I’ve always seen some men as gifted in certain aspects of the Christian life or of pastoral ministry and my reflex is to study them just long enough to get down on myself because I’m not gifted in the same way.
Dr. Albert Mohler is the President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY and is my hero of reading. As a pastor I sit in my office recording podcasts, preparing sermons and bible studies, brainstorming, and writing blogs like this one. As I sit at my desk, I sit with my back to bookcases filled to the brim with books that I’ll “get to at some point.” I’ve heard Dr. Mohler on several occasions speak about his reading. He’s always reading, and he’s usually in the middle of what seems like fifty books. He’s not “reading” these books the same way I tended to be “reading” a list of books at any given time. I would regularly be on page twenty-five or thirty of a whole list of books and then start more without ever finishing the others.
Here’s the thing, if you’re a pastor, you’re going to want to read and be in the habit of it. There will always be that guy you follow that’s coming out with a new book you need to get your hands on. However, rather than buying the new book, sitting it on your shelf of no return, and blowing the dust off of it twice per year, let me tell you what I’ve been doing that has help prevent that.
I am reading four books at any given time and it’s the same four books until one is finished and needs replaced with the next. I chose different categories so my mind is always being stretched. For me, the Bible is the seemingly obvious one, but it is where I start this list. It’s the most important and when reading scripture, I follow a reading plan. As I write this article, I am following a five-day bible reading plan. This usually gets me into each genre of the Scripture and I get through four to five chapters per day. I’ve also gone through several other reading plans that were helpful. There are chronological plans, 7-day plans, and I’ve even done a Bible in 90 Days plan before. It's important to note that whichever reading plan I’m in does not include the other study time I have for tasks such as preaching and teaching. At this moment, I’m preaching through Matthew, teaching a men’s study through 1 Timothy, and walking my community group through Ephesians.
Outside of the Sunday School answer of Bible, I am usually reading a biographical work of someone, typically people from church history. One of the most important things to glean from the stories of people from church history is that I get to see their humanity. They become human rather than just a perfect faith figment of the imagination. Then my eyes are opened to the great God that brought them through thick and thin. That current book is 21 Servants of Sovereign Joy written by John Piper. It’s a thick one with many different short bits of biography but is so rich and even devotional at times. Up next I have a biography of John Calvin and then of R.C. Sproul that I’m going to tackle.
The third category is theology. I always want to be reading a theological work of some sort because I want my theological knowledge and conviction deepening. Without solid theology, well, there’s no solidity at all. So I’ll always be reading something that would fit into this category. This could be part of a more robust theological work such as Dr. Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology or Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics. It could also be something like what I just finished, Arthur Pink’s Attributes of God. Or what I'm reading now, The Mortification of Sin by John Owen.
So I’ve covered Bible, Biography, and Theology. Now it’s time for the catch-all category of "practical". I’m always working through something that can be defined as practical, either for my circumstances personally, things happening within my family, culture at large, or some way that our church should be growing spiritually. This is more of a “whatever you want” category. For example, I’ve read Pilgrim’s Progress as well as Dr. Steve Lawson’s The Moment of Truth. I’m doing that because of the severe lack of understanding our world has of the reality of objective truth. Next on the docket are Piper’s When I Don’t Desire God and Voddie Baucham’s Fault Lines.
Having these categories helps me do what the great Australian theologian, Dory coined as “just keep swimming.” I’ll likely never get through all of the books I’d like at the pace I’d like to read them. But this keeps me in the Word and continuously learning how to best apply it in my own life, my family, Hillside Baptist church, and Dickinson, North Dakota.