5 Reasons Pastors Should Read Over Their Heads

Whenever I talk about reading I try to throw in a lot of disclaimers. Reading is my “thing.” It’s what comes easily to me (more easily than, say, personal evangelism). So I always want to be careful that I don’t impose my passions on everyone else.

But even with that caveat, I encourage pastors to regularly read over their heads. This will mean different things to different men, but what I have in mind is the reading of academic writing. Well-meaning people sometimes call me a leading theologian or a scholar, but I’m not anything close to either. I write books, and hopefully my theology is pretty careful and pretty sound, but none of this means I do what real scholars do.

Very, very, very (did I say “very”) few pastors are called to engage in the highest levels of scholarship at the same time as pastoring a congregation. It’s just not possible, at least not for very long. But most pastors should still make it a point to jump into the deep end of the pool and get in over their heads once in awhile.

Let me give you a few reasons why.

  1. Reading scholarly stuff keeps you learning and learning keeps you fresh. Most Christian books are fairly derivative. This isn’t necessarily bad. It just means that if you read nothing but the new releases on your Christian bookstore, you may not be challenged with new insights and new ideas on old topics and old truths.
  2. Reading scholarly stuff keeps you humble. Granted, there is garbage in the academic world as much as there is garbage anywhere. But if you read an excellent scholarly work, like Richard Muller on Post-Reformation Reformed Theology or Scott Manetsch’s new book on Calvin’s Company of Pastors, you’ll realize that you don’t know nearly as much as you thought. This can make you jealous or make you despair. Or it can make you humble and thankful. Even those of us who think we are well read, could be outpaced by an earnest grad student in most areas within a couple weeks.
  3. Reading scholarly stuff keeps you hungry. When I read bad academic work I want to laugh, then cry, then ask for my money back. But when I read excellent work, I get excited to fill in the gaps of my knowledge and make connections I’ve never made before. Good pastors are voraciously curious—about people, about history, about the Bible, and about knowledge. Stay thirsty, my friends.
  4. Reading scholarly stuff keeps you balanced. Again, I’m thinking of the fine academic work, not esoteric gibberish. When you read excellent scholarship you realize two important things: One, some of the sound bites and catch phrases that pass for good thinking and exegetical insights do not deserve to be taken seriously. And two, some of the confident assertions we make deserve to be more nuanced.
  5. Reading scholarly stuff keeps you edified. We live in a place and in a time with an incredible wealth of Christian resources. We have many fine scholars teaching in our schools and seminaries. Most of them genuinely want to serve the church and further the cause of Christ. They have done us a tremendous favor by learning foreign languages, digging around in the desert, or hunkering down in archives, or committing years of their lives to a single person, place, or idea. Let’s take advantage of the best of their labors.

What does this mean for you as a pastor? I can’t say for sure. But consider subscribing to a good journal like Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society) or Westminster Theological Journal. Don’t dismiss every book that costs more than you think it’s worth. Plow through a book on your shelf that only makes sense half of the time. Find an area or a person you are really interested in and take a few months to read as much as you can. Try to peruse at least one scholarly monograph each year. And best of all, don’t be afraid to read the old, big books that these men and women are writing about.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kevin DeYoung

I am the Senior Pastor at University Reformed Church(RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. I’ve been the pastor there since 2004. I was born in Chicagoland, but grew up mostly in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area. I root for da Bears, da Bulls, da Blackhawks, the White Sox, and the Spartans. I have been married to Trisha since January 2002. We live in East Lansing and have five young children.

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Great article as usual from Ed.
 
— Jim Bradshaw
 
I recently left the church where I had attended for 10 years & have been looking for another church home. I visited several in cities that were a distance away- 35 minutes, 1 hr & 1.5 hrs. I could see myself serving in any of those churches, but would like some place closer. I tried several in the town where I live, but no luck so far. One service was supposed to start at 10, but didn't start til 10:20 & the "announcements" took up- no exaggeration- 30+ minutes! THEN they called a guy up to "pray over the offering" He proceeded to whip the congregation into being cheerful givers: "What time is it saints?" [mumble, mumble] "I said, what time is it?" "HAPPY TIME!"- this went on for 15 minutes. ONE hour after their supposed start time, they actually began praise & worship! Another church I went to locally was ok, but the morning I visited there, near the end of the sermon, the pastor announced in his sermon, "I'm not one of those educated preachers! I'm just a simple man with a simple message; I don't get into the Old Testament & all the feast days & all that....I like to stick with the gospels." Nothing wrong with the Gospels, but it's like going to Golden Corral & only eating at the taco bar...good stuff but you're missing out on so much! Needless to say, that was my confirmation to move on... I'm currently driving 1.5 hrs on Sunday nights to attend an excellent church in Charlotte.
 
— Cathy
 
I have an autoimmune disorder. It would be nice if the 'meet & greet' didn't include "Shake the hand of 10 people" Basically it all seems so artificial anyway. Once you sit down can you remember that person's name, color of their eyes, anything they said? My church has an information area with a live person behind the counter. However, the person behind the counter is clueless as to what is happening at the church, which groups they have or where they meet. Basically that person can't answer any questions. The church also has a website. It informs you when the services are, a few of the groups that are available but very little information about what the groups entail or who to contact for each group. There isn't a calendar of events. They are very impressed with themselves since they have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and so on. Defeats the purpose if it's all about past events. The rest of the top 10 - luckily don't fit the church I attend.
 
— Jean
 

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