“Of the making of books,” Qoheleth said, “there is no end.” Therein lies one of life’s great frustrations for me. While I dare say that I have read more books than the average person, I would venture a guess that for every one book I have read there are one hundred that I would like to read or that I need to read.
I bow my head in shame when I think of the classics that I have never read. I have not read Moby Dick, War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov, Ulysses, Lolita, or A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, nor any of the volumes in the Nancy Drew series. In my defense, I have read Pride and Prejudice, Lord of the Flies, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit, Huckleberry Finn, the 1968 edition of the World Book Encyclopedia, and all of the Happy Hollister mysteries. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that my education is woefully incomplete.
I am also well-read but not nearly well-read enough in my field of expertise, the Christian ministry. Ministers are necessarily generalists. A member of the church I pastor had a robotic heart procedure performed last week. That type of surgery is the only thing that the doctor who operated on him does. Not all doctors are that specialized in their practice. Effective pastors cannot specialize in any one area, either, at least not at the expense of all other areas. For instance, my graduate work was in Old Testament. The aspect of ministry I enjoy most is preaching. So, left to my own designs, I’d probably spend most of my time preaching Christian sermons that draw heavily on the Old Testament. But, if I am going to do my job like it needs to be done, I need to stay up to speed on the New Testament, on homiletics, on ethics, on theology, on pastoral care, on evangelism, on worship, and on classic and modern literature. I also need to read the newspaper, including the comic strips, and to visit the important web sites, especially www.atlantabraves.com (baseball always offers good sermon illustrations) and www.baptiststoday.org (we Baptists get into more fixes than the Beaver ever dreamed of).
What got me to thinking about this was the latest issue of the Christian Century, which is their annual “Spring Books” issue. They do several such issues a year. Every one of them might as well be subtitled “More Books that Ruffin Ought to Read but Won’t Get Around to Because He is Such a Bad Manager of his Time.” In those issues they will also list the top five sellers for about a dozen major religious publishers. If I’m lucky I will have bought four of the books and if I’m real lucky I will have read one of those four. The Century does that to me several times a year. My pain is compounded when I receive Christianity Today’s “Books of the Year” issue or Preaching’s “Best Books for Preachers” issue. So many books. So little time. I so want to be conversant with every book out there so that I can feel like a well-rounded and well-educated preacher.
On the other hand, I do make time every day for that other book, the one that’s been on everybody’s best-seller list for hundreds of years. I figure that if I keep that one close at hand and close at mind and close at heart, and especially if I stay close to the Savior to whom it points me, things in my ministry—not to mention my life and my death—may just work out all right after all.