Three tips for growing through reading from Tim Johnson.

How can you tell when a minister graduated from theological college? Just check his or her book collection and find the latest one published.
An old joke that is only funny because it is too often true in spirit if not in fact. A mere few years of theological study at its best equips people with the right tools and stimulates a passion for a lifetime of ongoing learning. There is a need to read and keep on reading to deepen in our thinking and ministry.
So how can we ensure that we are growing through ongoing reading? Ministry places serious demands on our time and it is easy for reading and thinking to be pushed aside by the sermon that needs writing, the parishioner who needs visiting or the mounting administration. I’ve found the following three disciplines helpful in ensuring that I keep growing through reading.

1. Book reading time

In my second year of ministry my supervisor helpfully challenged me about how much wider reading I was actually doing. He pointed out that I’d soon become shallow and trite in my preaching if I wasn’t growing through reading.

He also shared his own system for reading. Each Monday morning he would spend his first two hours doing reading. It was a good way to ensure a gentle start after a busy Sunday. It was a period of time that was less likely to be interrupted by meetings. And it was early enough in the week to avoid the pressure to get things done for Sunday.
I’ve followed this pattern ever since. Monday morning 9 am–11 am has ‘Reading’ marked next to it in the diary and that’s what I do. That’s not to say that I can’t and don’t read at other times. What it does mean at that I am doing at least two hours of wider reading a week. Two hours a week adds up. That’s 104 hours of reading a year which in turn equates to, well, lots of books!
Monday morning might not work for you but set aside some time in the week and mark it in your diary!

2. Set yourself a reading plan for the year

I love lists. I’m a list kinda guy. And if it’s on the list than it has to get done. So for me it’s really helpful to set a reading plan for the year and to put dates against each book as a rough guide for reading it.
I first stumbled onto this idea when I did the Arrow Leadership Program and we had a reading program for two years. Because there was a program, I did it. And I worked hard to stay on track with my reading. So when I finished Arrow I just devised my own program and each January I try and lay out what I plan to read for that year. Of course, the list isn’t set in stone. Something might be placed in your hands that you absolutely have to read. Sometime I get behind or, more rarely, get ahead of the program. But it is a way of intentionally setting out what I am aiming to do.
It also helps me to balance what I am reading. As I look at the year ahead I try and include books on the Bible, theology, church history and biography, preaching, spirituality, leadership, and ethics. We all like to read in our areas of interest but if we are reading in order to strengthen and sustain our ministry than we need to balance it out. There is always more that I want to read than I can read, so this also helps me to prioritise what goes into the list.
If you are a list person then you’ll love this idea, dates and all. For others this will just seem scary! You need to find what works for you. Perhaps just a general list of things that you’d like to read that you can refer to when you next need to choose something. But it is helpful to track and measure what you have actually read in a year so you can assess how you’ve been going.

3. Always carry a book

There is a lot of lost time in a week. Whether it’s a gap between appointments or while waiting for someone who’s late for a meeting there are often periods of 5 to 15 minutes where reading can happen. It’s not much in and of itself but it adds up. I always try and have a book with me so that I can read a few pages while I’m waiting. It’s a better use of time than twiddling your thumbs.
Always having a book on hand is much easier with the advent of e-readers. You can carry your whole library with you on something the size of a single small book. You can also access your electronic library with a smart phone so that you can read wherever you are. When you return to your e-reader you will find that the place where you are up to is synchronized across devices.
I also try to read while I’m travelling to meetings. Obviously this is harder when I’m driving rather than on the train and the tram! It is a great use of otherwise idle time. It also motivates me to use public transport so that I can read; and that’s good for the environment too, right?
The bottom line with all of this is intentionality. If we acknowledge that it is a good thing to keep reading so that we are stimulated and growing then what practical steps are we going to take to ensure that we do it? Here are just three tips. Perhaps you have some more.

Tim Johnson is the newly appointed (2013) senior minister of St John’s Diamond Creek.