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Forming a Weighty Soul 

The Pastor’s Bookshelf
Why Reading Matters for Ministry

By Austin Carty
Eerdmans, 182 pages, $19.99

I remember being at a casual lunch with some recently graduated seminary classmates and one of our beloved professors, an accomplished theologian and a priest who had spent many years in parish ministry. Someone asked what one piece of advice he would give to newly ordained clergy. His answer? “Set aside an entire afternoon a week for reading as part of your work — not reading for sermon preparation or adult formation, but simply for your own edification.”

If that advice sounds like the sort of wishful thinking that would only be cooked up by a head-in-the-clouds academic, Austin Carty would like a moment of your time.

With this accessible and thoughtful offering, Carty, a young Baptist minister, seeks to convince pastors to think of reading not as a luxury, but as a vocational responsibility. He highlights reading’s role in developing gravitas, “of forming ‘a soul with enough weightiness to be attractive.’”

As Carty argues, commitment to wide, regular reading (particularly literary fiction) plays a vital role in forming pastors in a world increasingly captive to the winds of social media, the tyranny of the urgent, and the otherwise “swift and varied changes of the world.”

The book is divided into three sections. In the first section, Carty lays out a case for why being a “pastor-reader” is so important. He draws on wisdom from mentors, beloved pastors, and writers (Eugene Peterson is at the top of the list), and distills research on the formative power of reading.

In the second section, Carty fleshes out why reading is a vocational responsibility. He highlights various ways that “reading forms us specifically as ministers, sharpening our vocational skills and greatly expanding our pastoral range,” whether in preaching, pastoral care, or organizational leadership.

The third section offers insight and advice on how to become a pastor-reader by incorporating this important discipline into your daily rhythm of life and work. There are helpful tips in this section, and good advice on how to approach texts with a proper spirit.

But the real gift of the book is Carty’s sheer delight in and passion for reading. After spending just a few minutes with The Pastor’s Bookshelf, I began to look at my bookshelf of half-finished and not-started books, and I felt a renewed eagerness to pick up one and dive in.


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