The Reading Mistakes of Pastors

I love to read. That wasn’t true when I was younger…I had to learn to be a lifelong learner. But today reading is an important part of my personal and professional growth. Perhaps Mark Twain’s words hit home for me when he said, “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.”

As a pastor, reading has many benefits. But the longer I lead, the more I’ve come to realize that pastors often fall prey to a handful of “reading mistakes.” Reading takes time, and therefore, like anything, it needs to be leveraged in the best way possible. Here are three reading mistakes pastors should avoid:

1. “Agreement-Based” Reading – Every pastor has his or her favorite authors. Don’t feel guilty for enjoying how an author writes or the substance of their content. The problem arises when we only read our favorite authors. Some pastors even take it to the extreme by refusing to read anything written by someone with whom they disagree. Reading someone is not the same as agreeing with someone.

A pastor friend of mine recently said that he intentionally reads at least two books per year by a person who he disagrees with theologically. The reason is simply to better understand the author’s viewpoint, and to better understand his own personal beliefs. I think that’s some good advice. It stretches your thinking and forces you to wrestle with your beliefs and convictions. It helps you answer the “why” behind the “what” of your beliefs.

2. Reading Only to Preach – I read plenty of books on subjects I’m going to preach about. While books cannot replace our discipline of digging into God’s Word, I do believe books help our preaching stay fresh while providing depth, perspective, and illustrations. The problem occurs when we only read to preach. This is a real temptation when you have to prepare a new sermon every weekend. Even pastors who have preaching teams are faced with this temptation.

Don’t let the need for the next illustration, quote, or thought drive you to only read to preach. When all of your reading is to help you prepare for the next sermon, you neglect other important areas of your life and ministry.

3. Reading in One Field – Books are available in so many fields of interest: church, theology, leadership, business, psychology, self-help, fiction…the list is endless. But as pastors, our tendency is to only read books related to the church, Christian living, or theology. Reading in only “one field” is limiting on multiple fronts.

First, “one field” reading prevents us from accessing wisdom outside of our field that has application inside of our field.  For example, in his book Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret, Pastor Larry Osborne tells the story about sharing business insights with his team only to fall on deaf ears. Their argument was, “The church is not a business.” Osborne says, “I agreed. The church is not a business. But the moment we outgrew the home we started in, we were an organization. And businesses know an awful lot about organization and systems, much of which churches need to learn.”

Don’t let “one field” reading keep you from moving from “here” (your current reality) to “there” (your preferred future). As Osborne says, “All truth is God’s truth (even if it comes from somebody whose theology doesn’t line up with yours point by point).”

Second, “one field” reading prevents us from connecting with our audience. It’s really easy for pastors to get trapped inside a bubble that completely disconnects with their audience. It doesn’t take long for our audience to think, “He doesn’t have a clue what I deal with.” A wider scope of reading helps you understand the audience you communicate to every weekend.

For example, I have a lot of young business professional at 7 City Church. Every time I read a business book, it helps me understand their world, their language, and the best practices that could actually help our church. That’s one reason I got a master’s degree outside of the ministry field. Or, if I read a book about culture, it helps me understand how my audience thinks, what they believe, and their worldview.

Don’t abandon the areas of reading that you love. But guard against these three mistakes so that your reading provides deeper growth.

Question: What’s the best book you’ve read in the last six months?