Who are the must-reads?

Seth Godin had a great blog post on Thursday about knowing who the must-reads are in your field. It ended with these words:

We would never consent to surgery from a surgeon who hadn’t been to medical school, and perhaps even more important, from someone who hadn’t kept up on the latest medical journals and training. And yet there are people who take pride in doing their profession from a place of naivete, unaware or unlearned in the most important voices in their field.

The line between an amateur and professional keeps blurring, but for me, the posture of understanding both the pioneers and the state of the art is essential. An economist doesn’t have to agree with Keynes, but she better know who he is.

If you don’t know who the must-reads in your field are, find out before your customers and competitors do.

Too much doing, not enough knowing.

So the question is, for us pastors, who are the ‘must-reads’ in our field? And how do we decide?

The reason I ask this question is because we have a fair amount of latitude in our work. An old clergy friend of mine once told me that you can do the absolute non-negotiable tasks of an Anglican parish priest in about 24 hours a week. If you work twice that many (as many of my colleagues do), you have a certain amount of freedom in deciding how you’re going to spend the other 24 hours. And many of us will tend to spend it on projects and tasks that interest us, rather than asking ‘What would be of most benefit to my parish?’

Do we make decisions about our reading the same way? Instead of asking ‘Who are the must-reads to better equip me to do the work God is calling me to do in this parish?’ do we ask instead, ‘Now, what would I most like to read next?’ ?

I suspect that’s how we often make that decision. I know that’s true of me.

So my questions are:

  1. Who are the ‘must-reads’ for us as pastors?
  2. How do we decide who goes on that list?
  3. How do we make sure that we don’t neglect the classics that have stood the test of time in favour of the ones who happen to be making the waves today?

Please discuss…

4 thoughts on “Who are the must-reads?

  1. Winston Pei

    Not sure if this will help you at all, but your questions made me think of my dad. He was a great lover of books and classical music. He taught me not to blindly trust or rely on what other people say, and especially not what one person says, are the 100 greatest books of all time, for example… but rather to look at all the lists that you come across, notice which books show up on more than one list, and start there.

    My spin off to this was something I did as a student, which I think I should start up again… I used to visit the U of A Bookstore early in a term and look at what books were on the reading list for courses that I thought were interesting but didn’t have time to take. Then I’d buy them just to read for fun. My more esoteric version of the “staff recommendations” shelf at Audrey’s! And perhaps more likely to capture the classics?

    So what is on the reading lists for all the core pastoral training courses at different Bible colleges and theology schools, across the denominations?

  2. Very interesting question. Of the ones I have read – Eugene Peterson, Contemplative Pastor (which you put me on to); Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. I would add Pope Gregory’s Pastoral Care which I’ve just gotten hold of… Very interested to see what other people say.

  3. Interesting, Winston. My only hesitation is that many Bible colleges and theology schools seem to focus on ‘the latest scholarship’ (fair enough, it’s important) and miss out the tried and true from years gone by (Gregory’s ‘Pastoral Care’ that Sam mentioned, for instance, which I think should be required reading for pastors, despite the fact that it’s over a thousand years old).

    Our old friend Joe Walker was a great proponent of these ‘classic’ texts. I’d definitely include Augustine’s ‘Confessions’, Thomas à Kempis ‘The Imitation of Christ’, Bernard of Clairvaux ‘On Loving God’, Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’… but I’m not sure how commonly they’re read in seminaries today.

  4. Winston Pei

    Interesting indeed. Parallels my world of English literary scholarship, where the whole notion of a literary “canon”… the concept of which was of course directly borrowed from the religious world… has also fallen into disfavour. And yet I think there is nonetheless a persistent recognition of the importance of having some basic working knowledge of Shakespeare, for example. Or maybe not. My last university English course was several chapters of life ago.

    A reflection of our larger cultural preoccupation with “progress” and “innovation”? I wonder if there would be a noticeable difference in the syllabi or “top ten lists” coming out of more tradition-centric cultures?

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