I will never forget the gauntlet Bill Loveless threw down at my first pastors’ retreat 39 years ago – Read or get out of the ministry!
Reading is essential to success in ministry. Reading strengthens the mind, improves our ability to focus, enhances our vocabulary, and enriches our understanding of life and ministry. Reading is essential to exploring deep theology, sparking creativity, writing and delivering high-impact sermons, developing increased capacities for leadership, and rounding out important relationships. Reading is even great way to relax.
Finding time to read is a challenge for all of us. There are sermons to write, visits to make, meetings to attend, and administrative assignments to accomplish. The demands of ministry are so intense that finding enough time to read seems beyond our reach. There are, however, some strategic steps you can take to build more time in your busy schedule for reading.
Set Some Reading Goals: This can work at multiple levels. Decide how many books you would like to read each year. Then break it down into monthly, weekly, and daily goals. If you have a hard time sitting still for more than 10 or 15 minutes, set the timer for just a little longer – say 20 minutes. Or set a goal to complete a chapter before you get up. Setting reading goals gives you something to work towards and cements your commitment to make reading a priority in your ministry
Block Out Time for Reading: Build it into your devotional time in the morning. Tuck it into your lunch hour. Unwind with a good book before bed time. Taking 30 – 60 minutes a day to read will take your life and ministry to a whole new level.
Give Up Something: A lot of things in the day are non-negotiable – Eight to ten hours for work, six to eight hours for sleep, time for family and friends. And yet there are pockets of discretionary time in each day. Make some sacrifices in this area so you can make more time for reading. Turn off the TV. Get off Facebook. Hang up the phone. Quit reading random stuff. Cut out the lesser to make room for the greater.
Carry a Book With You: Never leave the house without some reading material. You never know when you will have a couple of minutes of down time to read a few pages here and there. Read while you are waiting at the doctor’s office. Read while you’re sitting at the laundromat. Read while you are donating blood. Read while you are waiting for the friend or church member who is late for their appointment.
“Read” While Driving: Many pastors today are spending a lot of time on the road while serving two, three, and even four congregations. My advice – Turn your car into a university on wheels. Listen to audio books. Audible is a great source of audio books. They offer a great selection at reasonable prices. Your local public library can also set you with apps that will provide you with free audio books to listen to, though their offerings are often limited.
Sync Your Devices: If you are reading digitally, put a reading app on all your mobile devices. Sync your e-reader with your smartphone and tablet. Having your books synced across all your devices will help you read a few pages here and a few pages there during the day. Over the course of the day you can easily read 20 pages a little bit at a time.
Read Only Books That Interest You: There are a lot of books out there: Books in the market place, books on our shelves, even pile of books well-meaning church members want us to read. There is no way you can keep up with it all. So read the books that particularly interest you. Books that speak to that land-mark sermon on the horizon. Books that speak to a leadership challenge you are facing right now. Books that help you delve deeper into topics of great interest to you. If you want to read more, it is important to read books that you love and don’t want to put down.
Get Into a Reading Group: Start a book club. Join a small group that meets once a week or once a month. Being part of a group will motivate you and hold you accountable to keep reading.
Reading will not only keep you in the ministry, it will keep you growing in the ministry!
Dan Martella is administrative pastor for the Paradise, California church and managing editor for Best Practices for Adventist Ministry