All those stock abbreviations and graphs jammed into the front page of the Wall Street Journal used to make it the one paper I was sure to avoid on a newsstand. But when I realized that every guy in my weekly men’s group skimmed it daily, I subscribed.
It’s no secret that many pastors, like me, are natural students who love to learn. Many of us were drawn into vocational ministry, in part, by our inclination to do just that — to read and study the Bible, to understand theology, history, cultural trends, and more. Ideally, all of that learning is for the benefit of the congregations and communities we serve.
But it seems that many of us have struggled to translate some of those abstract concepts to our congregants and community members. And it’s largely because we do not understand the daily practicalities of what they do. Yes, we may know who their employers are and what positions they hold, but many of us have a long way to go in understanding what tasks and obstacles and dynamics shape those days and hours.
The challenge for many pastors is that when we enter conversations with people about what makes up their days, we will be entering fields where we are not the experts. But the sooner we get into the conversations, the sooner we can start learning and making up for lost time. The solution to this challenge is for pastors to channel a portion of their studies in the direction of other people’s vocational lives.
If you are fortunate enough to have a budget allotted for books, periodicals, and other resources, consider spending a portion of it on a newspaper or magazine subscription that would inform you about a vocational field that is well-represented in your congregation. Find out if there are podcasts or newsletters that your congregants use for their own professional development and work them into your own content diet. By reading a few less commentaries and a few more articles on education, housing, or health care, I’ve found that I can engage my congregants more meaningfully.
For example, when I started getting the Wall Street Journal, I often read a few entire stories from its daily email, and since I’ve even started to recognize a few of those stock tickers. Better yet, I can knowledgeably engage in conversations within my men’s group where I used to just be an observer.
An Unseminary Reading List
1 Ask good questions
Okay, not a book to read, but you can start learning by simply asking good questions when you meet with people in your church: What is the most stressful part of your job right now? What is the biggest concern in your field right now? How will you be affected by the Fed’s attempts to rein in inflation?
2 The 10-Point
An email newsletter from WSJ.
3 After Hours
4 Your local business journal
Almost all mid- to major-sized cities have one. You can find them at places like bizjournals.com.
Podcasts about business and investment aimed at professionals.