I grew up on dairy farms. As the oldest of five children I spent much of my childhood helping milk and feed cows, raise crops, put in hay, and do other chores necessary on a working farm. I was driving a tractor before I was even old enough to know how to turn the steering wheel. Dad would put me on the tractor seat and tell me to hold the steering wheel straight so the men could load the hay wagon. When we came to the end of the field he would jump on the tractor, turn the tractor and wagon down between the next rows of hay, and give the steering wheel back to me until we reached the end of that row! And I wasn't even wearing a helmet! Today that would probably be looked upon by some as child endangerment, but in the 1950s that was how a lot of us were raised, and few of us were harmed by the experience.
Life was challenging on the farm, but one of my favorite memories about growing up back then was going into town with Mom on Saturdays. Most weeks that meant going to the library. I would return the books I got the week before and pick up one or two to read the following week. In the summer our library would have a reading club, and the winner was the person who read the most books over the summer months. Most years I won my age category. If I was in the house I usually had my nose in a book. I loved to read and still do today.
Looking back, I believe this was one way God was preparing me for ministry. We've all heard the cliche "Leaders are readers." I believe this is true for pastors as well as others in leadership positions. I cannot imagine how a pastor can serve a congregation in the 21st century without spending time in books. Had I not learned to love reading as a small child I do not believe I could have enjoyed ministry or been effective as a pastor.
In the late 1970s I told my pastor that I felt called to the ministry. One of the first things he did was to hand me a key to his study at the church and tell me to feel free to use it and his library at any time. I was like a kid in the candy store. At that time my experience with commentaries, theological books, and books related to ministry was very limited. This opened up a new world for me and helped confirm God's call for me to go into the ministry.
Today, I am at the stage of my life when I need to start reducing my own library. Two weeks ago I began listing a few books on amazon.com, and some of them sold within a week. Some are so marked up with highlighting and notes in the margin that I anyone will be interested in buying them, and as I reread some of those notes it becomes hard for me to let them go. They bring back too many wonderful memories.
I hope you love to read and that you surround yourself with good books. Sometimes pastors say they are so busy they just can't find time to read, but I don't think we in ministry can afford to not read and stay current with what is happening in our world and how the Scriptures and faith can speak to those events.
But we don't want to read just for information. Some of our reading must be for our own personal development. The books you read influence the person you become. As I often say in my workshops, God called us to be something before he called us to do something. Our best doing will come out of our being. If we fail to grow as persons of faith we will limit our ability to minister to others. Charlie "Tremendous" Jones is well-known for saying that "You are the same today you'll be in five years except for two things: the people you meet and the books you read."
I want to encourage you to develop an intentional reading plan for 2015. If you can't afford to buy books go to your local library or to a nearby university or seminary library and start browsing. Many colleges and seminaries allow non-students to have a library card and check out books. Select books that will help you grow as a person or that gives insight into some aspect of your ministry. If you have not been a reader, I think you will find this will change your life and your ministry.