If you’ve played sports, you’re probably familiar with the idea of cross -training. It’s training in sports other than your main one. Your preferred sport develops only some muscle groups. To counteract that imbalance, it’s best to engage in other activities that eliminate that imbalance.
Cross-training is important for pastors too.
In his book The Art of Pastoring — a great book to read if you’re a pastor — David Hansen observes how much he benefited from reading certain kinds of theology:
I read theology, biblical studies and church history. I alternated between the disciplines. These books from the classical disciplines of theology didn’t teach me how to do pastoral ministry, but they helped me immensely in my regular duties. I discovered that spending a day reading thirty pages of Karl Barth’s Dogmatics helped me more in my pastoral work than a hundred of pages of how-to literature.
Without using the term, Hansen describes cross-training. He found that theology, biblical studies, and church history helped him develop muscle groups he otherwise would have neglected.
I’ve found the same to be true.
For example, I used to resist reading fiction. It seemed like a luxury, possibly a waste of time. This mistakes the purpose of reading. “To read well is not to scour books for lessons on what to think. Rather, to read well is to be formed in how to think,” writes Karen Swallow Prior. “Literary works are, after all, works of art to be enjoyed for their own sake rather than used merely for our personal benefit … Reading well adds to our life — not in the way a tool from the hardware store adds to our life, for a tool does us no good once lost or broken, but in the way a friendship adds to our life, altering us forever.” Reading fiction is useful, but not in the way we think. It can shape our lives more than reading a more practical book. Besides, it’s enjoyable.
The same applies to other genres. A book of theology, church history, or a biography may seem irrelevant to your immediate tasks, but they develop mental muscles that you need and that would otherwise grow flabby. In the same way that swimming and lunges can help a runner, reading from different disciplines can make you a better pastor and preacher.
So pick up a book from a genre you haven’t read in a while. Read books that don’t offer you any tangible benefit. Pay extra attention to the genres you tend to neglect, because those may reveal areas of your mind that most need to be developed. Build reading time into your calendar, and don’t feel guilty about it.
Wise pastors learn how to cross-train. So read great books. Read old ones. Read ones that look like they’re a complete waste of your time, but will actually work the muscle groups of your mind that have become flabby. And enjoy the process. You just may find that you enjoy your ministry a little more, and that your people benefit too.