I enjoy perusing reading lists. I will often find not only new books, but also authors that I am unfamiliar with. There are many titles that I would not know of it were not for reading lists. One genre I regularly add to my reading lists are biographies, particularly historical biographies. The stories of men and women who have long since departed this side of eternity have been extremely helpful in shaping my thinking and ministry. When others ask me for a good book the majority of the time I will point them to a biography. I would like to offer four reasons to consider reading a biography this summer.
First, read for information. One of the reasons readers are leaders is because leaders are learners. One way to learn, not just about people, but of places and times is to read biographies. A good biography will immerse you in the subject’s life, the times they lived, and the cultural tones that shaped them and the actions they took. Reading biographies can pull us into situations that would never be in, speculating how we would address the problems the subject faced.
Second, read for inspiration. People who accomplished what no one imagined they could, against incredible odds, living lives that feel bigger than life itself are inspiring. The story of Ernest Shackleton and his crew’s narrow escape from certain death in the region of Antarctica inspire leadership, courage, and diligence. The epic quest for the gold medal beneath the glare of the furor in the 1936 Berlin Olympics by young men who accomplished what no one thought possible encourages one to dream big and work hard. The story of Adoniram Judson’s missionary stamina despite numerous ailments, the burial of two wives, and a near two-year imprisonment can encourage you to endure. These are some of many possible examples of biographies that can inspire the reader-leader to accomplish more than they thought possible.
Third, read to be inquired of. When you read biographies, you are arming yourself with information and stories that can relate to a wide variety of people. A biography provides talking points for conversations to help you be all things to all men to reach some. Reading biographies in a public place has created opportunities to have gospel conversations with people who have inquired what I was reading. Thanks to the Lord, there have been opportunities to share the gospel with people who simply inquired, “What are you reading?”
Finally, read for illustrations. Biographies provide a wealth of illustrations for preaching and leading Bible studies. Occasionally someone will mention a story that was told and how it connected to the text preached from. Illustrations that are taken from a biography can help to teach you congregation to look at both history and contemporary society through the lenses of scripture. Illustrations do not have to be outlandish, humorous, and in many cases fabricated. Real stories, of real people, in a real time serve as great illustrations that stick.
Reading biographies has proven to be a good hobby, a way to engage the time, learn more of the world we live, and be able to converse with many. These are four of many reasons to add a biography to your current reading list. Perhaps by the end this summer you will know a great story that you did not know before by reading a biography.
Rob Hurtgen has just finished The Naturalist: Theodore Roosevelt: A Lifetime of Exploration, and Triumph of American Natural History. He has just began to read American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell.