Mature Christians are readers. It is more difficult to become a mature believer if you do not (or cannot) read… because God revealed himself through a book. The Bible is the Word of God, his self-revelation to humanity so that we would know who is he, what he’s done, how we can be made right before him, and where we’re heading.
Not all books are created equal, and you simply cannot read everything out there.
Join me in having a reading plan: whether it’s a yearly or quarterly focus. Here are some tips I’ve learned about reading, and questions I’m working through as I develop my reading plan for 2017.
General Rules of Reading
- Don’t do it alone. Read book reviews. Ask others you know who are readers for a recommendation. This will rescue you from wasting time on books that aren’t worth your time. Listen to people who agree with you AND to those who disagree with you. Read at least one book this year you know you’ll disagree with.
- Plan your reading. Don’t fly by the seat of your pants and read whatever tickles your fancy in the moment. Start a list in a notebook or Google Drive or wherever where you have a list of the books you want to read and include what type of book it is, or else you’ll find yourself hopping from book to book without a purpose in mind.
- Variety is good, but not too much variety. Most people can’t handle more than 3 books at a time. Personally, I prefer two books (one non-fiction and one fiction) although I almost always have about four books going at a time due to ministry-related reading. Most people won’t want to read a theology book before bedtime, but they would benefit from it in the morning after reading Scripture. Know when to read what.
- Don’t finish every book. There are many books that you can stop reading 1/3 of the way through without missing much. If you’re an experienced reader, don’t feel guilty about reading the first 1/3 and then skimming the rest if the book starts to repeat itself. Other books simply aren’t worth finishing. At the same time, recognize that some books have a stronger middle or end than the beginning… so don’t give up on a book too quickly.
- Blogs are good, but prioritize books. I’m obviously a fan of blogs, but I’m a bigger fan of books. Books have gone through many revisions and reviews, so while blogs are good for insights here and there, but they simply don’t provide the in-depth view that books offer.
- There’s no “right way” to read – just read. Some people read best in absolute silence, others need background noise. Maybe you can read anywhere, or maybe you need to be in your “reading chair” with the setting just right to focus. If you always wait until the setting is just right, then you’ll rarely crack open the book. Those who have a plan but don’t read are worse off than those who have no plan and simply read whatever… in the end, just read.
Questions to Help Determine Your Reading Focus
- What am I curious about? If you want to build your reading around a theme, it will need to be something you’re interested in or else you’ll give up after two books. Be sure to read various perspectives if this is the key question for you, otherwise you’ll only go deep into one view on the issue.
- Where is my knowledge thin? Perhaps you’ve come across something recently that got your interest, or maybe you’ve wanted to sink your teeth into an issue for a long time. This is a good opportunity to go deep into an issue.
- What should I revisit and re-read? When was the last time you re-read that book you always say changed your life? If you haven’t read it again within the last 7 years, maybe it’s time to come back to it and see how it strikes you now. Or maybe there’s an issue you studied in depth years ago, but you’ve gotten rusty and you haven’t read anything new on it in years.
- What does my soul need? Is there something your private life, in your family, in your church, or in our world that has burdened your heart? Dive in and drink deeply.
What Types of Books Should I Read?
- The Bible. This should be obvious… but don’t bother reading other books until you’ve spent time in Scripture each day. Remember: Not all books are created equal… and the Bible is the Word of God. Don’t neglect it for books about the Bible.
- Books to Nurture Your Faith. I hate the category “Christian Living” because I associate it with fluffy books that should be 50 pages or less, but it’s important to find good books about the Christian life. These will generally be focused on a particular topic (worry, hope, stewardship, spiritual disciplines, etc.) than on the whole Christian life, but these books are worth reading.
- Books About the Bible & Doctrine. Unless you understand everything about the Bible and it’s teachings (you don’t!), then it is wise to read books that help you understand Scripture better. These books are usually a slower read than Christian living books, but they are incredibly important. If we aren’t digging into Scripture, then what are we digging into? These could be on various topics: The attributes of God, the Bible’s teaching on a specific theme/issue, or focused on understanding a book of the Bible.
- History & Biographies. I firmly believe Church History matters, and there’s much to learn from those who have gone before us. We are not the first people to wrestle with the issues and challenges of the day, they simply have taken on a modern accent. When we learn from men and women and events of the past we will be better equipped to understand our own world and how to respond.
- The Church & Ministry. Whether you’re a pastor or not, there are benefits to reading books about leadership, teaching, evangelism, discipleship, etc. The Bible teaches we are all priests in the kingdom of God, so it is wise to grow in your ability to serve in the Church.
- Fiction. This is a more recent conviction of mine, as I’ve neglected fiction for well over a decade. Since I’ve begun reading fiction again, I’ve discovered stories that tell me about myself, my world, and my neighbor. They remind me of our hopes, dreams, disappointments, and sinfulness. As a pastor, they show me the world is not as clean as I sometimes imagine it to be – so concluding sermons with “read the Bible” and “pray more” are not enough. We need to wrestle with the down-to-earth reality people are living in. Fiction will help you understand the world people experience.
Top Christian Books of 2016
- My list of 5 best books I read in 2016
- Tim Challies rounds up a number of Christian lists of best books… this is extremely helpful.