David Powlison on 6 Books Every Pastor Would Benefit from Reading

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The Pastor as Counselor” is one of my favorite essays by David Powlison, and in it he recommends six books every pastor should consider reading.


Every pastor will profit by reading Gregory the Great’s Pastoral Care, written almost 1,500 years ago. We may have better hermeneutics, wider doctrinal understanding, and more awareness of the richness of the gospel of Jesus. But Gregory has more awareness of “the Truth in person,” more case-wisdom, more flexibility in adapting to human differences, more sense of pastoral responsibility, more humility about his achievements, more alertness to the subtlety of sin. Stand on his shoulders.

Every pastor will profit from reading Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor (and, if you are really ambitious, his Christian Directory).

Baxter is dense and, like all old writers, dated. You won’t do ministry in the same way he did. But if you sit with Baxter, you will become a wiser pastor.


Similarly, every pastor will profit from reading Thomas Oden’s Pastoral Counsel and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together.

Oden’s digest of ancient wisdom will introduce you to wise pastors you never knew existed. Your church history class likely explored the development of doctrine and events in church politics. Oden explores how pastors pastored.

Bonhoefer’s 20th-century wisdom and example will inform and nerve you as you take up your unique counseling calling.


Every pastor would also profit from carefully pondering Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country and Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead.

Why fiction? It’s the same reason pastors in the 1700s read both their Bible and Shakespeare. Good fiction (along with history, film, and so forth) gives you vicarious experience of people. It builds your case wisdom far beyond the bounds of your own social setting.

I mention these two novels in particular because you will watch how Christian life and ministry work on the inside, amid the untidy details of life lived. In each book the protagonist is a pastor. Each struggles as an honest man with losses, regrets, fears, angers, sorrows. Each finds grace, and each gives grace.


You can read the whole thing here.

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