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Jesus Creed

What Should Pastors Read?

A couple of posts and a couple of e-mails separate from the blogsite lead me to make some suggestions on what pastors should read. I’ve been asked what I think pastors should read, but I make these suggestions with some trepidation because I am not a pastor. So, see this as a conversation from a professor of Bible and theology to those who see their vocations in pastoral terms.

Above all, a pastor’s vocation, fluctuating from one place to another, is to pastor the people to whom he is assigned (by God and denominational leaders). Pastoring does not mean that pastors ought to know everything and be able to do everything and be everything to everybody all the time world without end.


I do not believe the pastor’s primary responsiblity is to read all day long so he or she can look smart and cultured on Sunday morning. It is to pastor, and that must be the first and most important thing. But, friend, you must take care of your heart, soul, mind, and strength — and many find that to take place by personal stimulation and physical exercise.

There are some who need to study less and love more and some who need to love less and study more.

So, here’s a kick-start to a conversation:

1. Read the Bible daily — and say your prayers. Study the Bible; read your commentaries.
2. Keep up with the current church discussion by reading magazines like Books and Culture, Christianity Today, Christian Century, etc.. These magazines will lead you to important books that are coming out. You may have to choose one and only one.
3. At least once a year read something about one of the Church’s great figures — like Peter Brown’s biography of Augustine or the new one on Augustine by James O’Donnell.
4. Know your denominational issues by reading your denomination’s magazine.
5. Try to keep up with political and intellectual trends by reading magazines from different viewpoints. I’ll tell you what I read just to figure out what is going one from different angles: I read The New York Review of Books, Commentary, and The London Review of Books. These magazines will lead you to books to read, and try to limit yourself to what you know you will actually read.
6. Read something of personal pleasure: I read The American Scholar. It comes out four times a year. I love essays and this is nothing but essays, and sometimes it is on things that bore me to tears and I skip those. But, more often than not it gives me something to think about.
7. Read some blogs.

Finally, lest this look like a mountain of work imposed on pastors by some egghead professor, let me put it like this: for the sake of God’s work in this world, love God, love others, and be the best pastor you can be. And part of that means being a good theologian.

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posted June 9, 2005 at 4:51 pm

Scot, Enjoyed the post. My brother has been mentioning you for a while and I’ve been meaning to look up your blog. Glad I finally did. It’s nice to see an academic theologian who is sensitive to pastoral issues. As both a former pastor and now TEDS student, I have often felt that there is too significant of a disconnect between academic theology and local church praxis. Question for you: Do you think that the social location of the typical evangelical academic theologian has become too far removed (or is too easily removed) from the social location of the context in which his or her theology is to be applied? I can’t help but think that our divorce of the historic union of pastor/theologian has not served us well. Of course there are many theologians (such as yourself) who make an attempt, many successfully, to stand with their feet in both worlds. But it seems to me that contemporary evangelical theology is missing the contributions of modern day Augustines, Edwards, or Calvins –all theologians who served the church as both pastors and theologians. (I suppose we could even throw in Luther and Wesley, though they weren’t strictly pastors per se.)I’ve lamented about this on my own blog and am interested in your thoughts. And by the way, I appreciate both your evangelical commitments as well as the generous tone you take regarding emergent theology. In my mind, they may not have all the right answers, but they sure are asking the right questions. Its a conversation worth having.I will be returning often. God bless!

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Steve McCoy

posted June 9, 2005 at 5:48 pm

Scot, helpful and thoughtful. I think many pastors get stuck in the popular threads of books by bigger church pastors. Your list really helps that problem.I’ve had some good pastors recommend that I find one historical figure and read and read that person. Often it’s Edwards or Spurgeon or Owen, but I think it’s helpful. I have yet to do it (fear of picking one and then wishing I picked another, I think), but I still plan on it.I like the American Scholar, but I haven’t read one in about a year. I also like the idea of finding 3-7 books that are deep, and rereading them regularly through life. J.C. Ryle’s Holiness for example is a good one.Anyway, a few thoughts.

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Scot McKnight

posted June 9, 2005 at 7:39 pm

Steve,Thanks. I’m for that idea of finding one person to devote lots of time too. Someone like Augustine, or Aquinas, or Luther, or Calvin, or Menno Simons (gotta have the Anabaptists at the table friends), or Edwards or Spurgeon or Niebuhr or Bonhoeffer. But, I tend to O.D. on people and then move on to the next.And I should have added one more # to the books: pastors need always to be reading through a great spiritual classic, and I’ll mention the ones I like the most now:Augustine’s ConfessionsDante’s Divine ComedyLuther’s book on the freedom of a ChristianCalvin’s Institutes (don’t tell my friend Grant Osborne I said this)Edwards Sermons or Religious Affectionsa Kempis, ImitationJohn of the CrossSt FrancisBenedict’s RuleBonaventure’s Journey of the MindTeresa of AvilaBunyan’s Pilgrim’s ProgressWoolmans’ JournalWm Law’s Serious CallBrother LawrenceTozer, Tozer, TozerF. Schaeffer’s True SpiritualityA. Schmemann, For the Life of the WorldDietrich von Hildebrand’s TransformationI need to read some Nouwen moreR FosterD WillardM Robert MulhollandJ. Ortberg’s Life You’ve Always WantedJ. Piper’s Desiring GodThere are so many more, but pastors need to have one of these at the bedstand and wherever they kneel when they offer themselves to the Lord daily.And what I didn’t mention is something like the Book of Common Prayer or P. Tickle’s The Divine Hours. Establish those sacred rhythms and let them shape the flow of life. I can’t tell you what saying prayers does for me.

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posted June 10, 2005 at 8:22 am

some really good thoughts there.i have one question however, what about reading the newspaper? the thing that seemed to be missing from the list was immediate news and commentary. i also read the NYRB and whilst it does tap you into a lot of what is going on in the world, it also helps to frequent good newspapers or news sources as well (bbc, le monde, guardian, etc).

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Scot McKnight

posted June 10, 2005 at 8:34 am

Fernando,I read newspapers too. Sports page first.

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posted June 15, 2005 at 10:19 am

Great stuff. I especially appreciate how you emphsize that the job of the pastor is to pastor! novel concept.I’ve added my 2 cents worth of additions to your list. primarily elaborating on what blogs to read and added a piece on cultural trends.

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