Pastors love books. I have pastor friends with all kinds of personalities. Some are introverted while others are extroverted. Pastors can be loud or quiet, serious or goofy, quick or contemplative, but all of us love books. And for good reason. Books are great! They allow us to benefit from the wisdom of men and women who have been dead for thousands of years and those who are still alive, but don’t have room in their calendars for coffee with us. As pastors we often want to pass on our love of reading to people in our churches. Books help us grow. The right book at the right time can minister to a grieving saint or aid in correcting a confused one.
Most pastors keep a selection of “go-to” books for ministry situations. You’ve got a marriage book to take couples through. If somebody wants to talk doctrine, you’ll get them started with something clear and concise. When a person begins discipling a new believer, a book can help guide them. Here are six more ways, beyond your go-to books, to help the people you lead read more and read better.
#1 – Give books away at church meetings. I saw Mark Dever do this and I was hooked. We give books away at our quarterly Members’ Meetings. I select 3-4 good books on various topics from trustworthy authors, introduce each verbally, and give the book to the first person who raises their hand. Each time I remind our members that by taking a book, the only thing they are agreeing to is reading it at a pace comfortable for them. No book reports or follow-up questions. I suggest books that are a reasonable length and accessible to many different people (though, I have given Grudem’s Systematic away in this setting before). Relevancy is helpful as well. Is an election coming up? Give away a book about Christians in culture. In the spring, offer a book about preparing kids for college. Books that are more like pamphlets work well too. Christopher Ash’s guide to listening to sermons and J.C. Ryle’s A Call to Prayer are good ones.
#2 – Lead book discussion groups. Every winter, I invite men to participate in a Saturday morning book discussion group. We meet every other Saturday for 3-4 months. I purposefully choose a meatier book that falls into the classic or soon-to-be-classic category. (Side note: this is a great opportunity to assess potential leaders. A group of men who give up their Saturday morning to study a book by a dead guy is prime recruiting ground for future elders, deacons, and other ministry leaders.)
#3 – Ask potential new members to read a book. Make this part of your covenant membership class and process. It helps to get those joining the church on the same page with the pastor and elders. Secondly, it puts a good book in their hands with motivation to get through it quickly. I suggest What is a Healthy Church? by Mark Dever or What is a Healthy Church Member? by Thabiti Anyabwile.
#4 – Go through books with leaders. This is the same principle as #3. Read books with your elders, deacons, staff, interns, future elders, etc.
#5 – Recommend books during sermons. Don’t do this every week or your congregation will wonder if you have a side gig as a rep for Crossway or Zondervan, but mention books by name. Make it more than citing a quotation. Take a few seconds to encourage people to get a copy. You may even have one or two at the pulpit to give away and encourage people to find you afterwards if they would like one.
#6 – Have a giveaway or for sale shelf. We have a hybrid. The books are free, but the price we paid for it is shown on an envelope. If a person chooses, they can buy a copy for the next person. Anecdotally, despite having some good titles that we add to and highlight regularly, our church library gets little use. The free shelf, however, is used often. This led us to conclude more people will read books if we remove the hassle of keeping track of and returning the book. Even if you “lose” the money, better that someone reads the book than it just sits on the shelf year after year.
Adam Fix is the Senior Pastor of Our Saviour Evangelical Free Church in Wheeling, IL. He is a founding member of Reach Chicago, a network of churches committed to planting churches in the city and suburbs of Chicago. He is married to Holly and together they have a daughter. Adam really enjoys coffee and cookies.