Leaders should be readers. Of course, they should also pray-ers, doers, and administrators. But biblical and godly servant-leaders need knowledge to guide their people wisely. They need to be thinkers before God, the church, and the world. As Hosea warns, “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge” (4:6). The consequences are severe:
Because you have rejected knowledge,
I also reject you as my priests;
because you have ignored the law of your God,
I also will ignore your children.
Knowledge is what happens when our beliefs are true and reasonable. After the Roman leader Festus had accused Paul of going insane because of his great learning, Paul replied, “I am not insane, most excellent Festus. . . . What I am saying is true and reasonable” (Acts 26:25). Few, if any of us, can be as learned as Paul, but we should say what is “true and reasonable,” and this is not possible without diligent and directed reading.
Vernon Grounds (1914-2010) was the President and Chancellor of Denver Seminary for many years. His library is legendary—an estimated 28,000 volumes. (After over 40 years of serious book-buying, I am a bit behind that number.) Dr. Grounds used to say, “We should be a reader of many books and a master of one.” He was, and he was right. The late theologian and apologist Bernard Ramm (1916-1992) wrote a compelling book about what secular philosophers can say to the church, called The Devil, Seven Wormwoods, and God (1977). In discussing the philosophy of Frederick Neitzsche (1844-1900), he found a lesson for Christians from the anti-Christian thinker. It is worth quoting at length.
"What can Evangelicals glean from Nietzsche? It is the willingness to be driven like Nietzsche. It is the willingness to spare no pains in the search for truth. It is the willingness. . . to work into the late hours of the night or to start in the earliest hours of the day; to pick up a new project as soon as we have finished an older one; to grow weary and exhausted in our quest for truth; to have. . . our eyes watery from too much reading, and our bodies bent over from long, weary hours at the study desk. No Evangelical whose reading habits are a disgrace to the seriousness of the Christian ministry, or who spends more time before a television set than he does in serious reading in his study has the right to damn Nietzsche from the pulpit to some gruesome place in the Inferno."
Few of you have as much time to read and study as did Vernon Grounds, Bernard Ramm, Frederick Nietzsche, or I do as a professor at Denver Seminary. However, church leaders can find time to read to become more knowledgeable as ministers of the gospel. This is tied to the mandate for teachers, especially, to be well-studied.
Paul tells Titus that:
In everything set them [the younger men] an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness, and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us (Titus 2:7-8; see also James 3:1-3).
With strong words, the prophet Malachi spoke for God to the esteemed teachers of religion in his day:
“For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty and people seek instruction from his mouth. But you have turned from the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble; you have violated the covenant with Levi,” says the Lord Almighty (Malachi 2:7-8).
In the New Covenant, we are all priests before God and before people (Revelation 1:5). As such, we speak either rightly or wrongly about God and His ways. To think and speak rightly, we need to read widely and read deeply. How can busy church leaders make this happen?
Leaders in church can meet regularly to discuss a significant book, either a classic, such as St. Augustine’s Confessions, or a more contemporary work written by a thoughtful author who has reflected on how the church should engage the world. Consider reading any of the books by our great cultural critic Os Guinness, such as Renaissance and Impossible People. I appreciate the work of the younger Andy Crouch also and especially recommend The Tech-wise Family and Culture Making.
Unless blocks for reading are scheduled in, other activities will crowd this out. What would God have you do to read His living and active Word and other sources for the purpose of glorifying Him and the advancement of His eternal Kingdom? Ask God about this.
As Jesus counseled:
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened (Matthew 7:7-8).
A few years ago, a friend noticed that I had not been reading enough. A professor of philosophy—with so much time to study—was not reading enough! This judgment was quite perceptive, since I had said nothing to indicate it. Terrible stress in my life had led to my neglect, but it did not have to be so. I heeded the advice to read more.
You can also haunt brick and mortar bookstores. There are still some left. Give yourself leisurely time to peruse what people are reading and what needs to be read. Don’t limit your reading to books by Christian authors, since we need to discern the signs of the times, both inside and outside the church. We should be like the tribe of Issachar, “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chronicles 12:32).
Pastors and teachers can develop a theology of the mind and teach about the need to read wisely as followers of Jesus. This need not be pedantic or intimidating. My pastor recently encouraged us to ask our non-Christian friends what books they were reading so we could read them as well in order to build a relationship and get inside their minds.
I could go on, but I need to finish reading a book about one of my Christian heroes. It is by William Edgar and called, Francis Schaeffer on the Spiritual Life: Countercultural Spirituality. Rather than keep on recommending individual volumes, let me commend a book about books: Book Lover’s Guide to Great Reading: A Guided Tour of Classic and Contemporary Literature by Terry Glaspey.
Leaders should be readers in order to become thinkers who can out-think the world for Christ (1 Peter 3:15-16). Let’s get started and keep going in the inspiration of the Spirit of Truth Himself (John 15:26).