Okay, really obvious statement: Pastors are busy people. And amidst the frenetic schedule of a pastor, anything that is not totally urgent may get tossed off the schedule. Unfortunately, one of those ‘nonessential’ calendar items is reading. After all, in real life, who has time to sit around and read books? There are people to disciple, sermons to prepare, administrative details to organize, a PowerPoint to put together, and 98 emails to write. Reading? Are you kidding me? No time!
That kind of response is certainly understandable, but I’d like to make the point that it’s unnecessary. What I could do next is write a really long article about all the reasons why pastors should be reading. And there are a ton of them. It improves your effectiveness, stimulates your mind, livens up your preaching, and on and on and on. But most pastors realize that reading is a good thing. The real challenge is finding the time to do it. There is no shortage of great books flying off the press. There is, however, a major shortage of time…so it seems.
Or is there? Here are eight ways you can find time to read.
- Schedule it in. So maybe this isn’t anything magical or revolutionary, but if you want to read, you may just have to schedule in the time to do so. I have a very busy friend in ministry who actually carves out thirty minutes each morning–in the middle of the morning, mind you–just to read. This man is serious about the importance of reading. So, he goes into his office, informs his assistants that he is unavailable, and reads. You can do the same. It just takes the simple determination to do so. Admittedly, scheduling time to read isn’t about “finding” it. It’s about doing it. By determination.
- Receive a daily email with a portion of a book. Maybe the last thing you need is another email coming your way. Visions of your inbox is already beginning to give you nightmares. But if books via email will help you read through a book, go ahead. Now, the one limitation of this is that there is a limited number of books that you can read via email messages. It is mostly public domain works and classical literature, which are fine things for a pastor to read. Go to Daily Lit to explore a free service that delivers book snippets to your email account. Almost every day this year, I’ve received an email with an excerpt from War and Peace. Sometime by mid-2011, I’ll finish the book. Hey, at least I’m reading! And I’m enjoying it! And it takes only five minutes a day.
- Carry a book with you at all times, or better yet, a reading-enabled mobile device. While it may look a bit nerdy to tote a book around wherever you go, it allows you to pick up and read whenever you find a spare moment. What is a bit better, however, is carrying around a mobile device with a reading app. I use the iBooks app to read books in this way. You may have a Kindle or Nook or iPad. You’ll be amazed at how many little pockets of time you’ll find for breezing through a few pages. While you’re sitting down somewhere, waiting for your bagel to finish toasting, holding on the telephone, or even walking down the hallway to your office (yeah, you can take this a bit too far), you can catch a few more pages of reading material.
- Listen to audiobooks. I will admit, I am a straight-up, die-hard audiobook fanatic. My journey into audiobooks was inspired by the monthly free book giveaway by ChristianAudio (you really should check it out). Every month, I would download a new book, and every month, I would listen to the whole thing. Even though I have listened to dozens of audiobooks over the past year or so, I have never just sat down in a chair and listened, without doing anything else. That would be boring. Instead, I combine my audiobook listening with things I have to do. Mowing the lawn (and turning up the volume on my earbuds), tidying my office, organizing a file cabinet, driving to the store, etc., etc. This is by far the most effective way that I have found to listen to books. Most of the popular Christian books being published today are also being release in audiobook format. As long as you have a decent MP3 player, you’re all set. And then, all you need to do is look for those moments when you’re not reading something else, talking to someone, or thinking intensively. A small investment of an iPod adapter for my vehicle has been an invaluable provision for redeeming my commute time and my road trips for playing audiobooks while I’m traveling by myself.
- Snatch five minutes right before you go to bed. Crashing into bed at night is a good feeling. Reading before you drift off to sleep is even better. Utilize the surface of your bedside table as more than just an alarm clock resting place. Stash a book there, too. Then, before you go to sleep tonight, read at least one page. That’s all. You don’t need to skimp on sleep to be a bedtime reader. Just read one page. As long as the book is shorter than 365 pages, you’ll finish it within a year.
- Read books with other people. Like working out, sometimes reading is best done with some encouragement. A group of pastors who I know will read all agree to read a certain book. They each purchase the book, read it, then meet together to talk about what they’ve learned. Besides having some great fellowship and edification, this type of mutual book-reading adds the motivation to read a good book.
- Take breaks from your work, just for reading. Some people take smoke breaks (but smoking is really bad for your health). Some people take coffee breaks (coffee is also bad for your health). You can take a reading break (reading is not bad for your health). If you want to increase your mental stamina, energy, and concentration, take a five minute break every hour. Divert your mind from the subject at hand, and just read a book. Obviously, you’ll need to cultivate the discipline to put the book down after a few minutes, but even a disjointed five minutes here-and-there, is a fine way to work through a book.
- Take a day off. This final tip gets into the broader area of pastoral rest and relaxation. Pastors, like any human beings, need a day of rest. Since Sunday is probably not that day and since Saturday is usually final sermon prep time, take a weekday (like Monday) to just be off. No visits. No sermon prep. Just renew. And read. Reading can be a helpful part of that re-creation that is so important. It doesn’t have to be a mega-reading marathon. But twenty minutes, say? Go for it.
Now, what are you going to read? Start here with our article, Five Books Every Pastor Should Read.