News Articles

Pastors buy about 20 books a year; prof gives tips on staying abreast

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Nearly all Protestant pastors in the United States (98 percent) purchased at least one book in the past year, with the average pastor purchasing 20 books (approximately four times as many as the average adult), according to a study of American book buying habits by Christian researcher George Barna.

Nearly one in five pastors (19 percent) purchased 50 or more titles in the past year — an average of at least one book per week, Barna reports.

This data puts the typical Protestant pastor among the top 10 percent of all book buyers despite an average household income less than that of the average American.

There’s an indissoluble link between actively reading and a vibrant pastorate, noted Hershael York, Lester Professor of Christian Preaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

“If you’re a pastor who’s preaching three times a week between 45 and 50 weeks a year, that’s the equivalent of writing nine to 12 novels a year,” York said. “And so your appetite for fresh illustrations and insight just has to be voracious.”

Barna surveyed 1,005 American adults — Christians and non-Christians alike — in addition to 602 Protestant pastors and asked them about their book buying habits. The research of all Americans was conducted in January 2002 with an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points while the research of pastors was conducted in May 2002 with an error margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

According to the study, multiple factors contribute to the likelihood that a pastor will spend significant time reading.

The pastors most likely to have purchased Christian books in the past year include non-whites, those with incomes of $60,000 or more, pastors from large churches, those from charismatic churches, pastors with 10 years or more experience, and clergy serving in the South and in non-rural locations.

Pastors from the “buster generation” were more likely than their older counterparts from the boomer and elder generations to have bought 24 or more ministry-related books in the past year. Forty-six percent of busters are active book consumers compared with just 38 percent of boomers and 20 percent of elders, Barna reported.

York, who has pastored churches in Kentucky and Arkansas, said that Barna’s book-buying data, taken as a whole, is highly encouraging.

“It’s very, very encouraging that so many pastors are reading because a pastor is called upon to multi-task, to do so many different activities. So he is constantly needing to upgrade his knowledge about sociological factors, practical matters of church growth and administration.”

One portion of the research, however, is not so encouraging.

Only one-sixth of pastors (17 percent) indicated that they very closely monitor new book releases to find helpful new content. Of the remaining pastors, 43 percent said they monitor new releases somewhat carefully, and 40 percent said they do not pay much attention to new books.

In the wake of this finding, York offered several suggestions for pastors looking to stay abreast of current publications and simultaneously juggle the demands of ministry.

First, York suggested that pastors place themselves on various publishers’ catalogue lists. If you get on these lists, York said, publishers will periodically send out catalogues detailing all of the new releases.

Pastors also might look to seminary professors as sources of information about current publications, York said. “That’s one of the things seminaries are here for,” he said. “Pastors can stay in close contact with seminary professors. Here at Southern Baptist seminaries, we belong to churches of the convention, so they ought to use us as resources to find out what’s current.”

Still anther tactic for staying abreast of new publications is to utilize the book previews provided by online booksellers such as Amazon.com, York noted. “One of the helpful things I have found is on Amazon.com and some of the other online booksellers. They actually have sample pages of books where you can click and see the table of contents. You can read sometimes up to 20 pages of a book,” he said.

Additionally, York suggested that pastors should know of a few great Christian authors and read any new books from those authors.

“I’m always going to read everything that D.A. Carson writes, and I’m going to read everything that John R.W. Stott writes. Though it’s secular, I’m going to read everything written by Jacques Barzun. Everything that some guys come out with, I’m going to read because I find it so helpful, so informative,” York said.

“If you’re a preacher, Kent Hughes’ ‘Preaching The Word’ series is just invaluable,” he added. “It is to me the most helpful preaching commentary. It’s not a verse-by-verse exegetical commentary, but it’s a great preaching commentary, complete with illustrations. He shows you how to get into the text, how to relate it to people.”

Ultimately, however, York suggested that a greater problem than knowing what to read in ministry is making time to read.

“Let’s face it,” he said. “A lot of times our problem is not lack of time. It’s using the time that we have wisely, and you have to learn to evaluate your time.

“If you always just keep a book with you, those little spare moments in doctors’ offices, and waiting for appointments, and before you go to sleep at night, and at the breakfast table in the morning — these are times that you can get some pages in and read…. If you can’t schedule large blocks of time, use what little time that you have.”

York concluded, “So find the most helpful and trusted authors you can. Listen to good recommendations. Get catalogues that are coming out from the publishers that explain what the books are and give you a little synopsis. Read online reviews, and I think that a pastor can very easily locate books that are going to be very helpful to his ministry.”