I was recently asked what book(s) I would consider vital to the practice of ministry. While there are the obvious books such as the Bible or theological texts, the person inquiring pushed the question beyond those quick and easy answers. I had to pause for a bit and consider the question more deeply than I might otherwise want.
I needed to consider my response because of the place where I find myself these days. I think we answer questions like this one based on the context in which we find ourselves – what is happening in my life right now? where do I see my ministry heading? I am in a different place – both geographic and vocational – than I was several months ago. So how do I frame a response to my friend’s question?
Two books come to mind: Dag Hammarskjold’s seminal work Markings, and Reinhold Niebuhr’s Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic.
Markings is a collection of poems, sayings and reflections by a great statesman. I was introduced to Hammarskjold by one of my first mentors in ministry. He said to keep a copy nearby and to pick it up from time to time but to never attempt reading it from cover to cover like you would other books. Hammarskjold offers proverbs for living (and ministry) such as “Never look down to test the ground before taking your next step. Only he who keeps his eye on the far horizon will find the right road.” Need I say more about this gem…
I received Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic as a gift from my pastor before I went to seminary. It is a brief journal and journey with Reinhold Niebuhr during his time as a pastor in Detroit. While the author’s name is more often associated with the academic and theological, Leaves gives a snapshot of the struggles of a young pastor serving a congregation in a major American city during a time of prosperity and war.
Although I name these two books, I am certain there are many others that I’d add to this list if I took more time to ponder the question. I recognize that the question was directed to my particular vocation but I want to push beyond ministry itself and ask you to consider what books you’d include as vital in your life and for others to consider.
I invite you to add your thoughts to this post. Share the books you have found to be most important.