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 seeking.

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 Web site for course syllabi of interest and harvest bibliography information from them. The obvious advantages of consulting seminary and university Web sites 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, 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to consulting course descriptions and syllabi is that some professors continue to require out-of-print and sometimes out-of-date texts because those are the texts the professor knows best.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 doctor of ministry 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.

Chuck Warnock is pastor of Chatham Baptist Church in Chatham, Va. He blogs at Confessions of a Small-Church Pastor.

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