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Reading: Fuel for the Road
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 By Ron Aguilera
 
The life of a pastor is complex and constantly changing. Ministry today is strikingly different than it was a generation ago. The expectations are higher, the demands more numerous, and the pace of life faster. In recent years, several studies have reported that ministry life is hard on the physical, emotional, and spiritual health of a pastor. Many pastors today feel that life in ministry is unsustainable. Perhaps you have felt that way, too.
 
So, what do we do? The strategies for sustaining pastoral ministry are wide-ranging, and include setting and maintaining healthy boundaries, physical exercise, and being part of a peer accountability/support group. I personally implement each of those, but I believe another strategy that is critical, yet often ignored, is creating and pursuing a lifelong learning plan.
 
Reading is a critical part of any learning plan. Maybe that is why my favorite question to ask pastors is, “What are you reading these days?” The answers never fail to surprise me. Many times, I get no answer, or some hemming and hawing, or a comment like, “I just don’t have time for it.”
 
But, I have discovered reading is a critical part of a pastor’s life, health, and growth. I believe a pastor who does not read is like a driver who wants to journey across the country without stopping for gasoline. You can’t get very far on empty. To put it another way, you can’t give what you don’t have.   I believe this is especially true for pastors, and reading is an important way of refilling the mind, heart, and soul. Pastors must make time to read.
 
These days, I am an avid reader, so inevitably I get asked, “How do you fit reading into your daily schedule?” It can be a challenge, with meetings, visits, counseling, committees, etc… But, I have discovered that I must do three things:
 
One: The first thing I must do is to make reading a priority. This means I must remove some things out of my life, in order to put some things in. For example, it is amazing how much more time I have if I don’t watch TV.
 
Two: You need a plan. For me, this means sitting down at the beginning of the week to think through my priorities for the week and how they line up with my passion and purpose. I know that if I just react to the requests and the expectations of others, I will not get any reading in. I know there will be exceptions, unforeseen crisis, urgent requests, but if I have not prepared through planning based on biblical priorities, I will be overtaken by the tyranny of the urgent.
 
Three: Discover what others are reading and read outside your comfort zone. Reading can contribute to a healthy and long life of pastoral ministry, but it needs to be varied and enjoyable. Both pastor and congregation will benefit from this – the pastor in sermon preparation and pastoral care, and the congregation in listening and discussing.
 
I am convinced that reading is one way pastoral life can be sustained and a blessing to all. So, be a reader. You won’t regret it!
 
Ron Aguilera is vice-president of administration for the Illinois Conference