There are many great books about pastoral ministry. Memoirs and autobiographies are particularly well-suited to this task. I offer this Top 15 list of books for supervisors and interns to consider reading together during the course of the year. All of them are rich in wisdom, grace, and faith.
I’ve now moved to the top of my list a forthcoming work, Emily Scott’s For All Who Hunger: Searching for Communion In A Shattered World. It’s fantastic in that it sits at a blessed middle between lay ministry and pastoral ministry, inspiring all readers. You can read a review here.
1) Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic, Reinhold Niebuhr: Notes from Niebuhr’s early years as a pastor (1915-1928) in urban Detroit, this book has been formative in the careers of at least two generations of pastors.
2) Open Secrets: A Memoir of Faith and Discover, Richard Lischer: Before becoming a professor of homiletics, Lischer was the pastor of a small rural congregation in southern Illinois. Open Secrets details his first three years of ministry, witnessing the joys and challenges that come from transitioning from university to parish life.
3) Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx, Heidi Neumark: Neumark spent nearly 20 years serving a Lutheran congregation in the South Bronx, and this book details that incredible journey of faithful ministry in a challenging urban setting.
4) The Preaching Life, Barbara Brown Taylor: These are Taylor’s early reflections on ministry as an Episcopalian priest, followed by 13 sample sermons from her exemplary career as a literate and thoughtful preacher.
5) Wheat That Springest Green, JF Powers: A humorous novel about the making and remaking of a priest.
6) A Pioneer Churchman, J.W.C. Dietrichson in Wisconsin 1844-1850: I’m probably biased, because this is the founding pastor of East Koshkonong Lutheran Church, where I once served, but this travel narrative gives a profound sense of the early immigrant church and the role of the pastor in that context.
7) Under the Unpredictable Planet, Eugene Peterson: Peterson weaves his own story into many of his books, and he has written lots of wonderful books on the pastoral ministry, but this may be the most refreshing, especially for pastors learning to self-differentiate.
8) The Pastor: A Spirituality, Gordon Lathrop: Again, although not strictly a memoir, this book arises out of Lathrop’s long wise look at the pastoral ministry from the perspective of liturgy and the catechism.9) The Country Parson, George Herbert: This is the the classic of the genre, and though it is sometimes difficult and very distant in time and tone, it is worth the time.
10) Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: More a memoir and theological treatise on Christian community than the life of the pastor per se, this book about the underground life of the seminary Bonhoeffer led during the Third Reich is seminal, and worth reading many, many times over.
11) Hannah’s Child by Stanley Hauerwas and A Broad Place by Jurgen Moltmann: Two of our greatest living theologians have written wonderful autobiographies, and they help place the work of a a theologian in the context of life in a way that will bear fruit for thoughtful readers who care about theology.
12) The Book of Strange New Things, Michel Faber: So you are considering being a pastor for the first expedition to a new planet, and pastor to extraterrestrials? This is the book for you.
13) Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry: Ok, this isn’t a memoir, it’s a novel, and it isn’t about a pastor, it’s about a barber. But I’m telling you, you might learn more about being a pastor from this book than any other book on the list.
14) Gilead, Marilynne Robinson: This is a novel, but it actually is about a pastor, or more properly, it’s letters from an aging pastor to his young son.
15) Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry, Will Willimon: This is kind of like the comprehensive handbook for pastors, and the accompanying volume, a reader, is worth acquiring and reading together with Willimon’s textbook.
I’m sure many pastors would list others (when I was in seminary, a big one was The Hammer of God by Bo Giertz, and I dearly love Rachel Held Evans’s account of starting a church with her friends and family in Searching for Sunday), and I’d love to hear what they are. In the meantime, I imagine anyone can find at least one book on this list that is worth digging into and living with this next year of ministry and study, and I would love to hear what you learn as you do so!