How do I get guys to read good Christian books?’ That’s one of the questions we kicked about in Apprenticeship Workshop this morning. It was posed by the pastor of an evening congregation full of professional men and women. He argued that most blokes found books like Vaughan Roberts’ God’s Big Picture a little too demanding. As I remember, I made a funny about the size of the book being a little intimidating. It fell flat. But we don’t need to go there.
In thinking about this issue, it’s worth asking three questions
1. Is it true that guys don’t read?
In other words, does the mud stick? I think it’s probably a fair assumption that it does. It’s not true of all of us, but it’s true of many. We’ll happily browse the Metro on the commute. But that doesn’t really count, does it? I’m tempted to say that it’s too late to get a new generation of people to read. But even the most unlikely characters got back into books when JK Rowling put pen to paper. We can read. We will read. It’s just that we don’t. We especially don’t read Christian books.
2. Why don’t guys read?
It could be that all Christian books are rubbish! For the record, I don’t think that they are. But it’s undeniable that some of them are very hard to read. Sometimes that’s because the subject matter is mentally demanding. At other times it’s because they’ve been written by people with no understanding of the English language. At other times it’s because they have no understanding of biblical theology. They’re not equally bad!
It could be that we’re fed up with reading. If we’ve spent the day poring over various documents at work who wants to read? At the end of the day we’re knackered, mentally we just fancy a break. Reading is demanding. Who wants ‘demanding’ for fun? It requires our concentration. TV’s not like that. It stimulates us even when the weary. It might just comatose us. But it’s true that I’ll happily watch rubbish until the early hours but I won’t read a book. I suspect I’m not alone.
It could be that we’re lazy. If our hearts aren’t spiritually alive and beating with zeal for the Lord then we won’t have a passion for His word or for books that are shaped by His word. So spiritually we may need to be encouraged and challenged to ‘step up to the plate’.
It could be that we’re unaware of the benefit of reading. The Christian life is one in which we need to be discipled by others. That’s especially true when we start out in the Christian life. If someone can draw alongside us and testify to the benefit to our own or others’ spiritual lives then we may be more conducive to the idea. That way it becomes a discipline we develop and value early on.
It could be that we’re just not readers. At all. Period. That’ll be true of some of us. So teaching DVDs and MP3s are probably the way to go. But we can’t ditch reading altogether. We need to read. If we don’t read the instructions on a bottle of medicine we won’t know how much dosage to take and we put our lives at risk. If we don’t read God’s word in the Bible we put our spiritual life at risk. There’s some reading we simply have to do!
It could be that we’ve become over reliant on other forms of media. I’ve written on the danger of listening to MP3s elsewhere. Generally I’m positive, with some reservations.
It could be that we don’t read. If others pick up from us that it’s possible to live the Christian life without any serious consideration of others’ writings then we can’t blame them if they don’t bother either! Apparently someone once said ‘leaders are readers’, in our ministry context of urban professional people they probably need to be. And that’s a challenge to me.
It could be that we don’t know what to read. The writer of Ecclesiastes said, ‘Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh’. He had a point. But if there’s a plethora of literary options we can become confused by our options. Sometimes we just need some recommendations.
3. How can we get guys to read?
Essentially it’s all about desire. If the appetite to read isn’t there then we won’t be able to sustain the discipline. And so, we need to have our interest piqued! One of the ways I’ve done this is to give guys articles to read. Most of us can manage a few papges of A4. If the subject matter grabs us then we’ll read it. We handed out Mark Driscoll’s Porn Again Christian at a recent Men’s Weekend Away. Most guys read it in one sitting!
Find some good books. If guys have had bad experiences of reading dull books then spice up their reading list. Go for some cracking Christian biographies of men who lived wholeheartedly for Christ.
Recommend a book for the term. We haven’t done this for ages. But the enthusiasm generated by a good book combined with the positive feedback from others might just be enough to rouse us from our lethargy! Here are some doctrinal recommendations. I know doctrine’s not everyone’s cup of tea. These aren’t a light read. So perhaps ignore them for a while! But these are my recommendations for ‘compulsory’ reading for guys in their 20s!
Start a reading group. In all honesty it’s easier to read a book with others. Sometimes that means actually reading the words out loud with one or two others and taking it in turns to read. There’s no shame in that. I find it easier to read a book if I’m somehow accountable for reading it. I need to be helped to develop a discipline of reading. Naturally I wouldn’t plough my way through John Frame’s Salvation Belongs to the Lord. But strangely, because I need to talk about it with the Apprentices every Wednesday, I’m making good progress. Go figure!