Last year I started posting the books that we’re reading in field education at Watchung Avenue Presbyterian where I serve as one of the site supervisors for Princeton Theological Seminary. This year I’m also participating in a cohort out of Princeton Seminary of five field ed supervisors who are sharing with each other best practices in site supervision towards cultivating students through field education that is part of a larger study of other Theological Seminaries, so I wanted to as part of that group, lay out some of my reasoning behind the books I choose and the limitations that I run up against in selecting good reading for conversation between myself and the students who serve with me.
Every year I’m frustrated, I want to choose more books, but with the limits of academic work at Princeton, three during the academic year is the most I can choose. There are so many good resources out there for students as they grow into ministry, and for reflection/conversation in field ed. The other thing I do is share with students online reading/media content that I’m reflecting on and that’s informing my thoughts each month and I also ask them to subscribe to the Alban Institute’s weekly e-blast and the one from Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School. We read these books throughout the academic year and discuss them together and think about ways to integrate what they teach us into ministry, or what practical situations in the congregation inform the reading in one way or another. I’ve also started the practice in the last year of sharing a few online readings each month with my Session and I also share those with the students.
Reading is not the only way to grow in learnings in ministry, but as Presbyterians education and learning is a high priority of ours. It’s a key part of how I grow and I want to share that practice with my students and also have them share with me the nuggets of learning that they are getting and that I can learn from as well.
So since I have such a hard time selecting (too much to choose from!)…what I do now is we do one book in the summer, getting us to four, and then I give a listing each year of other books I wanted to assign but didn’t have time to give out.
My criteria for books:
- Not on student’s current academic syllabi (I get the listing from the students to see what they are reading, where I see gaps, and so as to not duplicate). I should say that this year I’m making a slight exception in a reading on pastoral care of men, that one of my student’s is taking that I see as an area I personally need to do more reading in—but we’re not doing that until the spring when the student isn’t in that class.
- Don’t have to be theological books (as you can see from some of this year’s selections)
- Books that challenge or disrupt
- No fluff—hard, challenging reading
The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change by former Vice President Al Gore
(yes, I know the New York Times panned it)….but I found this book to be challenging and raise the futuring issues that we’ll have to deal with going forward and that will impact communities of faith in one way or another. And yes, it is an Al Gore book, it’s a tome….
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
I personally believe that this book for faith-based leaders should be read at the same time as reading The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone
We always read at least one book on race/justice issues. Last year one we read was My God is Undocumented: Biblical Faith and Immigrant Justice by Ched Myers.
I see this as an important book on leadership, ministry and spiritual development. We always read at least one book on leadership, last year it was A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix by Milton Friedman
Men in Therapy: New Approaches for Effective Treatment by David Wexler
I haven’t read this one yet, but it’s on Dr. Dykstra’s reading list for the year and I trust his judgment.
I’m also supplying two articles for fall reading:
- The Spirituality of Fundraising by Henri Nouwen (free PDF available online)
- Becoming an Adaptive Leader from Lifelong Faith based on Heifetz’s work (free PDF available online)
Other books that I think are key but we didn’t have time to add to the list this year…
Palmer; Let your Life Speak
Sweney; A New King of Big, How Churches of Any Size can Partner to Transform Communities
Heifetz; The Practice of Adaptive Leadership
Nixon; I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church
(our Presbytery is working through this book this year)
Cone; The Cross and the Lynching Tree
(I highly recommend reading this alongside the Alexander book)
Clif; Rich Church/Poor Church & Not Your Parent’s Offering Plate
Taylor; A Secular Age
Scharmer; Theory U: Learning from the Future as it Emerges
Lupton; Toxic Charity: How the Church Hurts those They Help and How to Reverse It
Rieger; No Rising Tide
Parratt; An Introduction to Third World Theologies
What books are you reading? What other things would you offer to my growing list for reading and for my work with Seminary students?