Assembly 2015 / General CBF

Poetry, Prose and the Pastor — A CBF General Assembly Reflection

By Mallory Monroe

What are you currently reading?
If you are like Co-Pastors Dr. Griff Martin and Dr. Mike Massar of Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s University Baptist Church, you are reading a plethora of works ranging from the poetry to historical fiction. IF you are like many American adults, however, perhaps you are reading nothing at all.

Perhaps you are too busy or you find reading to be frivolous or dissatisfying. Maybe you don’t like reading or you only read when you have to read for your business or profession. Martin and Massar are in touch with the reality that not all are voracious readers like themselves. The reasons for this decline or lack of reading in the lives of many adults vary.

First, people believe that they have no time for reading. In the past year, 25% of adults have not even opened a book. In my own context, I have encountered these that consider reading to be an impossible task. As a reader myself, I identify with Martin and Massar who often hear the question, “When do you find the time to read?”

My question is, “How could I not find time to read.” Martin and Massar identify with this sentiment as well, adding that reading a book, the Bible, is an integral part of the Christian life. So, again, how can one not read?

The second reason reading is not an active practice for many is because, in this culture of instant gratification, people want a quick, cheap thrill with a tidy resolution. They have no time for contemplation of stories that do not progress quickly or have such a tidy resolution. Of course, it is always nice to know how everything turns out in a story without having to ask any questions or do any wondering. There are multiple implications that this lack of depth and unwillingness to invest in the open-ended has on the church and those that preach and teach within the church.

In our faith lives, resolution is often elusive. Quick and dirty answers to the questions surrounding the faith and our existential reality are, well, quick and dirty. Therefore, the following question is raised: How do we approach those that dont read and those that want a neat resolution? The biblical story itself is one that requires folks to read with a certain level of engagement and it is a story that lacks a clean resolution. Today, we are still living out the biblical story, waiting on the fulfillment of the kingdom to come.

Throughout this workshop at the 2015 CBF General Assembly on integrating poetry and prose into congregational life, Martin and Massar spoke of the transformational power of reading. Martin spoke specifically of books like Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies that renewed his faith. Dr. Massar spoke of the eloquence of Pat Conroy’s writing and the poetry of Billy Collins. Each share the conviction that reading and engaging texts of all genres and devices along with the biblical text can become a spiritual discipline that slows people down, invites them into the story, and asks them to stay a while to ask questions, argue, and deepen their level of understanding of whatever ideas and subjects are at hand.

At University Baptist Church, several different types of reading focused classes have been held. They have a lectionary group who approach Scripture as the story that it is, practice lectio divina together, and engage the biblical text with all senses, seeing the story in fresh and new ways. They also have a book club within the church where members review and share their favorite books with one another. Within these groups and others, congregants are invited to compare certain books or works of poetry with the biblical text.

Comparing Paul’s conversion story with Anne Lamott’s conversion story in Traveling Mercies pushes readers to ask questions and make connections they never made. Massar states, “…argu[ing] with biblical narrative and the other text at hand [is something] they thought they were not allowed to do…” Arguing with a poet or writer removed from the biblical text, like Lamott, is more comfortable than arguing with Scripture; but, this is a good way to get people to bridge that gap of discomfort and start arguing with Scripture and asking questions in a more gradual, safer, and less scary way. In bridging this gap and beginning to ask questions and let the imagination run a little wild, readers are enrich and deepen their understanding of Scripture.

Reading creates community, gives people a sense of belonging, and establishes a common ground and a safe place to ask questions. Martin ended with sharing a quote from A.A. Milne’s, Winnie the Pooh: “Then would you read a Sustaining Book, such as would help and comfort a Wedged Bear in Great Tightness.”

So, what are you currently reading?

To keep up with news, photos and videos from the 2015 CBF General Assembly in Dallas, Texas, please visit

Mallory Monroe is a serves as a Minister to Children at First Baptist Church of Shelby, NC and is a final semester student at the Gardner-Webb School of Divinity in Boiling Springs, NC. She will graduate in December with a Master of Divinity concentrated in the areas of Christian Education and Spiritual Formation. 

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