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The guide to reading a Christian book with a group

The guide to reading a Christian book with a group

With some justification, you might assume that someone who has worked in Christian publishing for over 30 years would be a keen reader. I hate to admit this, but… I’m not.

And as I get older, it’s not getting any easier. Even when reading the most engaging of books, my eyelids seem to inexplicably feel the weight of the book I am holding in my hands. I certainly have to pick my reading times and postures carefully.

But it’s more than just a physical struggle when it comes to reading Christian books: there’s a sin struggle too. If the book is doing its job, I know I will be challenged to change. And godly change is something I struggle with—just like the Apostle Paul. Indeed, his words in Romans 7:21 nicely paraphrase the nature of my struggle to read Christian books:

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. (ESV)

What a wretched man I am. So who will rescue me? To be sure, ultimately it is Jesus Christ who delivers me (Rom 7:25). But one of the means he uses to help me along is the gift of other people.

So when the Matthias Media team read through Thank God for Bedtime together, and talked about it in our weekly team meeting, I actually got through the book—cover to cover! The weekly group commitment helped me be disciplined in my personal reading. More than that, I got more out of the book as we discussed it together and as I had to process what I was reading more thoughtfully.

I also heard recently of a church that during this period of lockdown suggested to members that they read Captivated by Christ together, and they had nearly 90 people committing to it and listening to online discussions of the book. It seems that many Christians actually want to read, but the group dynamic helpfully gets us going.

So here’s my step-by-step guide to reading a Christian book together—not for pastors, who have their hands very full with other things at the moment, but for anyone who thinks this could be good to do (i.e. don’t wait for someone else to arrange it for you!).

A step-by-step guide

Step 1: pray

Pray that God would help you get this initiative going, that he would help you choose the right book and the right people so that it becomes a great encouragement to all your Christian lives.

Step 2: pick a book

Choose one you think you’d enjoy and find helpful. Choose something quite short to start with, so you get an early taste of ‘completion success’. If the book has discussion questions, even better.

Step 3: invite some people to read it with you

They might be people from your household (spouse, flatmate, older kids), your home group, or church, or even Facebook friends. (Surely one of the things we’ve learned from our lockdown experience is that distance is not really a barrier to discussing something together?)

It could be just one other person, or it could be a larger group. If the latter, for the sake of momentum, try to make sure there are at least five keen and committed members.

Step 4: set a realistic but stretching timeframe for reading the book

“Let’s aim to finish this book by DD/MM, which means reading X chapters each week.”

Step 5: work out a mutually convenient time to ‘report in’

‘Reporting in’ could mean anything from messaging the other person/people to say “I’m up to Chapter Z; how about you?” right through to a full-on weekly Zoom discussion and sharing time for an hour or so. 

If there are questions in the book, they can obviously be a great starting point for the weekly discussion of specific chapters. Otherwise, one person could present a summary, and share some reflections/quotes that struck them from their pre-allocated chapter. Another option is that everyone reads the book using the Swedish Method, and you then use those observations as the basis for discussion (e.g. “What question marks did people have in this chapter? What lightbulbs? What arrows?”)

Step 6: Keep praying for each other

As I said earlier, reading a Christian book can be a spiritual struggle with our sinful natures. Our tendency will be to dismiss things that should actually convict us, and to not drink deeply enough of the water that can refresh us. So help each other be honest and responsive, and pray you will all grow in Christlikeness.

How Matthias Media can help

We’d love to see this happen, regardless of whether it’s a Matthias Media book you choose. 

Well, that’s not entirely true. We’d love it if you did choose a Matthias Media book, and it would certainly help us a lot as we continue to try to get our sales back to sustainable levels. So, to help you make that choice: 

  • We’re suggesting two books: (1) Thank God for Bedtime (by Geoff Robson) and (2) The Good Sporting Life (by Stephen Liggins). Both short books; both on interesting and very practical topics (sleep and sport). 
  • We’ve set up special pricing on these two books for June and August respectively: 33% off. (We are discounting both the physical books and ebooks, but remember ebooks are harder to use in discussion because of the variability of the page numbers.)
  • We’re also making a special discussion guide available for both books. 
  • In late July, we will run the first of two online discussions in which Stephen Liggins will chat to and ask questions of Geoff Robson (including asking your questions which you can submit in advance). 
  • In late September, the roles will be reversed, and Geoff will ask questions of Stephen. 
  • Closer to the time we will notify you of the details of each discussion, here in our weekly email, as well as on our Facebook page. The discussion should be helpful even if your group hasn’t yet quite finished the book. But if you prefer you can always watch the video of the discussion once you have finished.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. I’m very happy to help in whatever way I can. And please let me know if you are starting a group, so our team can pray for you too.

Ian Carmichael

Ian has been with Matthias Media from its beginning (1988). In late 2020 he stepped down from the CEO role, and now works as an honourary consultant and editor for Matthias Media and Vinegrowers. Ian and his wife, Stephanie, have two adult children, two (gorgeous) grandchildren, and are part of Chatswood Presbyterian church in Sydney. Ian is one of the Vinegrowers team providing free consultations for church leaders who want to more effectively grow the disciple-making culture in their church.