As I sat at my desk this morning drinking my coffee and thinking about the day ahead I paused and just looked around my study. Surrounding my desk are bookshelves filled with books, and I do mean filled. I consider them my friends because they have encouraged me and mentored me for over three decades of ministry. I see a shelf of Chuck Swindoll's books. Chuck taught me the value of preaching without cliches and going deep into a text to find hidden nuggets of truth. James Dobson is well represented on my bookshelf with books that addressed issues that are important to families. Eugene Peterson helps me remember that much of a pastor's work comes out of a life that has been immersed in Christ and that to neglect one's personal spiritual growth will eventually leave a person feeling empty inside and have nothing to offer others. Two complete bookcases are filled with books that address the leadership and management role of ministry. As I glanced at the older books in the first bookcase and compared them to more recently purchased books that are in the second bookcase I'm reminded how much ministry has changed since I first began in 1981. One and half of another bookcase are filled with Bible commentaries and other resources that helped me prepare my messages during my twenty year pastorate. When I resigned from pastoral ministry for my current role I gave away or sold a number of commentary sets or I would have two complete bookcases filled with those books. Another section of books are related to business leadership which includes many crossover principles that apply to ministry as well. This section is heavy with John Maxwell's material as well as other well known leadership gurus. There are shelves of books that address spiritual growth, developing healthy relationships, and books that helped me better understand the culture in which I minister. I see a number of motivational books by people such as Zig Ziglar that encourage me when I need a little extra shot of encouragement.
In front of my desk is a large framed picture of Glen Payne and George Younce, founders of The Cathedral Quartet. The picture was printed the year after Glen passed away, the year in which they were going to retire. For nearly five decades they had toured the world singing Southern Gospel music. The Cathedrals were one of my favorite groups. I attended the first concert Glen had missed due to an illness. During their performance the group spoke to him on speaker phone as he lay in the hospital. He had been diagnosed with cancer. He sang a verse and chorus of a song he had sung many times from his hospital bed. His voice with strong and filled with confidence in Christ. Glen would die a few days later, but that night I sat in my seat and felt God saying to me that was the faithfulness He wanted from me. The next year this print was available, and I had to buy it to remind myself of that night when God challenged me so clearly. George Younce signed my print that evening, and I told him my story before we hugged.
I am surrounded by friends who sit on the shelves of my study and hang on my wall. They took the time to write and sing in order to invest in the lives of those persons who would read their words and hear their songs of praise. It is said that we will become in life what we read and hear and the friends we make along the way, and I know these friends have helped me become a better person and a better minister.
I hope you have similar friends who will help guide you through life and ministry. I cannot stress enough how important it is that you invest time in reading good books. Read for instruction. Read for encouragement. Read for inspiration. Don't limit your reading to just books related to ministry but read widely to better understand the world in which you minister. Read wisely because what you read will help shape your thinking and set the direction you will take in life and ministry. Chances are you will never meet most of the authors who influence you the most, but they will become good friends as their words travel with you throughout life.