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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Recent Comments
I love Ed's writings and heart. I am frustrated by these articles, however. Much of the missiological basis of the Church Growth Movement are not mentioned, and the origination of the formulas are not substantiated. Also, the Movement via Wagner, started mentioning the importance of health over 3o years ago. I wish these articles were better researched and less sweeping in their generalizations. Things like E1, E2, E3 evangelism, group multiplication, relational networks, faith, health, and the care to measure the right things are largely missing here. Perhaps Ed has earned the right to generalize, but I still was disappointed. But keep researching Ed! Ed and Thom have continued on in the spirit of the movement by doing quality research, and for that I am deeply grateful.
 
— Gary Westra
 
This discussion will continue, for sure. I am tasked with the online worship ministry do our church at FBC Trussville and it is proving to be an important piece of the overall ministry. As in most things In life and technology, balance is in order. Many of our older adults prefer the "live" service online rather than a week or even day-later DVD or downloaded service. They tell me it is important for them to be a part while the service occurs. This is key because if a person simply wanted the message or music or to see the pastor because they "like" him, then it would not need to be live. There is a sense with our people that they need to experience the worship with their church family in real time. Theologically, folks will have issues. This is a disruptive technology for church. But I would hope that before we toss it all away we would approach it with wisdom and humility. Personally, I would like to see the Church grow through small, cost-effective ways like this and not just brick-and-mortar.
 
— Robby
 
It seems this was written awhile ago but I would like to respond. Mr. Surratt makes great points. Points that should be taken seriously by all churches. I just do not think these points are the main reason people are not coming back to churches. Who knows the exact reason why anyone does not come back unless they tell you, but I can say with certainty the reasons I do not return are usually the same. 1. Love, tolerance, and acceptance. (unbelievers, baby Christians) Church members seem to want their guests or potential members to behave a certain way. They want them to conform to the system that is already in place. In some ways this is understandable. In other ways, it is isolating to the guest. They want to feel loved and accepted the way they are. They want to be told everything is ok no matter their past. They want to be given time to work out their immediate more pressing issues without having to worry about what to wear and how to talk (church speak). 2. Love, tolerance, and acceptance (believers, unchurched) Many times, these people are looking for what fits their already preconceived ideas of what "good churches" are. These preconceived notions are difficult to overcome and some of them were addressed in Mr. Surratt's article. But I can tell you that a truly loving, a truly tolerant, and a truly accepting church can overcome most of these things. You may never be able to overcome a taste in music, or a theological difference, but most everything else can be healed with Love. 3. People can see the business aspect of the church. I see it almost immediately when I walk into certain churches for the first time. I think people understand that a church has many aspects of itself that are business oriented. I just believe they dont want to experience these aspects when they visit. How many churches are so focused on growth, in numbers of bodies, that they forget the growth of the heart? The American church is now fully Americanized. Its a show and a numbers game. People come to church, especially new comers, CRAVING to fill a void in their life. If you are offering the same thing they can get in the real world, how are you any different? There are plenty of other reasons people do not return and many may not be avoidable. However, the church as a whole needs to reevaluate the arena in which they are playing. The simplicity of the Gospel is good enough to fulfill the hearts of the unbelievers and restore the prodigal's to a relationship with Christ. Love thy neighbor as thyself and love thy God with all your heart.
 
— Shay Wallace
 

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