Thursday, December 20, 2012

15 Best Books About Being a Pastor

Over the course of the year, I tend to loan interns a few books. Maybe too many books. It occurred to me I should try to narrow the focus to a particular genre that would be especially helpful for interns. It would need to be compelling to read, but also theologically informative and pertinent to the tasks of ministry.

Memoirs and autobiographies are particularly well-suited to this task, and so I offer this Top 15 list of books for supervisors and interns to consider reading together during the course of the year. All of them are rich in wisdom, grace, and faith.

1) Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic, Reinhold Niebuhr: Notes from Niebuhr's early years as a pastor (1915-1928) in urban Detroit, this book has been formative in the careers of at least two generations of pastors.

2) Open Secrets: A Spiritual Journey Through a Country Church, Richard Lischer: Before becoming a professor of homiletics, Lischer was the pastor of a small rural congregation in southern Illinois. Open Secrets details his first three years of ministry, witnessing the joys and challenges that come from transitioning from university to parish life.

3) Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx
, Heidi Neumark: Neumark spent nearly 20 years serving a Lutheran congregation in the South Bronx, and this book details that incredible journey of faithful ministry in a challenging urban setting.

4) Preaching Life, Barbara Brown Taylor: These are Taylor's early reflections on ministry as an Episcopalian priest, followed by 13 sample sermons from her exemplary career as a literate and thoughtful preacher.

5) The Monkey and the Fish: Liquid Leadership for a Third-Culture Church (Leadership Network Innovation Series), Dave Gibbons: Although not strictly a memoir, Gibbons weaves enough of his own story into the text that you get a powerful sense of what it means to be a missional pastor in the 21st century.

6) A pioneer churchman: J. W. C. Dietrichson in Wisconsin, 1844-1850 (Publications of the Norwegian-American Historical Association): I'm probably biased, because this is the founding pastor of East Koshkonong Lutheran Church, where I previously served as pastor, but this travel narrative gives a profound sense of the early immigrant church and the role of the pastor in that context.

7) Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, Eugene Peterson: Peterson weaves his own story into many of his books, and he has written lots of wonderful books on the pastoral ministry, but this may be the most refreshing, especially for pastors learning to self-differentiate.

8) The Pastor: A Spirituality
, Gordon Lathrop: Again, although not strictly a memoir, this book arises out of Lathrop's long wise look at the pastoral ministry from the perspective of liturgy and the catechism.

9) The Country Parson, George Herbert: This is the the classic of the genre, and though it is sometimes difficult and very distant in time and tone, it is worth the time.

10) Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works) (v. 5), Dietrich Bonhoeffer: More a memoir and theological treatise on Christian community than the life of the pastor per se, this book about the underground life of the seminary Bonhoeffer led during the Third Reich is seminal, and worth reading many, many times over.

11) Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir by Stanley Hauerwas and A Broad Place: An Autobiographyby Jurgen Moltmann: Two of our greatest living theologians have written wonderful autobiographies, and they help place the work of a a theologian in the context of life in a way that will bear fruit for thoughtful readers who care about theology.

12) This Odd and Wondrous Calling: The Public and Private Lives of Two Ministers, Lillian Daniel and Martin Copenhaver: This is probably the most recent book published under the genre of "pastoral memoir", and it is unique in weaving the story of two pastors together, chapter after chapter. This is a really creative way to team-author a book.

13) Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry: Ok, this isn't a memoir, it's a novel, and it isn't about a pastor, it's about a barber. But I'm telling you, you might learn more about being a pastor from this book than any other book on the list.

14) Gilead: A Novel, Marilynne Robinson: This is a novel, but it actually is about a pastor, or more properly, it's letters from an aging pastor to his young son.

15) Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry, Will Willimon: This is kind of like the comprehensive handbook for pastors, and the accompanying volume, a reader, is worth acquiring and reading together with Willimon's textbook.

I'm sure many internship supervisors would list others (when I was in seminary, a big one was Hammer of Godby Bo Giertz), and I'd love to hear what they are. In the meantime, I imagine anyone can find at least one book on this list that is worth digging into and living with this next year of ministry and study, and I would love to hear what you learn as you do so!

1 comment:

  1. Our new bishop's first grandson is named Jayber