The #1 Question I’ve Been Asked as a Pastor

Question Marks 1What is the #1 question I’ve been asked as a pastor? It’s not a philosophical question about the problem of evil (why bad things happen to good people). It’s not a tricky Bible question about hotly debated issues. Here it is: “Pastor, can you recommend a good devotional book.” Honestly, I’m amazed how many times I’ve been asked that question.

Here’s what I hope most people are asking me … “Pastor, can you recommend a book that will help me grow and learn? I’m intimidated by the Bible, and I need some bite-sized guidance that won’t totally overwhelm me and frustrate me.”

Here’s what I fear some people are asking me … “Pastor, can you recommend a book that is simple, easy-to-read, and quick? I don’t have time to read the Bible, but I need something light and encouraging to make my day better.”

That’s the #1 question I’ve been asked as a pastor. Here are my top 3 recommendations.

Recommendation One: Read the Bible. That’s not a “Jesus-juke.” It’s just the honest truth. If you want to read something that will help you learn and grow, read the Bible. Read through Psalms and Proverbs. Read through Matthew and John. You don’t have to tackle the entire Bible, but you should read the Bible. You can even buy a quality study Bible that has maps, pictures, articles, and notes. Try the ESV Study Bible or the Reformation Study Bible.

In seminary I heard a philosophy professor say something profound. “If you want to learn about philosophy, don’t read books about philosophy, read books written by philosophers.” The same wisdom applies here. If you really want to learn about God and grow in your faith, don’t settle for books about the Bible. Just read the Bible.

Recommendation Two: Buy a pipe, a pencil, and a good systematic theology. The following quote comes from an essay written by CS Lewis: “For my own part, I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await the others. I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.”

Pastors get all sorts of gifts, and these gifts usually come from the “best seller” shelf at the Christian bookstore. That means I’ve been given many devotional books. None, and I mean none, compare to a good book on theology. For starters, try Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem or Foundations of the Christian Faith by James Boice.

Recommendation Three: Buy a devotional book written by a pastor-theologian. Not all pastors are true theologians. Not all theologians can communicate like a pastor. If you really want a devotional book, stick to ones written by men who are both pastor and theologian. If you’re looking for a place to start, I’d suggest Taste and See by John Piper or The Songs of Jesus by Tim Keller.

One warning, if you’re looking for an anthology of sappy stories delivered in one-paragraph-a-day that you can read easily in 45 seconds, stay away from Piper and Keller. Both of these men are going to point you to the scriptures. Both of these men are going to make you think. Both of these men are going to call you to some kind of response.

Originally published November 7, 2016 on