By Rob Hurtgen
When God extends the call to ministry, particularly the pastoral ministry, it seems that accompanying that calling for many is the desire to read. Several pastors I’ve had the privilege of sitting down to speak with have shared somewhat surprisingly that when they were called to ministry a passion for reading came with it. Reading is one of the greatest and simplest tools that any pastoral can access for their growth.
How then, with everything demanded of pastors on a daily basis, can we simply read well for God’s glory and our good? Let me suggest three simple strategies for successful reading.
Set Aside 30 Minutes a Day to Read
When we think of reading, many of us have in our minds the image of long, quiet, uninterrupted periods of reading. C.S. Lewis reinforces this idea in saying, “You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me.” Lingering uninterrupted over both a cup of coffee and a book is often the image of reading.
The reality of ministry and life is that there really is very little uninterrupted time to linger over books. There are too many demands, too many people who need your attention, and too many issues that need to be addressed. What happens is that the desire to read well gradually dissolves to not reading at all.
The first strategy towards successful reading is to set and guard a 30-minute appointment every day with yourself and your library. One of the reasons we don’t read is because we haven’t designed a time to read. The time that’s waiting to be found to read that book will always be allusive. If it’s important enough to be on your agenda, it is important enough to be scheduled.
These 30-minutes are dedicated to reading outside of the necessary studying, writing, and reading your doing for sermon prep. I have been amazed at how many books I’ve been able to work through with this simple strategy of 30-minutes a day.
Have a System for Marking Your Books and Recording Your Thoughts.
Reading is an active activity. To be an active reader you must mark your books. You need a system that includes marking and writing.
As your reading mark meaningful sentences and section with either a highlighter, a bracket or underline. If you’re reading a traditional paper book, flag that page. If you’re on your e-reader you’ll be able to retrieve that highlight later. The key then is to when you’ve finished the book look back over what you’ve highlighted.
When you’ve finished a chapter, or in some instances a section of a book, summarize what it said. Write out a couple of sentences on what the author was trying to share. Knowing that you are writing these summary disciplines your mind to think clearer about what you are reading.
Whether you highlight, underline, dog-ear the corners or use removable flags, somehow you need to mark what you are actively reading, summarize what you’ve read and retrieve those meaningful sentences.
Read About Reading
One of the reasons we don’t read well is that we know how to recognize words on a page but we don’t know how to read. One of the greatest investment you can make in yourself as a leader is to read How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren.
This in-depth classic guide to knowing how to read will equip you in the different ways in which to read. A warning—it is wordy and repetitive but the strategy outlined in the book will not only helps you be a clearer reader of books but the Bible as well. This book has radically changed how I approach books.
Conclusion – Personal Reflection
I am a slow reader. Always have been.
I know though that to be the best pastor I can to the glory of God and the building up of the church He has called me to serve I have to read. If I don’t read then I will not grow. If I as a pastor do not grow then the church I serve will not grow spiritually, numerically, or any other way growth can be measured.
Pastor, you have been called to lead. You have been called to read.