceberg, but you get the idea. Don’t neglect this one.
If you come to my church on Sunday morning, you might get the impression that it’s THE RONNIE MARTIN SHOW. That’s right folks, I do the welcoming, announcements, preaching, and worship leading all in a single bound. Of course, it’s not by choice, it’s just where we’re at. More specifically, God has not provided us with a gifted and willing leader to help lead our time of singing. I know, pray for me. Thankfully, I have a background in worship leading, and have benefited from some of these good resources: Worship Matters by Bob Kauflin, Christ Centered Worship by Bryan Chapel, Rhythms of Grace by Mike Cosper, Unceasing Worship by Harold Best and Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns by T. David Gordon.
When you planted your church, part of that process included you leading said church. This is a category of which there seems to be no shortage of both helpful and hokey material. I say hokey because some leadership books can start feeling like cookbooks after awhile: three cups of this, one tablespoon of that…LEADER. A few that I’d recommend are The Conviction To Lead by Al Mohler, Dangerous Calling by Paul Tripp, Disciplines of a Godly Man by Kent Hughes, The Pastor’s Justification by Jared Wilson, Problems of Christian Leadership by John Stott and Gospel Centered Leadership by Steve Timmis.
Oh yeah, read doctrine. And never stop. This is the meat and protein of your diet. Or tofu if you have those unfortunate vegetarian leanings. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that as a church planter you should have a healthy collection of Grudem, Allison, Frame, Owen, Murray, Warfield, Sproul, Cole, Boice, Beale, Packer, Piper, etc., etc., etc. We stop learning when we stop reading, and we need to constantly be refilling our doctrinal tanks.
The classics have earned that title for a reason, so break through some of the language barriers that you should have already gotten past after five seasons of “Downton Abbey”. There are too many to print here, but I like to make sure I’m consistently ploughing through a classic like Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, Lectures To My Students by Charles Spurgeon, Confessions by Augustine, or a modern classic like The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul, Desiring God by John Piper or Knowing God by J.I. Packer.
You know all those dudes you try to find quotes from for your sermons? Those legendary, near immortal pillars of the faith that we’ve come to believe never put their pants on one leg at a time? Search and read the story of their lives to see how God worked through their own sin, shortcomings, and ordinariness. It doesn’t have to only be theological giants, either. I finished a Walt Disney bio that was fascinating, instructive, and insightful on countless levels. We learn about other people’s lives to know our own more fully.
All theology and no play makes Pastor Johnny a dull boy. Read something FUN. I know, some of you are going to nerd out on me and claim theology is fun for you because of the infinite depths of your annoyingly vast seminary trained mind. But fiction stimulates this thing called your imagination, which you need plenty of in your church, home, and marriage. It also enables you to learn beyond your personal life experience by broadening the affections of your heart and the creativity of your mind. Before you tell me you’ve already read The Chronicles of Narnia, let me assure you that there are a few more fiction titles out there worthy of your time. Explore.