Reading, books, giving

Why you should invest in (just one) day’s focussed reading

There are occasions where you need to know a lot, and maybe be exhaustive.  But that habit can hurt us badly when it comes to other, more practical, areas.

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There are only so many ways to skin a cat.  Apparently.  I’m a dog person, so I wouldn’t know.

But let’s say that that’s right.

On the other hand, as Ecclesiastes warns, Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body (Eccles. 12:12)

And if Solomon was tired after a day in the library, imagine how he’d have felt trying to research in the days of Google.

So, here’s a problem: there’s something small and definite you need to know as a pastor, but an infinite (or as good as, for our purposes) variety of sources to find it from.

Now there are occasions where you need to know a lot, and maybe be exhaustive.  Doctrine can’t be skimped.  Nor can reading the old theologians.  They require time, and concentration.

But that habit of mind can hamper us badly when it comes to other areas.

Take just as an example, the topic I’m looking at at the moment: Giving.  Our church has a budget, a deficit, and a Gift Day just round the corner.  So I need to get up to speed fast on some hows and whys, refresh my approach, think about some best practices and so forth.

For me, the key is speed on this.  I don’t have time to be exhaustive, nor to read a long book thoroughly. I need to be in the middle of a brilliant seminar.

I don’t have time to read a long book thoroughly. I need to be in the middle of a brilliant seminar.

So, first things first.

Do a careful web search which will chuck up some decent websites and talks. By ‘careful’ I mean choose your key words with care, and triage them mercilessly. After a while, and a few searches, the same names and places keep coming up.  Note them – although if you’re worried that its because of cookies and algorithms, you could use a private browser window with no history, or an anonymised one like DuckDuckGo.  Just warn your spouse first.

Do the same with Amazon and some book suppliers, and order three or four that seem most appropriate. I biassed towards really pragmatic stuff, because I reckon I could do the theology on my own and from my study.

Then burn through those books at high speed, cannibalising them for quotes, references, hints, tips and wrinkles.

After the first two, you’ll spot that the good ideas keep being repeated – that’s the skinning a cat point.  There are only so many key ideas about handling giving in church, and it really doesn’t matter many books you hit, you will get them, fairly rapidly. Adding another three books won’t double your value – that’s the Solomon point.

One book I’ve read is almost unusable, but it’s made me think hard about changing a number of things, challenged me to disagree, and it’s been really helpful for that alone.

Would you have got them on your own? Possibly, though you might have missed a few. I am now much more convinced that we need a dedicated course to teach stewardship and giving, as much as we do bible reading, prayer or evangelism.  Its a neglected aspect of discipleship.

Will you use them unadulterated?  Unlikely. I don’t teach tithing, and most books on giving assume that you will, and even that it’s unbiblical not to. (For what it’s worth, I think it went with the end of the Temple and the sacrificial system, but we don’t need to go there now.)

Will you adapt?  Undoubtedly.  Most of these books are from the US, and I do think we approach thinks differently in the UK. One book I’ve read is almost unusable here, but it’s made me think hard about changing a number of things, challenged me to disagree, and it’s been really helpful for that alone.

But – and here’s the point – just one day’s focussed investment will pay massive dividends, provided you really focus that reading.

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