One of the things I struggle to do as a pastor is to sit and read well. I mean to really sit and read. I mean to read with comprehension and transformational engagement. It’s easy to skim, to seek out bold type points or numbered lists and emphases… but it’s much more difficult for me to sit and abide with a text.
There’s always, and I do mean always, a toilet to be fixed somewhere on our congregation’s campus. There’s always a task that is screaming to be prioritized: 1) update the marquee sign out front, 2) finish the bulletin, 3) the bank is waiting on paperwork, 4) print handouts for special events this weekend, 5) get an update on a terminally ill member, 6) mow the church’s lawn, 7) print the bulletin, 8) review the kid’s class material, 9) fix the toilet in the basement men’s room, 10) rain gutter repairs in the courtyard, 11) prep and finish message notes for Sunday, 12) contact volunteers on worship participation, 13) update the website, 14) send an end-of-the-week email on Sunday’s potluck lunch… and I could go on.
When do I stop and challenge the easy reading (which can lead to easy preaching)? When do I stop and read things, and read in ways, that help me stretch and grow? How do I make time for the growth I need as a pastor to continue to be helpful to the people who look to me for theology and insight on things spiritual? Today, I decided that I’d take a chunk of the morning to pick up a book I recently ordered online, and I’d sit and read for at least an hour. I grabbed the book and trooped off to Starbucks, popped in my headphones (with Jewel pulled up on Spotify) and I did nothing but read for an hour and half. Nothing was ticked off my task list, but I’m feeling a revitalization from the exercise.
Specifically, I’m doing some the reading that I need to do for a coming series of messages and blogs on “post-patriarchal Christianity.” Not quite so specifically, I need to make times when I’m not glancing at news feeds, to do lists, Facebook and the emails on my phone, and am focused on my reading with comprehension and intention.
Being “paid to read” is a challenging part of my vocation. It’s a blessing and a curse. It challenges my assumptions about what I am always producing in a day’s work. It pushes me to recognize that I need to read well. Reading for a congregation is just as important as speaking to a congregation. Reading for my congregation doesn’t mean that my congregation doesn’t need to read for themselves, no more than my speaking to or for them about God means that they don’t also speak to and for God. It means that I need to read well. I’m trying to read well.
Feel free to ask me what I’m reading. In fact, please ask me. My maternal grandfather Johnny Watkins often stopped me as a young boy and asked me, “Where are ya at in the Word?” He wanted to know where I was currently reading in the scriptures for growth and knowledge of God. I’ve never outgrown the need to be asked that question. Where am I in the Word? Where am I in the words? Where, when and how am I reading? Reading is a crucial element of my vocation to which I’m renewing my intention and practice. I invite your participation and conversation.