Tip #2: Listen and Read Widely

[for context, see the original post Ten Tips for Becoming a Better Pastor]

The second tip for becoming a better pastor is to listen and read widely, but develop your own voice.

If you listen to or read just two or three preachers or authors, you’ll end up becoming an echo chamber (whether you intend to or not). One young man in our church had a hopeless man-crush on Tim Keller. Everything he said was simply Keller, recycled. I finally had to break the news to him that everyone was tuning him out because he wasn’t as interesting as Keller himself. Another pastor in our city flat-out stole an entire preaching series from Mark Driscoll. The problem, once again, was that he wasn’t as good as Driscoll. If I had a dime for every celebrity-pastor fanboy who was trying to be his favorite celebrity pastor… I’d have a lot of dimes.

On the other hand, if you listen to or read a few dozen different people, you’ll start to become wise and discerning. You’ll begin to see why different preachers resonate in different contexts. You’ll understand why Smith is such a master at storytelling and why Jones inspires such worshipful transcendence.

And, if you’re humble, you’ll recognize that you are neither Smith nor Jones. You are you. God has wired you up in a certain way, and he’s placed you in a certain context. There are things you can do, and things you can’t do. There are preachers and authors you should learn a lot from, and others you probably won’t find as helpful. But you’ll never know which is which unless you read them.

A wide range of reading and listening also expands your horizons and helps you make thoughtful connections. Your pastoral field of inquiry is the human person – which means everything having to do with humanity is germane to the subject. I read design magazines to better understand beauty; I read academic sociology works to better understand human culture; I read philosophy to wrap my mind around major debates in the field of ideas; I read biographies to learn from great humans who have lived storied lives. When it comes to preaching, I study Piper and Mohler for theological precision and reverence; Chandler and Driscoll for contextualization; Keller and Doug Wilson for intellectual skill and cultural insight; James MacDonald and Andy Stanley for phrasing and delivery. I also listen sporadically to dozens of other preachers who aren’t well known but are gifted by the Spirit and from whom I can learn. (If you don’t listen to sports radio while you drive, you can manage to listen to a lot of preaching).

In the final analysis, listening and reading widely isn’t just about doing what you do, better. It’s about cultivating wisdom. You are a pastor. People expect you to to be conversant in pastoral things – to have wisdom in matters of the soul. Which surgeon would you rather have: one who can explain exactly what he’s going to do and why he believes it’s better than the new experimental procedure they’re testing at Johns Hopkins, or one who says, “Heck with all that newfangled research – this is how we learned to do it in Fresno?”

Wisdom is in short supply these days, especially among young pastors. Every emerging leader is tweeting, blogging, and podcasting – but precious few of them have anything interesting to say. Tweet less and read more.


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  1. just curious, when you referred to reading Chandler and Driscoll for contextualization, what Chandler were you referring to?

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