Saturday, January 8, 2011

Readers and Leaders

This little vignette by Karen Spears Zacharias is about pastors, but it could be about anyone in leadership positions of any kind. Zacharais is an author who had this conversation with the manager of a bookstore that carries her work:
I couldn’t tell if he was making a confession or if he was bragging.

The man looked up from the computer screen from where he was surfing the net and announced very matter-of-factly, “I manage this bookstore but I don’t read.”

Why would you tell that to an author?

I try my best to be gracious to people. I didn’t cuss out loud.

“Have you never been a reader?” I asked.

“Nope. Never,” he said.

“How is it you came to manage a bookstore if you don’t read?”

“I’m a pastor,” he said as if that explained everything.

I’d like to tell you he’s the first bookstore manager I’ve met this year who doesn’t read. In fact, he’s the third one. All were men. All had backgrounds in retail. And all three of them are running bookstores that cater to the Christian marketplace. I think there’s a message embedded in there somewhere, but I haven’t decoded it yet.

I can count on one hand the number of pastors I’ve sat under in my lifetime that I know were avid readers. I remember them because their preaching had a depth and a substance that all others lacked. One of my favorites, Dr. Herb Anderson, would quote poetry from the pulpit. That was always a magical moment. It helped that Dr. Anderson lived in a university town. He had a lot of professors in his audience. They expected their pastor to be well-read. But out here in rural America where hardy people live and vote, pastors are more likely to quote a bumper sticker than they are to recite a poem they’ve memorized.
Whether it's leading a church, leading a business, leading a professional sports team, leading a military, or leading a country the people who do it best are often people who read and read widely. Reading is like the weekly trip to the grocery store. People who don't read often have very little to say that's interesting because they've ceased to grow in their own lives and are trying to feed others from an empty cupboard.

Reading good books, like watching good movies, expands one's background knowledge, deepens one's understanding of the culture and the world, and keeps one from becoming intellectually stagnant and superficial. It gives teachers and speakers a richer mine of resources upon which to draw to make one's lessons or sermons more meaningful to those who hear them. The preacher who doesn't read must rely on his personal experience for the material he shares with his listeners, but unless he has led an extraordinary life, these resources are soon exhausted, and he's often reduced to offering his congregants little more than platitudes.

To be a leader of any kind, whether in a school, the church, the military, business, or the government and not be a reader is, in my opinion, to commit professional malpractice. It prevents one from being as effective as he could be, and thus the people who depend upon his leadership benefit less from it than they could have otherwise.

Thanks to Hearts and Minds' Booknotes blog for the link.