What Have You Been Reading Lately?

I don’t know who THEY are, but they say that “a leader is a reader.” If I’m being honest, I have always struggled with this because reading does not come easily to me. Other than binging a good novel on vacation, at the end of most days I would much rather relax with a good TV show or movie than sit and try to focus on a wordy, non-fiction book that might just pop me back into work-mode. There are very few books that have made the long journey from my ever-growing reading list onto my coffee table, and even fewer have made it from the coffee table into my hands.

In 2023, I thought it was time to make a change in this area. At the beginning of the year, I made a modest goal to read 1 book every month; maybe not a challenge for some, but for me, I thought it was a reasonably attainable- yet challenging- goal. And wouldn’t you know it, I completed it! I don’t know when it happened, but during the year, something strange happened: reading became enjoyable to me. There were many nights when I began to look forward to winding down by reading a few pages, accompanied by a tea and a light snack (the snack was my reward for reading!). Then, another strange thing happened. Throughout the year, I found myself in numerous situations where things I had been reading became directly applicable to what I was doing. I would find myself in a conversation where the topic drifted towards something I had just read. Or, I would be prepping a sermon, in need of that extra bit of “mmmffff,” then I would be reminded of a relevant quote or story I had read earlier in the year. It’s almost as if THEY were right all along!

I have decided that I can’t go back; I need to continue this journey of continual learning. So, I have once again set a goal to read 1 book every month in 2024. January and February’s titles are quite literally “in the books,” and I’m well on my way with my selection for March. This month’s read is a challenging one for all who endeavor to pursue a life of pastoral ministry. It’s a book written by Eugene Peterson called Under the Unpredictable Plant. If you’ve never read it, you should. If you have, read it again. Throughout the book, Peterson confronts the issues of commercialism and careerism that often plague the hearts and minds of today’s Church leaders. Drawing from the story of Jonah for inspiration, He exhorts the reader to return to a more grounded, humble approach to pastoring.  It is a challenging read, as you can see from this sampling found in the introduction:

The pastoral vocation in America is embarrassingly banal (It’s OK if you need to pause to look up the word “banal.” I did too). It is banal because it is pursued under the canons of job efficiency and career management. It is banal because it is reduced to the dimensions of a job description. It is banal because it is an idol – a call from God exchanged for an offer by the devil for work that can be measured and manipulated at the convenience of the worker. Holiness is not banal.

Supplementing my everyday Bible reading with thoughts like this has grown me tremendously over the past year and a half. Learning to embrace the silence found in reading has created a new depth in my soul, as I’ve been able to sit with and hear from so many brilliant voices, both past and present. As one author put it, “the act of reading a book is literally the act of being ‘quick to listen, slow to speak.’” (Brett McCracken, The Wisdom Pyramid) There is something deeply formational about reading in which we lean into and learn from the wisdom of others.

It has taken me a while, but after 15 months, having read 15 books, I am convinced that maybe, just maybe, a leader really should be a reader… So, what have you been reading lately?

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