I see the "ministry" of pointing people towards good books as an important extension of my role as a Christian pastor and teacher. (While I'm talking about the "ministry" of book recommendations in this post, there's lots of overlap here with any sort of learning - worthwhile podcasts and speakers, best blog sites, etc.) One REALLY important thing to note in that first sentence is the word "extension." Book recommendations can extend ministry, but they never REPLACE ministry or become the sum total of ministry. So don't misunderstand me to mean that we can throw bibliographies at people and then back away. That's note the case.
Nevertheless, I maintain that book recommendations can extend ministry in important ways. In this post I'll talk about WHY book recommendations are important, and in a future post I'll get practical and talk about HOW I try and take steps in this direction.
Here are three reasons why recommending good books can be valuable:
Because Some People Really Like to Read
This idea of "recommending books as an extension of ministry" is important because some people are learners and they really like to read. Even if you're NOT a huge reader and learn in other ways, there will be people in your congregation that learn well by learning and processing things that way. One meaningful way to serve them can be to periodically point them towards good books. Especially consider books that have helped resource your sermons and teaching, so they can dig more deeply into some the issues as well. Or point them towards good books that you've recently read, or have been formative for you personally.
Because Google is a Big Place
Let's face it, if people have questions or want to learn more about something, they're going to find information SOMEWHERE about that question or issue. And if we can't point them towards some worthwhile Christian thinking that helps them process their questions well (either by providing a framework for how to think about things, or suggesting biblical answers), they're going to get interpretive frameworks and answers from others places. And these "other places" aren't always places I would point them. Either proactively or reactively, we can help form educated Christian disciples who think discerningly about all sorts of issues by recommending books as an extension of our ministry.
Just think about how graduating seniors might enter college differently if they've got some "go to" books by articulate and educated evangelical scholars who can help them process things they may hear and experience in different college classrooms. Just think about how some "go to" books on the formation of the Bible and church history may help keep someone from believing religiously liberal scholars talk on the History Channel, without having first understood the best evangelical approaches to these same issues.
Because There's No Way One Person can Cover Everything in a Teaching Setting
I often have people approach me, suggesting ideas for class topics or sermon series. And many of them are good! The reality, though, is that many of these suggestions simply can't or won't find their way into an entire Brookside Institute class or a devoted sermon series. While we do an Institute class on church history ("History Matters"), it's not in our plans right now to spend 10 weeks on the fundamentalist-modernist controversy of the early 20th century. While we do an Institute class on Christian theology ("Fuel for Faith"), we don't have plans for a 10 week class devoted to the refinement of early trinitarian thought leading up to the Council of Constantinople. As Institute classes or sermons introduce topics and cover key issues, book recommendations can be a sort of "release valve" for people who feel a strong desire to expand their learning in a sub-topic that simply couldn't be thoroughly unpacked in available teaching environments.
Why else is recommending books important? Think of ways recommended books have influenced you personally, or benefits you've seen in teaching and ministry environments.
Christian. Husband. Father. Pastor. Learner. Contributor. Reader.