I have a friend who loves to say that in life, and especially ministry, one’s ability to lead is directly related to one’s commitment to read.
I have another friend who objects to that statement. He suggests that reading is good, but that leadership requires traits that cannot simply be developed by reading about them.
In some ways I think they are both right. However, I tend to agree with the first statement the most. I know that in my own personal life, a lack of reading sabotages my confidence and effectiveness. Certainly it is true that leadership requires courage, conviction, and commitment. It is also true that the inner man is not fortified in these areas without the infusing of God’s presence. God equips us for his work by calling us to a task, equipping us through Scripture, and conviction from the Holy Spirit.
But God has not called us as leaders to check our minds at the door. We do not simply read instruction manuals (in our case lesson books) to those we lead. We believe that God is the author of all truth, and that educated and experienced men and women follow God’s leading to communicate truth through books. It is also clear that books influence culture. Through the wisdom of God and the discernment of the Holy Spirit, we are called as leaders to engage the messages of our culture and separate what is good and healthy from what is not. As teachers, we apply God’s truth to life in the midst of a culture that is largely being informed by what it reads. One of my jobs in college and seminary was as a bookseller and Department Manager at Barnes and Noble. Trust me, people are devouring what the New York Times tells them are the “must reads” of the summer, almost without consideration for the subject matter. I have seen books fly off of the shelves in staggering quantities, simply because Oprah recommended them.
During the summer, many of our people are finding more time to read than they do during other parts of the year. You may be finding the same to be true in your own life. What are the books your small group members are reading this summer? What are you reading? Allow me to suggest three reasons that reading should be a priority for you this summer.
(We all know and agree that healthy discipleship involves reading the Bible. It should go without saying that reading God’s Word is a crucial element to your personal health as a follower of Christ, your ability to discern truth, and your effectiveness as a teacher/leader. Without steady and purposeful intake of God’s Word, the mental skill of separating truth from lies in culture is impossible. When recommending books to our people, though this point should go without saying…go ahead and say it anyway.)
1. People in your small group are spending their summer reading. Do you know what books they are into? This is not a suggestion that you grill your people about their summer reading list, but I am suggesting that you pay attention to what they are talking about. The books they are drifting off to as they fall asleep each night are informing the way they look at the world. Those ideas are in competition with what you are teaching on Sundays. Or are they in agreement? Where appropriate, ask people what they are reading, and share what you are.
2. It is good when leaders can make good and healthy book recommendations to their people. There is power in a book recommendation. It’s always good to have read a book that you are recommending, so you may need to go pick one up. Whether it is fiction, history, biography, or Christian inspiration, you have the opportunity to inform your people’s reading choices. Do a little research and make a meaningful suggestion. Share your summer reading list with your class.
3. Purposeful reading familiarizes you with the world of literature that is influencing our culture. When making a reading choice, consider the author (what is their background, education?), who are the people who endorse the book (what organizations are they associated with, are they reputable?), and who is the publisher (what other books are they publishing, do they specialize in a genre or are they all over the map?). I am always happy to talk with you about these factors. I can recommend authors, help you evaluate endorsements, or talk about trustworthy publishers.
Here is a book that I have recently started.
It’s called Life’s Healing Choices. Here are some of the factors I evaluated in making the choice to spend my time on it. The author is John Baker, who has served on staff at Saddleback Church, and is the author of Celebrate Recovery, which is a wonderful Christ centered program for addiction recovery. Rick Warren wrote the Forward, and I know him to be a trustworthy source. Finally, the book was published by Howard Books, which is the primary imprint at Simon & Schuster for faith-based books and a member of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. They do publish some books that are not faith based, but generally have a good reputation. Again, all these factors together led me to feel confident that this book was one worth reading. It is a subject that I want to learn more about, and I read with discernment based on what the scripture teaches. An informed choice in picking a book can reduce the wasted time and money of getting a book and then realizing it isn’t trustworthy.
What are you reading this summer?