Expand Your Reading Using A Class Syllabus


Courtesy bbc.co.uk
Courtesy bbc.co.uk

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to consulting course descriptions and syllabi is that some professors continue to require out-of-print, and sometimes out-of-date texts because those are the texts the professor knows best.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?

5 thoughts on “Expand Your Reading Using A Class Syllabus”

  1. For personal, non-academic reading I rely on word of mouth mostly. I ask people, Have you read any really good books lately? and get some great tips. I also get ideas from blogs, searching amazon.com, interviews on NPR, and from the bibliographies, notes, and further reading recommendations in books I like. Here are a few books on my current reading list: Butler, Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction; Kamkwamba and Mealer, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind; McElvaine, Grand Theft Jesus; Blix, Why Nuclear Disarmament Matters; Buechner, Telling the Truth; Bloch, Strange Defeat. From this list two came from NPR interviews (Kamkwamba and Blix), two from online searches (Butler, Buechner), one from a colleague’s (Bloch) and another from a pastor’s personal recommendation (McElvaine).

  2. A great idea. I just started some classes myself and wondered why I had not been scavenging syllabi before. There are simply too many good books to waste time on bad ones.

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