Too much of a good thing
Most ministers are reasonably well educated or, at least, have the time to immerse themselves in some richly rewarding reading. But it’s easy for us to make the mistake of thinking that our people have the same access and time to make such reading rewarding. I recently had a conversation with a mature Christian (a believer for 50 years+) who told me that they had never read a Christian book. I was surprised, but perhaps I should not have been.
Casual recommendations in our sermons then, can sometimes do more harm than good. For one thing, that may be because we make Christianity seem a very cerebral and academic study. I worry about this a lot: increasingly in our time poor culture, our pastoral strategy seems to be “let me recommend a book on that.” Don’t get me wrong: I love books and want to promote them, and promote Christian reading. But the books are not our pastors.
The other concern is the kind of thing we are often recommending. I’ve been reminded about this because I’ve just been re-reading Calvin on prayer (Book 3). I love it. I remember first reading it and this one chapter making more difference to my prayer life (and still doing so) than anything I had read before or since. But reading it again, I realise that some of it (much?) is impenetrable. In fact, a long term wish project of mine that I pick up and put down every now and again is to produce a paraphrase of the chapter as a separate book.
But reading through one sentence this morning again and again I realise I have absolutely no idea what it means. Am I allowed to say that? After a while, a light will dawn (I hope!). But for me to stand at the front of church and say with enthusiasm “you must read Calvin on prayer” is profoundly unhelpful to the majority of our congregation. I am not serving them at all.
The Reformers and Puritans, huh? You can have too much of a good thing.