In my last post I argued that pastors should write. Pastors and ministry leaders should learn to write a good theological sentence, and, after assembling one good theological sentence, should go on to write successive sentences to accompany the first. Ministry leaders should also master various conveyances of the written word (memos, sermons, letters, notes, etc.). Why? Because good writing reflects good thinking, and the church is in need of a sharpened mind.
There are a handful of books that have helped me to write a little more clearly, compellingly, and concisely. These books are:
- William Zinsser’s On Writing Well
- William Zinsser’s Writing to Learn
- Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird
- Stephen King’s On Writing
- The Holy Bible
The first four selections include technical aspects of writing and inspiration to write.
The last selection may strike some as an odd choice. “The Bible?” you say, “I thought you were listing books that helped you learn how to write. The Bible is not a book about writing.”
But the Bible is a book that is written and that has had lasting power. It contains language that has resonated across multiple cultures and in various translations, now in multiple eras and ages. It has shaped language, culture, and the human imagination. It is a piece of writing that, in the reading of it, offers a masterclass in communication both human and divine. It contains parables and pericopes, aphorisms and anthology, narrative and history, law codes and ethical treatises, letters and memos, prophetic utterances and sorrowful lamentations, prayers and petitions, agreements and dissents; it conveys the full range of human emotion and contains powerful arguments about human nature, a holy God, and the purpose of human life. If you can set aside your biases and prejudices against this book, if you have them, you cannot help but marvel at the Bible’s power as a work of writing.
Maya Angelou, the American author and poet, said this about the Bible: “The language of all the interpretations, the translations, of the Judaic Bible and the Christian Bible, is musical, just wonderful. I read the Bible to myself; I’ll take any translation, any edition, and read it aloud, just to hear the language, hear the rhythm, and remind myself how beautiful English is.”
Pastors and other ministry leaders would be wise to read Zinsser or Lamott or King, and to learn a thing or two about craft. But they should be readers of the Bible, and not only for sermon or lesson preparation. The Bible’s cadences, rhythms, images, and turns of phrase, its variety and its diversity, are incredibly instructive for the writing task. And often, what comes out in writing is the result of what has been put in through reading, experience, and conversation. You cannot pass on that which you do not possess.
The words of the Bible should be hidden in hearts so that by God’s grace they might take on flesh and find fresh utterance through the witnesses and servants God appoints for a new telling of an old story in the present age.
Take up and read. Then, write.