Encouraging reading when reading is not the goal

If you have followed this blog for a while, you will know that I don’t really care if people are big readers or not. I neither think ‘leaders are readers’ necessarily – it just happens to rhyme – and nor do I think more reading equates to greater godliness. It doesn’t. I am not a big reader myself. I can find reading hard work and I don’t think, no matter how many times people tell you it is a great discipline (which it might be), that the Bible insists you do it.

Of course, there is benefit in reading. Not least because God, in his wisdom, has decided to reveal himself to us through the written word. So, we have a vested interest in getting people interested enough in reading that they might want to read the Bible. There are, of course, all sorts of ways to engage with the Bible and its truths without reading. And the Bible seems perfectly happy with that. But, at the same time, we can’t deny reading is a particularly good way to engage with it too – and if you can, it is likely to serve you well if you actually read it.

Beyond all that, I don’t think you need any book other than the Bible to grow in your faith. Of course, reading Christian books can be a brilliant way to grow. It can be very helpful. But we have to be careful that we don’t give the impression that Christian books are somehow essential to our growth in Christ. They aren’t and the overwhelming majority of Christians throughout history have managed to grow up to maturity in Christ either without the ability to read at all or, if they could read, without the ability to buy books of the various Evangelical publishers that can now ease the friction between hand, eye and wallet thanks to the internet. And I am grateful for those publishers and their desire to see good Christian books in the hands of ordinary believers. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves into thinking without them God’s plan to grow his people up in Christ will fall. Most people in this country throughout the ages haven’t had access to them and those outside of Western Europe similarly so today.

So, given all that, you may wonder what we are doing listing all these books that we hope people might get and read all over our church website. If books aren’t necessary to one’s growth (and they aren’t), why are we trying to get our people to read them? And aren’t we onto a real loser even trying when half our people don’t speak fluent English and the other half are from a non-reading culture? What’s the point, right?

Well, here’s the point. People can still read, and often do still read, they just tire quickly of boring things. So, the idea that they won’t read anything is simply not true. They just don’t persist with the stuff that a lot of others will press on with. In that sense, our people are more discerning than a lot of Christians who think stuff is good because it is written down in book form. We have a low tolerance for being bored. And I think there are enough calls on our time to bother wasting it with tedious books.

But of itself, I’m not that bothered if people read books. I think at least some of these ones may help them grow. But that’s not ultimately why we’re doing it. Reading these books is not the end in itself. Nor do I assume that people will necessarily grow vast amounts by reading the books alone – it might help a bit, but I don’t reckon it doing quite as much as some people think.

Our ultimate goal is not to get people reading, it is to get them talking. Our hope is not that people read and then grow. It is that people read something and then meet up with another person to chat about what they read. And I reckon we will see people growing, not so much as they read, but as they meet other believers to talk about what they have learnt about the Lord. The reading won’t, of itself, lead to growth. It is the relationships, the talking, the chewing over, the discipleship that goes on that will lead to growth. The books are just a means of giving fodder to people to talk about the Lord and apply what they have learnt to each other’s lives.

If folks want to do the same thing with the sermon they heard on Sunday, or with something they were talking about in community groups midweek, that will achieve exactly the same thing. What we are trying to create is not a culture of reading – which may or may not help people grow – but a culture of discipleship where every believer is meeting other believers and talking about the Lord. And if books give them some fodder with which to do that, then they will have achieved everything that we hope.

With that in mind, why not have a look at our list of books. Are there things you would include that we haven’t? Are there better versions of what we have included i.e. books we should swap in for one’s we have listed? Are there things we have included that you think are a bit rubbish – whether boring, turgid or unnecessarily off-putting? Let us know. We want people to read them so they will have something to talk about.