The pastor’s bookshelf

By Clayton Pruett

Our Savior, for all His busy three years, never allowed His public ministry to crowd out His private meditation.
 — Vance Havner

The above quote is extremely convicting to me. If I am being transparent and honest, my private meditations often are crowded out by a busy schedule. I am married to an amazing wife who works full-time, I have three wonderful and active kids, and I serve as the only full-time staff at a church currently being revitalized. The pressure and pace of life can be intense.

One common approach in dealing with busyness is setting priorities and eliminating activities that are not mission critical or essential. I going to suggest something different, the addition of something. It’s something I’ve found to be important and necessary, regular reading. Here’s why I believe reading is important.

As pastors, we consistently find ourselves caring for others, sometimes to the point of exhaustion. Fatigue can lead even the strongest of leaders to foggy thinking, a depleted heart, and an unhealthy lifestyle.

I regularly fight the temptation to believe I don’t have time to read — and you may also. I’ve found that carving out time to read benefits me in ways that make it an essential priority for my life and ministry.

Soul care

Reading nurtures and refreshes my soul. If you are saying to yourself, “I don’t have time to read. If I drop anything from my to-do list, I might not get everything done, and I might disappoint people.” If you listen to yourself saying these things, you’ll talk yourself out of reading. When I lead and pastor from a place of emptiness, I realize I’m more likely to disappoint people. If I don’t take time for soul care, I have little to give.

William Nicholson once observed, “We read to know we’re not alone.” Pastoral work can be very difficult and, at times, very lonely. When I read the words of others who have been where I am — leading a church and pastoring people — I find encouragement. There have been moments of need in my life when God has used the words of another to care and lead me to understand grace and truth. Their words, empowered by the Spirit, began to soothe and comfort my exhausted soul. Each page contained fresh encouragement, like that which comes from a close friend. When is the last time you slowed down long enough to experience God’s love and grace? When is the last time you answered honestly the frequently asked question, “How are you doing?”

Self development

Reading leads to self-development. My family is in a season that makes traveling to conferences nearly impossible. I still have a strong desire to grow personally as a pastor and leader. This is where reading has been extremely helpful to me. Reading provides the freedom to open and close the classroom at my convenience. It makes my learning portable and accessible. Reading allows me to learn from experienced and knowledgeable pastors and leaders in a way that is budget- and time-friendly. Through reading I can reach far into the past, accessing truths of faithful men whose thoughts are conveyed through books that have stood the test of time. Reading allows me to turn truth over and over in my mind and heart, to let it sink deeply.

Getting started

Reading regularly is work. To read with any consistency you will have to give thought to the time and practice of reading. Here are some considerations and practical questions that will help you develop as a reader:

  1. Time. What part of the day am I generally at my best?

  2. Schedule. During what part of the day can I read and still effectively serve my family and fulfill other job responsibilities?
  3. Location. Where is a place where can I read with minimal distractions?
  4. Retention. how will I record insights and truths learned from this book?

Building your library

  • Do not buy books simply because they are popular; rather seek out recommended resources. I am always asking fellow pastors 
and leaders what books they are reading and have found helpful. 

  • Purchase the books you need today, not the books you might read “someday.” My bookshelves are filled with “someday” books. 

  • Invest in works that will help you develop our own ministry, not copy the success of others. Reading is best when it leads us to transformation, not imitation. 

  • If possible, rent or borrow a book before you buy it. I use the apps Hoopla, OverDrive, and RBdigital. Share books with area pastors. 

Reading Tips

  1. Reading is not a race; it’s like eating a good meal. Take your time and enjoy each page. 

  2. Find a system for taking notes. You can use a computer, notebook, or the front of the book. Write down the page number and the entire quote, which makes quotes easy to find. 

  3. Summarize each chapter in your own words, then ask yourself a few reflective questions to make it personal. For example, “What is one helpful idea I can apply to my life or church?” 

  4. Read with other people. If you have trouble starting or finishing books, read with other people. This provides accountability and challenge. If you cannot find a group or person to read with, find a person who will let you share with them what you are learning. 

Published April 13, 2018

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Clayton Pruett

Clayton Pruett serves as Lead Pastor of The Gathering Church in Thornton, Colorado. He is a graduate of Boyce College. He and his wife, Tiffany, have been married for 14 years. They have three children: Chloe, Vance, and Ellie.