This spring I received an email from a young woman who had graduated from Truett recently.
Hello! I hope Easter was wonderful!!! I think about our Truett and Waco community a lot!
I am preparing for ordination this summer and thought i would ask a few people in ministry if there were any books or resources that formative in their journey in ministry.
I appreciate it so much, have a great day.
I gave my reply a bit of thought, but realized that there is more to say. What books and writers have most deeply shaped my thinking, my beliefs, my practices? Maybe I’ll work on an official list sometime. Nevertheless, here’s my reply:
Books have been powerful influences on my formation along the way. It is a challenge to think about which ones have had the biggest impact. I should work on doing that intentionally some day — producing a bibliography of the top 25 or 50. I’ll suggest fewer to you. It is difficult to do this entirely by books, so let me do so by writers and mention those of their books that I recall as especially formative. Almost without exception, these are books that are worth reading more than once, in my opinion, and I have done that.
C. S. Lewis — I began reading him in high school (Screwtape Letters) and never really stopped. The Chronicles of Narnia, the Space Trilogy, Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, and A Grief Observed stand out.
Dallas Willard — I met him much later, but he and Lewis share a common way of writing and thinking. His work on spiritual disciplines (The Spirit of the Disciplines, Hearing God, Knowing Christ) have been important to me, as is his work on the Christian life (The Divine Conspiracy).
Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline I have read several times with profit.
I’m no theologian, but have been helped by the writings of Jurgen Moltmann (especially Theology of Hope, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, and The Crucified God). I’m finding now that his thinking is helpful to me in talking about pastoral ministry.
Bonhoeffer’s Life Together and The Cost of Discipleship have been important as well
Wendell Berry’s essays, poetry, and novels have been inspiring and informative to me. Pick one. His novel Jayber Crow is a great parable of pastoral ministry.
I neglected fiction for a long time, but rediscovered it about ten years or so ago. Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety and his Angle of Repose were both quite moving. Hanging out with writers like Stegner must have some effect on the way I learn to use language in speaking and writing. A Zen proverb reads, “If you walk in the mist, you will get wet.”
Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek taught me much about carefully observing and appreciating creation. Anne Lamott’s writing has entertained me and made me think (and weep a time or two).
Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones (a small book that I buy every time I see it in a Half Price Bookstore so that I can give it away) has encouraged me to write and made writing a spiritual practice.
Henri Nouwen has a way of striking deep in the soul for me. His Wounded Healer was the first one I read and is still one of the best for pastoral ministry. Also In the Name of Jesus and The Return of the Prodigal Son.
Eugene Peterson’s “four book trilogy” The Contemplative Pastor, Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, Under the Unpredictable Plant, and Working the Angles are books I have read repeatedly over the years. I usually read one of those every year.
I would add a category of books I have only recently discovered — books of people writing about the life of the pastor from the inside. Eugene Peterson’s The Pastor (his memoirs), David Hansen’s The Art of Pastoring, Richard Lischer’s Open Secrets (the story of his first pastorate), Reinhold Niebuhr’s Leaves from the Diary of a Tamed Cynic (his journal from his first pastorate a hundred years ago), and Lillian Daniels and Martin Copenhaver’s This Odd and Wondrous Calling, along with Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead all fit this genre. Reading these makes me want to be a better pastor. I could add Stanley Hauerwas’s memoirs, Hannah’s Child, which makes me want to be a better teacher.
I’m sure there are others and I wouldn’t expect you to jump in and read all these. But you asked.
(As I copied and pasted this from my email, I began to realize all the other voices that were not included. I’ll have to save that for a future post.)
About the author:
Dr. Robert Creech has been a member of the Truett Seminary faculty since 2009 and serves as Professor of Christian Ministires and Director of Pastoral Ministries. You can keep up with Dr. Creech on his blog: The Journey Continues