In his book The Art of Pastoring, David Hansen describes the library of the pastor who preceded him.
“When he left this church, he left the ministry and forsook his library. Every single book remained in the office on the shelves, undisturbed; he took not one.”
“His library told the story of his ministry … His topics represented most of the trends of Christianity in the 1970s, the decade of his pastoral ministry.” He had some commentaries, but his library was weighted toward the ministry fads of that era.
He was a good pastor, according to members of the church. He preached well. He organized with care. People felt that he cared about them. But by the end of his ministry, he had lost much of his faith.
“His library presented a bleak testimony to me,” Hansen writes. “He and I were cut from the same piece of cloth. I too believed that following Christian movements amounted to following Christ. I was suckled on trend-driven Christianity. I’d grown up in the thick of consumer religion. It was all I knew. I knew every movement represented in his library. I’d tried them all myself. I didn’t know if I could do pastoral ministry without them. But every time I looked up at his library, I knew that I had to try.”
The Best Pastors
The best pastors I know practice fad-free ministry.
They don’t stock their libraries with the latest how-to books on ministry. Their congregations can’t tell what online conference they just attended, or which famous pastor they’re trying to imitate.
They do read. But they’re more likely to read old books as new ones, or theological works and biographies rather than books that promise to solve ministry problems.
The biggest difference is that they are focused on becoming a certain kind of Christian, not just learning a new set of skills.
You may think that I’m making this up, or creating a set of false dichotomies. But I can put names to some of these people. I talked to one last week. When I’m with them, I sense a continuity in their ministries. They don’t lurch from one thing to another. I also sense a weightiness in their souls: not a heaviness, but a sense of depth, of growth in godliness, and a preoccupation with things that matter most.
Becoming a Fad-Free Pastor
The best way to become a fad-free pastor is to develop some depth: to read old books, learn some church history, and to think theologically. It’s to become a Psalm 1 kind of person, meditating on God’s Word day and night, and spending unhurried time with God.
In other words, there are no shortcuts to becoming this kind of pastor. But that is the key word: becoming — not doing so much, as important as that might be, but becoming. It’s about who we are more than about what we do.
But when a church discovers a fad-free pastor, it will become less confused and fatigued by the parade of new ministry approaches. It will settle down and start focusing on becoming a certain kind of congregation, and out of that becoming start doing the right kinds of things. It will become a fad-free church.