The lost art of reading Christian books
In late 2019, an American blogger wrote:
“What are the most influential Christian books of the past decade?” I think the answer to that question is: There aren’t any. In our moment Christians are not influenced by books, at all.
It’s a rather sweeping statement that in one sense can be disproved pretty quickly. But I know what he means. There are plenty of pastors who have lamented to me that their “people don’t read anymore”.
Of course, many Christians are still reading. But a blog post isn’t the same as a book. If I may be so bold, a blog post often amounts to little more than the first draft of the early pages of the introductory chapter to a book.
We do publish blog articles here at Matthias Media of course (although they’re never first drafts; we always filter and edit them). And there’s certainly a place for that form of quick sharing of an insight or timely response to something happening in our world.
But Christian books offer something qualitatively different: a sustained and thorough presentation of a series of carefully connected ideas, which under God has the potential to deeply change our heart, soul and mind (and steer our strength in good directions).
I hope I am largely preaching to the choir here. If any group of people is going to agree with the benefits of reading Christian books, I trust it would be those visiting the website of a Christian publisher.
But if, like me, you’re persuaded that Christian book reading helps you grow as a disciple of Christ Jesus, you know we both have a job to do: to encourage others to read in order that they might grow as disciples too. In other words, good Christian books are a valuable part of our disciple-making toolkit, so let’s do what we can to encourage people to use them.
Here are five suggestions on how you can personally encourage Christian growth through book reading. (If you want some tips on how to grow a church-wide culture of reading, try this video of tips from Tim Challies or this one by Mark Dever.)
Tip 1: Pray and think (ask)
Pray that God will give you opportunities to share Christian books and encourage friends to read. Then think about the people in your life and how you could help and encourage them in this area. Better still, ask them: “What’s an area of your character, conviction or competence as a disciple of Jesus that you’d like to understand better and grow in?” Of course, some people won’t know how to answer, so probe and see what you can learn, or just take a punt and say: “Well, this book really helped me, so it might help you too”.
Tip 2: Give or lend people books
You need to remove as many barriers as possible for people, so don’t leave it up to them to source the book. If they are not readers, they may not even know the best places to find and buy a Christian book. If you can afford it, pick up good Christian books when they are on special and build a collection on key topics that you can give or lend to others. Consider this part of your mission giving and an area in which to express Christian generosity (similar to a ministry of hospitality).
Tip 3: Start with something short and easy to read
Think of it like the “couch to 5k” exercise strategy. Don’t ask people to run 5k with you to begin with: give them something easy and get a book reading ‘win’ or two under their belt to give them confidence that they can do it and start to experience the benefits. There are lots of helpful, very engaging Christian books that are under 100 pages. (And if a small book is still too daunting, try a MiniZine first.)
Tip 4: Encourage them to plan and to keep going
I’m quite a slow reader. It takes me about a minute to read a page of a typical Matthias Media book. But if I can carve out just 15 minutes a day, that means I can finish a short (under 100 pages) book in a week. When I think about it like that, it seems very achievable. But I still need to work out when in my day I will do that 15 minutes. That’s the challenge: if I don’t plan and put a reminder in my phone, it’s much less likely to happen. So encourage your book readers to make a plan, and text them every few days to encourage them to keep going with it.
Tip 5: Read with them and share with each other what you learn
Maybe it’s just one person, maybe it’s a bigger book group, but making book reading less of a solo journey generally helps people keep going and get more out of it. Now that we’ve all mastered the art of Zooming, having a 30-40 minute weekly discussion (with prayer) can happen without even needing to leave home. Books with built in discussion questions make that easier (and more on that soon).