Good Books to Strengthen Pastoral Ministry

July 31, 2020 by Joe Small

Augustine heard the voice of a child saying, “Take and read, take and read.” He opened a Bible, began to read, and was set on the path of committed discipleship and faithful pastoral ministry as the Bishop of Hippo and a theologian for the ages. Let’s assume that pastors do not need to be encouraged to read the Bible. But what else can we read that will enhance our preaching, teaching, and pastoral care?

Suggestion(s) for August reading:

Protestants often associate pilgrimages with Catholic piety: spiritual journeys to Santiago de Compostela, Lourdes, or the Vatican. Increasingly, however, Protestant congregations sponsor trips to the Holy Land and sites in Greece and Turkey where the earliest Christian communities were formed. The 500th anniversary of the Reformation’s beginning prompted trips to Wittenberg, Zurich, and Geneva. Protestant events are sometimes tourist trips, sometimes study tours, but less often intentional spiritual pilgrimages.

Paul Lang, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Fargo, N.D., and director of the Institute for Church Renewal, has led spiritual pilgrimages in the Holy Land and Spain, and developed a program for congregational pilgrimage “in place.” In The Pilgrim’s Compass, he provides a brief yet profound introduction to both domestic pilgrimage in daily living and travel pilgrimage that takes us a way from the familiar and into the “wilderness” of the wider world.

Each chapter in The Pilgrim’s Compass concludes with questions for reflection and discussion, journaling and prayer exercises, and suggestions for further reading. The book is not simply to be read. It is itself a pilgrimage to be travelled toward the goal of deeper encounter with God. The Pilgrim’s Compass invites us into the practice of pilgrimage as a discipline for individual faith formation and as a resource to facilitate congregational renewal.

The image of the compass orients pilgrims to the dynamic directions of the journey. Chapters on Encounter, Struggle, Wounding-Wilderness-Wandering, and New Name point to an engagement designed to re-orient our lives. Paul Lang reminds us that “all Christians are pilgrims who are on the way to our home with God. We are all in transit, as it were, and we live day to day making our way home. If we were people who had no idea what the destination was going to be, then we would not need to travel in any particular direction.” Lang’s little book is itself a compass, helping us to follow the path toward home.