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Read, Contemplate, Write

Read, Contemplate, Write

I abandoned the professional academic track after my MA in history at the University of South Carolina. I had simply not been engaging with flesh-and-blood humanity in the way I knew I was called to, and in the way I was, in fact, gifted to do. So I went into the people business of pastoral ministry, partly because my pastor, Sinclair Ferguson, told me that, despite having spent half his ministry in the seminary context, he never wanted to be a professor. In fact, he wanted never to be a professor.

This gave me great encouragement to change course and re-engage in the front line ministry of the church. After all, I was a lot more of a people person than Dr. Ferguson, I reasoned.

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Now over 4 years into pastoral ministry, I’m realizing that I’ve spent much of the last few years reading up on technique. I’ve read all the church planting literature. I’ve read a whole mess of the leadership and entrepreneurial literature. I’ve even read Getting Things Done (see my earlier post). But I haven’t really followed Dr. Ferguson’s admonition.

He told me that I ought to spend my first several years as an associate pastor reading. Don’t get bogged down in mere busy-work, he challenged me. If you have the luxury of time, read now, he said. After all, when you get to be in his stage of life and ministry, he said, you’re speaking, preaching, pastoring—constantly. And with very, very little time to prepare.

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Sinclair Ferguson and I at my ordination, January 11, 2009, First Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, Rock Hill, SC. I was privileged to have him preach at my service.

The early years of ministry, he suggested, should be spent, if possible, filling the theological and biblical reservoir with as much content as possible. Expand your spiritual imagination, broaden your vocabulary, and enlarge your heart now, so that when you have enormous demands on your time, your mind, and your tongue, you have ample resources to draw from.

I didn’t take his advice. I regret that. Now I’m a church planter. I’m leading the musicians for two unique services every Sunday. I’m often preaching two different sermons each week. And I’m way in over my head in terms of competency for pastoral ministry. But I’m still relatively young, and, Lord willing, I have at least 32 years left of work in me. So I’m pivoting. I’m heeding his counsel. I’m reading more. I’m thinking more. I’m writing more. This rhythm, they say, is actually good for your mind, heart, and soul. And for your ministry, too.

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I’m encouraged to have run across this article in Themelios on the writing pastor. I hope you’ll listen to this voice, and to the voice of Dr. Ferguson. Don’t retreat into the ivory tower and disengage. But discipline your mind through reading, contemplation, and writing, so that you are more skilled to say the right thing at the right time to bless a real, flesh-and-blood person you’ve been called to minister to.

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7 thoughts on “Read, Contemplate, Write

  1. AMEN AND AMEN.
    I haven’t been able to hear you preach as of yet but look forward to.
    After being under George Grant’s King’s Meadow curriculum, he has taught the same idea : in order to lead you must read.
    Keep writing too.
    This is good!

  2. Great post! Obviously its a case by case scenario, but generally how much would you recommend a man with a young family to read outside the Scriptures (per day or week)? Do you have any counsel to the width and breadth of reading, outside the tribe or genre?

    • Daniel, thanks. I am not a great example of discipline in this area. But for whatever its worth, I’ve been trying to read the Scripture plus another challenging work (lately, philosophy and Saint Augustine) from about 9:30 till 12:00 noon, Tuesdays through Fridays. So that’s probably, after interruptions and coffee making breaks, about 9 hours per week. I read a decent bit on my days off (Monday) too, perhaps another 2 hours. I have a good bit of work-related stuff in the evenings, so I don’t get that much reading done then—when others tend to.

      I don’t know. I’d say that less than 1/24 of my existence (i.e., < 1 hr/day) would leave me feeling pretty malnourished and uninspired. But more than 10 or 12 hours per week would get to feeling pretty indulgent and I'd probably be ripping off my wife and kids of their due time.

      Breadth: one way to begin getting outside the tribe a bit might be to read a Catholic (like Pope John Paul or Henri Nouwen) or a more broadly Protestant (Karl Barth, NT Wright, or—-hey, why not?—Cornel West?). I might recommend Luc Ferry's international best-selling A Brief History of Thought, which Tim Keller recently recommended as THE book on thought and culture to make sure you read. But make sure you read some things that are going to keep you grounded and remind you why you don't agree with every last thing that those outside-the-tribe authors say. This is more a strategy for challenging yourself while keeping your sanity than it is a strategy for muting or censoring heterodox voices, if that makes sense.

  3. You’re definitely on the right track. Non-readers tend to get stuck in a very narrow rut. Reading broadens our perspective and challenges while informing. Writing helps in crystallizing those thoughts that are brought about by the reading.

  4. Pingback: Sleep When You Want to Sleep | Gardens Don't Launch

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