Books and Reading
A minister must read. A leader must be a reader. The Apostle Paul sent for the books and the parchments (2 Timothy 4:13). But there are three obstacles to overcome if a minister is to read much: the money to buy them, the time to read them, and the choice of what to read from the vast choice available.
With regard to the first, the minister must endeavour to set aside money for books. Some men devote wedding and funeral fees to this purpose. The church can help, either by providing a book allowance, or by agreeing to pay for books up to a set amount. The latter is probably preferable as a set sum allowed may be liable to tax, while books purchased by the church for the minister’s use may not be taxable. An alternative to buying is to borrow some books from libraries, either the local library or such specialized libraries as the Evangelical Library.
All conscientious ministers have difficulty finding enough time to study, but we all have the same amount, and that is all the time there is. It is how we use that time that makes all the difference. In order to secure time for reading the following may be useful: first avoid television watching; second, do not spend too much time on newspapers; third, get to bed early enough so that you can get up early enough to read your Bible, pray, and have time for study. Derek Prime writes that “…if we devote just half-an-hour a day to reading we will accomplish a tremendous amount in a year.” [Pastors and Teachers, Highland Books, 1989, p. 93].
With regard to choice, commentaries and reference books are essential, of course, and the minister will soon find which are the best and most recommended. Certain well-established “classic” books which have stood the test of time should be read such as James Denney on The Death of Christ, or Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement by George Smeaton, or his book on The Holy Spirit, and so on. But it is the deluge of modern books that pour from the presses that cause difficulty. Here one can only make a few suggestions. First, read the reviews in such Christian papers as The Evangelical Times or Evangelicals Now; The Banner of Truth Magazine; Foundations; The Evangelical Magazine of Wales. Secondly, listen out for recommendations at your Evangelical fraternal. Third, learn to appraise a book quickly by reading the publisher’s blurb, looking at the Contents page and the index and dipping into it here and there. On the whole, books that are worthwhile will last and often will be reprinted. Beware of fads and fancies, the latest craze in books.
Provided the book is your own, then do not be afraid to mark it, and to make a “preacher’s index” on the blank pages at the back. Here you can list points you want to refer to again, or illustrations that strike you. Here you could also record the date that you completed reading it and add brief comments on its usefulness. For advice on reading, How to read a Book by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doran [MJF Books, New York] is very stimulating.