The Importance of Reading for Ministers
While I am not writing for ministers in these articles, I am interested in pointing out to you who read these articles that your minister ought to learn to read voraciously from his college days on through the whole of his ministry. A minister who does not read is not going to be an effective preacher. He must read widely, continually and with great enthusiasm.
Ministers to whom I have talked who do very little reading often respond, “Our life is so busy that we cannot find time to read.” Well, I guess it is true that a minister’s life is a busy life, but the appeal to being busy won’t serve As any kind of an adequate excuse. If we wait with out reading till we have time to read, we will never get around to doing any reading, for we will never find the time.
A minister must make time to read. He must include reading in his daily activities. If his only time to read is after midnight, then he better read after midnight, for he must read. He must read to survive.
A good rule of thumb for a minister is that he read at least one book a week. That is 52 books in a year, and that is barely enough. But one book a week is the bare minimum.
We will not talk for the moment about what he should read, but it goes without saying that I am not talking about simple and shallow “evangelical” books that are forever harping on various themes that, if read, are guaranteed to make one a better Christian. 159 pages long, filled with moralism, able to be read in little more than three hours – a minister, if he feels compelled to read such books, ought to read at least six or seven a week. And the market is flooded with them. At Book Seller’s Conventions the booths promoting these books are the busiest on the convention floor.
A minister is not like a well of water fed automatically by a nearby spring of water. He is a dry well into which has to be pumped what he needs in his work. He has to keep pumping into that well, or the well will go dry. Maybe some stale and dirty water will finally come up from the bottom when the good water is pumped out. He has to keep putting water in, if he is going to produce water that will slake the thirst of the people of God.
“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1)
The Importance of Reading Scripture for Christians
The primary reading material for the Christian is, of course, the Scriptures. The Scriptures have to be read on a regular basis, preferably daily. They are the lamp unto our feet and the light on our pathway. They are not to be read superficially and hastily without thought, but they are the objects of our meditation. I recall that one student of Scripture, it may have been Arthur W. Pink, who wrote that classic book, “The Sovereignty of God,” said that one ought to meditate on the Scriptures by stopping after each word and thinking about what it means by itself and in connection with the rest of the verse. I have tried it, and it is a worthwhile exercise.
But the Bible is not always so easy to understand. One ought to have at hand, a good “Bible Dictionary” to look up unfamiliar terms and names. Such a Dictionary is a wonderful aid. My wife and I still use a Bible Dictionary in our devotions when we want to identify a name or recall how much a “shekel” is.
One ought also to have a commentary handy. Every covenant home ought to have a commentary. I still prefer Calvin’s Commentaries to all others, and, in fact, use only Calvin. Some complain that Calvin is too hard to understand, and this may be true in some places, but perseverance in reading him will pay off in the long run.
The important question when meditating on the Scriptures is not, first of all, “What does this text mean for me?” If that is the first question we ask, we will come up with a Bible that has nothing in it but moral platitudes that do no one any good. The first question is this: What does this text say about God? What doctrine lies at the bottom of this text? What can I learn about God from this text? If you truly follow this pattern, the answers to questions that deal with your life and calling in the world will come of itself.
We can take the simple and well-known text: “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1). The first question is not, What does this text do for me? The answer to that would probably be that we will never lack anything now. Why that is perhaps true, it is more important to ask, What does this text teach us about God? God is our Shepherd. But that makes us think immediately of John 10 where Jesus says, “I am the good Shepherd.” Why does God speak of himself as a Shepherd, and Jesus speak of Himself as a Shepherd?
All kinds of ideas and thoughts now flood our minds and we begin to see what it means that because God is our Shepherd in Christ, we shall never lack anything at all.
The point is that the Christian does not walk in this world by a set of moralistic rules, but he walks by principle and loves out of principle, namely, the principle of the truth.
But we talked about these things already in the articles I wrote on devotions. The point I want to make is that all of us, if we are to be responsible Christians, and responsible Christians know and desire to know doctrine and truth. For to know doctrine is salvation. Our reading must be geared to grow in the area of doctrine.
We do not have to become theologians, but we do have to know what is truth and what is the lie. Catechism instruction helps. So do Bible Study Groups. But, there is no substitute for reading. I might add that this involves knowing the struggles of the church in the past. But this must wait for another time.
Written by: Prof. Herman Hanko | Issue 7