Pick a book from the Hebrew Scriptures, and pick a book from the New Testament. If you want to go even narrower, pick a passage: the Servant Songs of Isaiah, the Sermon on the Mount, a passion narrative from the Gospels, or Paul’s farewell address to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20.
Bonus points: pick a dead person from history who finished well, who left behind a body of work that merits the attention.
Become a student of these passages and this person.
Of course, you will still want to read widely. Read all of Scripture, and read other dead people (as well as some living ones). But dedicate your life to mastering — and being mastered by — your two main texts and your one main dead person.
I can see the benefit of being a generalist. Most pastors, by necessity, are called to be generalists, building competence in understanding all of Scripture, and carrying out their myriad duties. on’t completely neglect your need to go wide.
But go narrow. Find a couple of texts. Make them your life’s pursuit. Aim not so much to learn them as to absorb them, to make them a part of who you are. Allow them to shape the way you think. Read everything you can on them. Memorize large portions of them.
And keep going deeper.
The same with the dead person. Find one — Augustine, Edwards, Flavel, Simeon, Bavinck, Spurgeon, Roseveare — and read everything they’ve written. Read critical biographies. Learn their faults, learn their thinking. Pick someone who will give you enough material to last the rest of your life. Get to know them well. Learn from others, but really master this one dead person.
Yes, your dead person will have faults. They all do. Don’t look for a perfect person, but look for a godly one. Aim to discover all you can about their strengths and their weaknesses.
Here’s what you’ll find.
These pursuits will fill your soul like nothing else. It will give a depth to your ministry that you can’t get anywhere else. You will think you are mastering the texts and this one person, but they will master you. The flavor will seep throughout your whole life and ministry, and you will be a better person for it.
I have a friend who’s unusually wise. People ask him where he gets so much insight, and his answer is usually the same: he’s trying to master the book of Proverbs. He’s memorized most of it — in a foreign language — and he finds that it helps him understand how to approach many of the situations he and others encounter.
I don’t know who his favorite dead person is, but when I talk to him he’s always pulling out some obscure book from the past that few people have read. He doesn’t read blogs or popular new releases, but reads deeply from the riches of the past.
He’s narrow and deep, and it shows.
You can’t take a shortcut. Dedicate the rest of your life to this pursuit. You will be better for it, and so will your ministry. It’s not too late to start.