Looking for a good book on a specific ministry topic? Seminary and university course descriptions can be a good source for books on subjects you’re searching for. Of course, I’m usually looking for books related to Christian ministry, but the most popular books on a subject may not be the best ones available. After all, books with big marketing budgets are written for a mass audience in order to sell a lot of copies. Not that those can’t be good. Many are, and I’ve bought lots of the latest titles. But, sometimes you want something more.
If I’m looking for a more academic approach to a subject — say pastoral care — I google “pastoral care course syllabus” or something similar. Amazingly, I am ushered into the online world of several seminaries and universities offering a variety of courses. Course titles range from Essential Skills in Pastoral Counseling and Ministry, to Pastoral Care Through the Life Cycle, to Pastoral Care and Counseling.
Or, I search a specific seminary or university’s website for course syllabi of interest, and harvest bibliography information from them. The obvious advantages of consulting seminary and university websites for reading material are:
- Respected academicians have selected these texts to use in the classroom.
- Academic texts, or those used in an academic setting, represent a level of research and complexity often missing in popular treatments of the same subject.
- Academic titles do not always show up on an Amazon search, or in blogs or on other ministry sites.
- Course bibliographies offer a comprehensive view of a subject from a variety of perspectives.
The downside to consulting course descriptions and syllabi is that some professors continue to require out-of-print, and sometimes out-of-date texts because those are the texts the professor knows best. I always check the dates of publication when I’m searching course bibliographies. While there are some timeless books that are classics in each academic field, a bibliography consisting completely of books published more than 10 years ago might not be as helpful as a bibliography of more recent, or even mixed, publication dates.
As a side note, one way I have chosen DMin seminars at Fuller is by reading the course descriptions and looking at the reading lists. I’m usually looking for books I haven’t heard of, or topics I haven’t read extensively about. That’s not a bad way to develop a reading plan on a doctoral level, even if you’re not going for the degree. I also try to read at least one book on a subject that challenges my thinking or previous position. For me, that’s what makes reading fun and rewarding.
That’s how I look for the best in ministry reading. What do you do? How do you compile your reading lists?