The management scientist Henry Mintzberg wrote in his introduction to the Strategy Safari that:
‘There is a terrible bias in today’s management literature towards the current, the latest, the hottest. This does a disservice, not only to all those wonderful old writers, but especially to readers who are all too frequently offered the trivial new instead of the significant old.’
It is a quote, nay a sentiment, that I very much like. I also think it is a sentiment applicable beyond its context (i.e. the management sciences).
Is there a danger in the life of the church that works of real significance are being left to gather dust on library shelves in favour of shiny new coffee table offerings?
Now I am not saying for one minute that there aren’t contemporary books that are both wonderful and significant (I would highly recommend Steven Croft’s ‘The Gift of Leadership, for instance), but I am suggesting that within the Christian Literary Tradition there are books that should be read and read again by successive generations, not simply for their own sake, but so that the church really can preach the gospel afresh to, and for, each generation. Paradoxically the goal of freshness might mean reaching into the treasure chest marked ‘ old works of significance.’
I think I would also suggest that it is the responsibility of all who are involved in the leadership of theological education to curate such works to prevent them from losing their significance. So here are five of my ‘must reads,’ which have been categorized into five ‘leadership spheres:’
Ordained Ministry: The Christian Priest Today, Michael Ramsey
Worship: The Mystery of Christian Worship, Odo Casel
Discipleship: The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Organisational behaviour, managerial decision-making, virtue based leadership: The Rule of Benedict, St Benedict
Pastoral care: Pastoral Care, Pope Gregory I
Of course this ‘reading list’ is hopelessly incomplete both in terms of author and categories covered. But, hopefully, it’s a start. I would be very interested to find out who others consider to be ‘wonderful old writers,’ who should be read by successive generations, such is the significance of their work.
My thesis is that if we, the church, really want to keep the christian tradition alive and relevant we need to engage with the wonderful writers of old.