One of my perennial News Year’s resolutions is that I will read more. Gary and I are both voracious readers and read to our children every night for years. We carry a book wherever we go, so it surprises us that our young adult children don’t read much for pleasure anymore.
A new report from the National Education Association, released right before Thanksgiving, summarizes 40 studies on the reading habits of Americans. Here are a few highlights.
- Every report tells the same story: reading for pleasure is declining among our youth when they get to middle school.
- The average American watches 2 hours of TV a day but reads for pleasure only 7 minutes a day.
- When we read less, we read less well (this follows the “practice makes perfect” adage).
- Yes, technology can be a distraction. However, kids who read also use computers.
- Kids who read more do overwhelmingly better academically than kids who read less.
- 3% of people in prison read at a proficient level.
- There is a direct correlation between the number of books in a home and how much a child reads.
One of the most common laments I hear from pastors is that they wish they had more time to read. There is always something more urgent that has to be done first. I doubt whether anyone would dispute the importance of reading for pastors, however. For centuries clergy were considered the most learned people in society. In the 18th century, books by clergy were reissued more than those of any other profession. Before 1865, most colleges were founded by clergy, and more than 90% of college presidents were clergy.
A well-educated and well-read clergy is critical to the health of congregations and of society in general. Clergy must read often and widely. Certainly, the Bible is God’s living Word and provides the foundation of our faith and life. While the Bible contains the fullest revelation of God in Jesus Christ, however, God is continually revealing Godself in our world today. Just as God was incarnate through Jesus by becoming one of us and living in our world, so we need to understand the world in which we live today in order to incarnate God’s love and pastor effectively.
In addition to the Bible, we need to read commentaries and professional books, contemporary and classic fiction, historical novels, business and leadership books, biographies and memoirs, and literature from other faith traditions, not to mention newspapers and magazines. Not only does reading form us spiritually, keep us mentally sharp, and help us to be life-long learners, but we also model for our congregations the importance of being familiar with a wide variety of literature.
United Methodism has a long history with reading because John Wesley was not a man of simply one book. In one of his most fascinating quotes, Wesley wrote to John Trambath, a struggling preacher, on August 17, 1760, “What has exceedingly hurt you in time past, nay, and I fear, to this day, is want of reading. I scarce ever knew a preacher read so little. And perhaps, by neglecting it, you have lost the taste for it. Hence your talent in preaching does not increase. It is just the same as it was seven years ago. It is lively, but not deep; there is little variety; there is no compass of thought. Reading can only supply this, with meditation and daily prayer. You wrong yourself greatly by omitting this. You can never be a deep preacher without it, anymore than a thorough Christian. O begin! Fix some part of every day for private exercises. You may acquire the taste which you have not: what is tedious at first, will afterwards be pleasant. Whether you like it or no, read and pray daily. It is for your life; there is no other way; else you will be a trifler all your days, and a pretty superficial preacher. Do justice to your own soul; give it time and means to grow. Do not starve yourself any longer. Take up your cross, and be a Christian altogether. Then will all the children of God rejoice (not grieve) over you; and, in particular, Yours, etc. John Wesley
What happens when we don’t read? Our world grows smaller. We are more insular. We become disconnected from trends and contemporary movements. Our mind stagnates. We teach the same old thing. Our preaching lacks depth. The Bible no longer becomes relevant to the hopes and dreams of parishioners.
In the last few months, I’ve read some fascinating books:
- The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series by Alexander McCall Smith
- Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
- The River of Doubt; Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard
- Never call Them Jerks; Healthy Responses to Difficult Behavior by Arthur Paul Boers
- Under the Overpass by Mike Yankowski
- The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
- The Tenth Circle by Jodi Piccoult
- Forgiveness; A Legacy of the West Nickel Mines Amish School by John Ruth
- My next book will be Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life (the memoir of Queen Noor of Jordan), which is on the UMW Reading List for 2008.
John Wesley said that you cannot be a deep preacher or a thorough Christian without reading. Do you want to be a Christian altogether? THEN READ!! “Whether you like it or no, read and pray daily. It is for your life; there is no other way; else you will be a trifler all your days, and a pretty superficial preacher.”
What books will you read in 2008?