I’m 39, a pastor, and I love to write. But I’ve only written an unpublished dissertation, a small book titled How to Pray for Your Pastor, and a recent book, Strong and Courageous: The Character and Calling of Mature Manhood. I have other book ideas, and I hope to serve the church by someday writing more. But now it’s hard to find time. I have a wife and three young kids, a congregation full of people I love, friends and family members to whom I want to give time and attention.
But I’m not discouraged.
Tim Keller’s counsel to young pastors on writing has helped me. He suggested that, generally speaking, a pastor’s book-length writing should come later in life after he’s logged years of study, teaching, and pastoral experience. Giving ourselves to book writing at the early stages of pastoral ministry, Keller says, risks being counterproductive, because it distracts us from what will make us useful writers later.
Biblical Role Model
I’ve also found much help in the Bible, particularly Luke’s Gospel. Luke’s introduction provides a worthy model for a pastor’s writing ministry.
When Luke gives his rationale for why he wrote a Gospel, he says it was only after he “followed these things closely for some time” (1:3) that he put his reed to papyrus. Luke patiently researched, gathered materials, and examined the work of others before he began.
Not much of an insight, you might say. Sure, except Luke was writing about the most important person in the universe and the central event in human history. Shouldn’t he have written and published his work as soon as possible?
“The world needs this knowledge,” we can imagine him urging his contemporaries. Yet Luke doesn’t panic. He doesn’t scramble for instant productivity—fearful he will lose an opportunity. He prepares, he studies, he writes.
I believe there is wisdom here for those who aspire to write to edify the church: Despite the unprecedented urgency of his message, Luke was patient and careful.
Expert on His Subject
Just because you have an idea and a laptop doesn’t mean you’re qualified to write a book. Just because Luke had access to writing materials and lived near Jerusalem, when other men were writing their Gospels, didn’t qualify him to write either.
Luke had some important credentials.
He was a companion of Paul, which would’ve afforded him a wealth of reliable information about Christ’s life, not to mention a growing grasp of the Old Testament’s fulfillment in Jesus’s redemptive work. Solid discipleship from an older, wiser Christian seems to be a good prerequisite for book writing.
Luke was competent to research his topic. Merely conducting research doesn’t qualify one to write. The ability to compile the right resources and ask the right questions is a skill that requires constant attention. You can amass a garage-full of material yet not know how to sift it to make a helpful contribution. Perhaps you need more time to cultivate the important skill of research.
Luke was committed to the truthfulness of Scripture. If you’re wavering on whether the Bible is reliable or Jesus is God or the atonement is complete or justification is by grace through faith alone, please stop writing. I’m not suggesting that Christians never wrestle with the truthfulness of the faith, especially in a world that violently opposes biblical teaching. But those struggling with fundamental tenets of Christianity are in no place to write a book or serve in pastoral ministry. Luke was convinced of Christ’s reality and the integrity of his teaching and was qualified to write about both.
Motivated by Pastoral Concern
Also notice that Luke wrote, not merely to scratch a literary itch, but to strengthen the faith of Theophilus: “It seemed good to me to write an orderly account for you . . . that you may have certainty about the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:3–4).
No doubt, Luke desired to bolster a fellow Christian’s faith, so he added historical detail and took theological care with his Gospel. Although Luke was not a pastor, his writing is an example of scholarly rigor motivated by genuine pastoral concern.
I don’t think Scripture gives warrant for Christian writing disconnected from pastoral concern. Even if you’re a scholar working in technical theology, your first impulse should be for your writing to serve the church. Whether that means equipping other ministers, edifying and strengthening believers, or persuading unbelievers of gospel truth, your motivation for writing should be pastoral.
I’m not saying your work must appeal to every kind of Christian or every intellectual level. But you should aim at enriching your readers spiritually. If you’re writing out of a craving to see your name on a glossy paperback, you won’t help others, but you will likely reap a spiritually barren harvest and bear the deadly fruit of pride.
Like other New Testament authors, Luke’s major canonical contribution began as a personal letter. Similarly, we should labor for the good of those God has given to our care and trust that fruit for writing will come from concentrated attention to our pastoral tasks.
When I am faced with the choice of starting a book or writing a long email to a church member struggling with sin or a theological question, it’s difficult to justify the book project. I’m still writing daily, thinking and researching, but it’s for the immediate care of my church. And I keep those emails, along with my Bible study lessons, sermons, counseling notes, and personal journals well indexed, because maybe they will serve as material for a useful book someday.
But right now my main work is the ministry of God’s Word and prayer at Grace Bible Fellowship.
There is great value in producing new books of theology, Bible commentary, and works on Christian living. New voices stimulate the mind, stir up conversation on dormant topics, and reach people who might otherwise remain unreached. I’m not seeking to establish rules determining which pastors should write and how much they should write, and I am grateful beyond words for men like John Piper and Kevin DeYoung, who began their literary output early.
But generally speaking, I think pastors would be wise to slow down and recognize that our most substantive written contributions may come later. Life maturity, spiritual wisdom, regular preaching, time with our people, and lots of playing with our kids will help produce works that are far more beneficial for the body of Christ than what we otherwise might have written.
Just ask Theophilus.