What are church leaders reading these days? From the blogs that I receive they are reading a very selective range of books. One post recommended 16 books every church leader should read on their next sabbatical. It listed books on leadership, team building, vision casting, personal development, and strategic thinking from contemporary authors. I can remember asking the famous missionary bishop Stephen Neill to speak to a college group on the biblical concept of leadership. He replied that he did not think that the Bible said much about leadership but a lot about being a servant! The books suggested by this post were all written by the present generation. There was no historical perspective, and little theological or biblical substance. I would have thought that the best way to learn about leadership would be to read a few biographies of notable leaders such as C.H. Spurgeon, Winston Churchill, William Wilberforce, John Newton, St. Augustine, John Stott, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Bunyan, Oliver Cromwell, Thomas Cranmer and many more.
Another blog that posts summaries of books so that readers do not have to read the books reviewed seems to focus only on contemporary American Christian gurus. Their works tend to be limited by their own experience and show little interest beyond their own way of doing things. The emphasis seems to be reading quickly and superficially so that you don’t need to spend much of your valuable time pondering, meditating, and struggling to think through the challenges of difficult and complex issues. Where are the major works of theology and fiction that we need to read to expand our mental universe and challenge our limited experience? I have been blessed this past year reading through all the books written by Emil Brunner (1889-1966). He was one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century and was Professor of Systematic and Practical Theology at Zürich. By reading a chapter a day you can cover a great deal of material over several months. Sometimes I want to read the chapter twice to make sure I understand the implications of what he is saying. Alister McGrath has just written a reappraisal of his work which I have just completed. Excellent stuff: food for the brain and the spirit.
Preachers also need to read fiction to expand their understanding of characters and relationships. When I was young an old clergyman, who was also a poet, advised me to read poetry to expand my vocabulary. Unfortunately modern poetry has fallen on hard times and is mostly indecipherable. Nevertheless the classics are at hand. I have benefitted from Studdert Kennedy, Thomas Lynch and Czeslaw Milosz. Preachers need to work hard at making their messages interesting. Drawing on the wealth of material that is available through reading, and using the experience of others delivers the speaker from having to use personal illustrations that are often embarrassing, distracting from the message, and narcissistic. The apostles quoted from the Old Testament and classical poets, and rarely their contemporaries. Their sources gave depth and authority to what they had to say. A good example for us.