It should come as no surprise that I advocate the reading of theology and theologians for Christian leaders, whether you are leading a church or a business or running your home. I think we have often neglected looking at Christian theologians as mature thinkers about leadership. Part of the reason for this is because they themselves did not often write about "leadership." You will not find in their writings "8 Ways to Be a Better Leader" nor do they talk about "Creating a winning culture." Nevertheless, I think they offer reflections on these issues that are more mature, Gospel-centered and robust then many leadership books today.
This isn't to say that you cannot learn from modern works of leadership. I personally have benefitted greatly from many (and you can take a look at some of those works here). But I think we do ourselves a disservice when we only focus on those works to the neglect of time-tested works by leaders of yesterday. This is what Theologian of the Boss is all about--connecting you to voices you may have not heard before as a leader. Today I want to offer a few reasons you should consider reading more widely as a reader.
*Note: You should DEFINITELY check out the fantastic book Reading for Preaching: The Preacher in conversation with storytellers, biographers, poets, and journalists by Cornelius Plantinga Jr. Much of what I will be talking about the next few days is drawn from this wonderful book. While he specifically is talking to preachers, I think his advice is good for anyone in a position of leadership--teachers, homemakers, CEOs, bloggers, podcasters...you get the point.*
Buy the book here!
1. Reading Widely Helps You Bridge Contexts
Empathy is such an important tool to possess as a leader. No one wants to be completely disconnected from the experiences of their team. The reality is, however, that you cannot possibly experience everything that an individual on your team experiences. Cornelius Plantinga quotes Adrian Piper saying,
"if you say as a man that you cannot imagine what it would be like for a woman to be raped or that as a white person in a majority white culture you cannot imagine what it's like to be racially taunted, then maybe you are humble and realistic."
He goes on to say,
"On the other hand, maybe your ignorance is due only to a cool lack of interest. Maybe you do not care to read literature, view paintings, listen to requiems, or partake in any other 'literary and artistic products designed precisely to instruct us' about the exigencies of lives other than our own. Ignorance of the literary and fine arts is thus a serious sin of omission."
As a leader you have the responsibility to read so that you can bridge the contexts of those on your team.
2. Reading Widely Helps Draw People In
It is very easy for me to isolate people when I speak in abstract terms about anything. I can wax poetic all day long about virtue and ethics, but unless I provide some concrete examples of how to navigate the complexities of the modern world, my words will often fall on deaf ears. Part of this has to do with how we learn. Simply put, we tend to think in pictures and visual imagery sticks with us longer. Reading widely can help you with that. For instance, reading poetry can enlarge your vocabulary or give you different word pictures to draw upon. Reading biography allows you to use others as moral examples or illustrations that highlight a particular virtue (or vice). Some of the best theologians were experts in using illustrations to highlight their points. One of my favorite theologians who had the propensity of taking dense theology and making it come alive with great illustrations was the puritan Thomas Watson. He is a great example of someone who read widely and used his illustrations to draw people in.
3. Reading Widely Helps Stoke the Parts of Your Heart Gone Cold
The more you read in just one area, the more you adopt the thoughts and observations of that particular field. For instance, if you are used to reading leadership books written from the past two years, you will pick up the ways of talking, thinking and analyzing reality from the past two years. That isn't necessarily a bad thing. I think that developing as a writer, speaker or thinker requires us to try on the shoes of those we respect and practice sounding like them. In other words, imitating truly great writers helps us grow as leaders.
However, by reading in just one field we allow other parts of our heart grow colder. If we read analytical leadership books, we can lose sight of the poetic nature of leading itself. If we are constantly immersing ourselves in books on entrepreneurship, we may see our ability to imagine begin to wane. We can combat this by reading widely in poetry, literature and excellent essays. You may be surprised to see that you view and approach problems differently as a result.
And if you are interested in getting book recommendations don't forget to sign up for my monthly newsletter. As someone destined to be a bibliophile, I try to read as widely as possible and hope to pass on to you some of the great books I've discovered. You can sign up here.
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In the past I have preached to youth on 1 Timothy and the call to full-time ministry. As I have been doing some study, I stumbled across some background information on 1 Timothy I didn't know before. It would seem that Paul was encouraging Timothy to guard against those who had an over-realized eschatology (that is just a big phrase meaning that they saw that the end of time was already taking place at that moment).
For instance, Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:18, "They have left the path of truth, claiming that the resurrection of the dead has already occurred; in this way they have turned some people away from the faith." It would seem that this thinking impacted their actions in God's world. Scholar Greg A. Couser states, "A central effect of this shift resulted in illegitimately putting God's saving work over against his present purposes in creation (cf. 1 Tim. 2:13-15; 4:3-5; 5: 3,14)." (From the book Entrusted with the Gospel: Paul's Theology in the Pastoral Epistles, p.108).
Stop and think about that for a moment--these people were focusing on what was going to happen and were neglecting what was happening at that moment. Worse still, it had the appearance of godliness because it was focused on salvation. Yet it ignored completely what God was doing in the community and in the church. God did not say, "Ignore everyone because my coming is soon." Rather, he says "Take care of the orphans and the widows. Make sure you keep procreating. Make sure you keep living holy and Godly lives."
The church forgot God's immediate desire because they were looking too much at God's future desire.
We do that too, don't we?
I am so guilty of looking ahead to my future. Where will I go to school again? Am I going to earn a Ph.D? What is the next book I am going to read? What is the next event I am going to plan? What if we end up with tons of people end up coming? Where will I end up living? What do the next ten years hold? What does the future of my business hold?
These aren't bad things to imagine. In fact, vision requires that we think ahead.
The danger is when we allow the future to impact our present. I have caught myself turning down good things now, because I expected something better in the future.
When that happens, we have begun to over-dream.
...and we become guilty of something very similar to the church Timothy served at.
So what to do?
First, we must be humble. We must realize that everything about our future is contingent on God's ultimate plan. James 4:13-17 reminds us of this. Our plans are subservient to God's plan. We are to be humble.
Second, we are to be aware. God is constantly doing things around us. He is on the move. Our calling is partner with God wherever he is working
Third, we are to live expectantly. We must be careful not to fall into the other side of the trap which pushes all future plans and eschatological hopes as irrelevant. We are called to live expectantly, waiting for Christ's return. We are to labor hard. The same goes with our dreams. We are to live expectantly, trusting that our future is held securely by God. This gives us freedom to serve now with total devotion.
Daniel Pandolph is co-founder of Ministry Assistant Services and founder of Theologian of the Boss. He holds a BA in Christian Studies from North Greenville University and an MA in Religion from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.