The Feast of Corpus Christi: An Invitation to Unity
The Image of Protestant Evangelical Worship, pt 6

The Books That Pastors Read

Books_1I've long believed that you can tell a lot about a person by the books they read (or don't read).  For this reason, I've often enjoyed asking incoming ministerial candidates to our denomination about the 2-3 books they've recently read that have had an impact on them (this takes place during their interview by our local Ministerial Education and Guidance board, of which I'm a part).  Their answers are often very telling.

Apparently George Barna also believes there is something to be gained by taking a look at what American pastors are reading (and being influenced by) these days. Barna's recent poll revealed that...

When pastors were asked to identify the three books that had been most helpful to them as a ministry leader during the past three years, more than two hundred different books were listed... Two books emerged as the most helpful of all: The Purpose Driven Life and The Purpose Driven Church, both written by Rick Warren.  Purpose Driven Life topped the list, with one out of every five Senior Pastors (21%) naming it as one of the most helpful books they have read in the last three years.  The larger a pastor's church was, the more likely the pastor was to include this book among their top three... The size of the congregation led by a pastor was related to the types of books mentioned.  Pastors of small congregations not only read fewer books than did pastors of larger churches, but also had more restricted categorical tastes.  Discipleship books were their clear favorite, listed by half of the small church pastors... In fact, small-church pastors were only half as likely as those from large congregations to include The Purpose Driven Life among their influential books...

Pastors of mainline churches were more than twice as likely as their colleagues from non-mainline Protestant churches to cite specific theology books while being less than half as likely to list a volume related to evangelism or outreach....Pastors who lead charismatic or Pentecostal congregations were by far the least likely to include books on theology among their chosen titles: only 2% did so....Pastors under the age of 40, meanwhile, were more than twice as likely to mention books on prayer; only half as likely to include The Purpose Driven Life; and just one-sixth as likely to place The Purpose Driven Church in their top-ranked volumes.  In fact, while one-third of all pastors over 40 mentioned at least one book by Rick Warren, just 14% of those under 40 did so.

What does all this mean, you may be wondering?  Well, I invite you to read the entire Barna study, and tell me what you think.  Barna's own thoughts are quite interesting:

"One of the most interesting outcomes is the different taste of younger pastors," pointed out research director, George Barna, "Given the divergent points of view that they consider most helpful and influential, it seems likely we will continue to see new forms and strategies emerge in their churches.  They lean toward books and authors that extol adventure, shared experiences, visionary leadership, supernatural guidance and relational connections.  If their choices  in reading are any indication, they seem less obsessed with church size and more interested in encounters with the living God.  They are also less prone to identifying the most popular books in favor of those that are known for their passionate tone.  The fact that less than half as many young pastors considering the Purpose Driven books to be influential in their ministry suggests that the new legion of young pastors may be primed to introduce new ways of thinking about Christianity and church life."

Absolutely.  Barna nailed that one.  And I, for one, am thinking that younger pastors are therefore more likely to bring about needed reforms within the church as opposed to maintaining the status quo.  I'm also encouraged that younger pastors also seem to be reaffirming the importance of prayer and reliance upon the Holy Spirit.

So tell me -- what insights, concerns, or questions does this study stir up within you?


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may i be cynical for a minute?

i have run across several younger pastors in recent weeks who are reading the "required" list:

blue like jazz
the last word...

and so on. but when you engage them on the ideas of the books, they don't have a clue. i eally believe they're not stupid - at least my humble self tells my prideful self that! ;)- but why do they have so much trouble seeing that these books are not just "cool" but question the very fundamentals of what they teach every sunday?

so what's going on? are my local guys just not with it or are our seminaries doing too good a job of preparing pastors to meet expectations?

that's my cynical take on the reading lists.

on the optimistic side, what we read has to affect us and change can happen drop by drop. which is fine, since i believe we are still a long way from a true emergent church in a postomodern world.

honest, i'm really not that grumpy usually.

John, you raise some interesting points. My hunch is that some emerging generation leaders may not recognize the theological implications of what they're reading because they do not have that much of a grasp on orthodox theology to begin with. On the other hand, I've certainly met emerging church leaders who have demonstrated a far greater knowledge of theology and it's outworking than many older pastors I know. One of the problems out there is a general confusion among some between orthodoxy and orthopraxy -- meaning, that their practice becomes equated with their doctrine. This is one of the reasons why healthy deconstruction is needed so much today.


i agree there's a real hope that we'll see a true outgrowth of theology in the postmodern world. not defining their beliefs first by doctrine, men and women with a passion to follow Christ will allow the Holy Spirit to lead them in truth.

but between here and there, i worry that we're in for a dry spell as we define ourselves so much by positional (not mis-spelled) truth - as we've seen before letting doctrine lead us to faith.

and once again, i find myself being grumpy.

What will the life & ministry (not to mention the theology) of today's churches be like if Rick Warren is the new guru of Christendom? Yikes!

Mark busher: "What will the life & ministry (not to mention the theology) of today's churches be like if Rick Warren is the new guru of Christendom? Yikes!"

I myself have mused on this very issue in some of my entries over at Lunar Skeletons. Warrenism is like some rivers down in Southern California: it may look a mile wide, but it's only half an inch deep.

Therefore, like you, I am somewhat concerned, especially now that Warren's books are apparently this influential with pastors.

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