I enjoy reading. It wasn’t always this way. I went through a spell during my junior high and high school years in which I didn’t like reading and didn’t think it had much value. I couldn’t have changed my opinion much more than I have on that subject. Today, I love to read. I take magazines and journals and enjoy reading books in a variety of genres and on a variety of subjects. The one thing I would like to work on is how pokey a reader I am (but I’ve actually got a program to help with that, I just need to work through it–hopefully in a couple of months I can report my improvement).
I can’t remember what started my thinking on this in the past few weeks, but I’ve been mulling over why preachers (like myself) simply must be readers. I don’t think one must be a total book nerd, but I do think it helps tremendously to beat the average person’s interest and amount of reading if one is to be a preacher. So, I offer this list of reasons why preachers must be readers. It is not a polished list, but here it is just the same.
1. Preachers use words to proclaim the Word made flesh. It’s essential, then, to have a good deal of face time with words, particularly in the hands of people who know what to do with them. Stephen King writes in his On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut” (p. 145). I think something like this applies to preachers.
2. Preachers are to interpret the Scriptures for the proclamation of the gospel, the transformation of persons, and the formation of the Church. Reading other texts in addition to the bible broadens our interpretive perspective and helps us come to the biblical text with fresh eyes. Reading stuff like fiction, history, biography, memoir, and current events improves our sensitivities to the way the bible story unfolds its plot and develops its characters, invites questions of historical setting that enlivens our imaginative link with the events described, connects us with the people’s stories, and tunes our minds to the arguments pressed.
3. Preachers are to interpret the text, but we are also to interpret the people to whom we preach. Were are they coming from? What’s going on in their lives? What are the nuances of the human experience? These questions drive us to listen to our people. But there is much that people keep to themselves in modern America (as in many times and places, I’m sure). But reading can help ground us in the realities of the human experience when people are not as candid–heck, even when they are. The novelist or essayist or biographer often has profound insight into the human heart and mind. They can tap into parts of our lives that we might not talk about and into the depths of our soul that we may not even be aware of. They practice a craft that demands excellent interpretation of people and humanity.
4. Preachers are to interpret the people, part two. Our craft also demands excellent interpretation of people and of humanity as well. Yet the busyness of a preacher’s life in other aspects of church work and in balancing church and home encroach upon this. Soon we are out of practice and our skills dull. Reading, for the reasons mentioned above in #3, can help keep us current in our abilities and sensitivities. Reading can also help dust off our skills and help us learn them again as we listen to Hemingway, Potok, and Updike interpret humanity afresh.
Any others? I’m sure I’m leaving off some that I’ve thought of in the past couple of weeks, but I’ll open it up at this point just the same.