Formation via Fiction
What church leaders can learn through literature.

This is a highly unscientific observation, but I stand by it: In my scouring of bookshelves in pastor's studies and church libraries, I regularly find volumes from the corporate world about how to be an effective leader and efficient administrator; studies from the humanities about human psychology and sexuality; and manuals from the financial and legal sectors about budgeting, zoning, and liability issues. What I seldom, if ever, find is fiction. And I think that's a shame.

For much of their history, many evangelicals have considered novels to be either immoral or simply a waste of time. (To be fair, there are a good many novels that are both.) But good fiction (an entirely subjective category, I admit) can help a minister better understand the people to whom he or she is ministering - people struggling with doubt, addictions, or questions about calling and vocation. Here's a list of a few novels I think every minister should read, along with a few reasons why.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde - a great look at how a person's spirit can be tormented by secret sin.

Wealthy and conceited Dorian Gray wants to be young forever. He commissions an artist to paint his portrait. Then wishes that his portrait would age and bear the evidence of his dissipation and loose living, but that he would stay young forever. He gets what he asks for. His struggle with sin is powerful (and never explicit, by the way).

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July 08, 2008

Displaying 1–6 of 6 comments

Casey Taylor

July 15, 2008  8:57pm

Yay for fiction! Christians - particularly xian leaders - need to get over their hangups and read widely. I'm not saying we should read erotica, but how about something outside the Family Christian Bookstore fare that hasn't whitewashed real-world language from all conversation? I hate to sound offensive, but it's sad when Left Behind is the literature of choice among pastors. One of my preaching mentors eschews those here-today-gone-tomorrow leadership books in favor of good solid writing. Preachers: we deal in words. Learn from those who use them well.

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Larry Baden

July 09, 2008  11:41am

I occasionally read Bible-centered historical fiction. I find that it helps with my tendency – common to human beings, I think – to sanitize the Bible and make little gods who never do wrong out of fallible, fallen people. So, understanding that I am reading the product of someone's imagination, I find that these novels greatly help in seeing biblical characters as flesh and blood men and women, with many of the same struggles that I find in my life.

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July 09, 2008  4:35am

Amen! I firmly believe that fiction aids your ability to empathise and develops intuition.

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Norm MacDonald

July 08, 2008  4:11pm

I was never much for fiction. In fact, outside of what I read in High School I don't think I read fiction until reading Jerry Jenkin's fist Left Behind book, Left Behind, when I was in my 40s. But I did read his upcoming book, RIVEN, and must say, fiction has been rekindled. I also read The Shack, although not with real enjoyment. Frankly, I've often considered fiction a waste of good reading time. I suspect I have missed a great deal because of that particular position.

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July 08, 2008  10:49am

How about some fantasy, which is one way I learned about God as a teenager (until you understand there are things you don't understand in the world - ie, mystery - it is hard to comprehend God) - All the C.S. Lewis books of course, but I found the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe series as good for reading as an adult AND teen - as watching the movie! Same with Tolkein - if you want to understand sacrifice, community, good versus evil - hang out with some hobbits!

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David Swanson

July 08, 2008  9:35am

I agree in theory Brandon. In practice I read far too little fiction. Two favorites that I related to vocationally: Glittering Images by Susan Howatch. Waiting for Snow in Havana by Carlos Eire (technically a memoir).

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