As I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, many people encouraged me to be involved in personal Bible study, as they phrased it. Finding time to read Scripture on my own and have my individual time with God was crucial in growing my faith. I believe in this deeply. However, a few years ago while sitting in a Bible class or worship service at North Central, I heard something which helped to broaden the scope and intent of this practice. Although it is difficult to imagine true spiritual growth without the habitual act of reading alone and praying privately, I caught something new: reading for the sake of the world.
When I set my alarm an hour earlier in the mornings, or, who am I kidding, stay up an hour later to gain extra insight, I allow God’s Word to wash over me. This not only gives me something to meditate on personally, but also strengthens me so that I may minister to discouraged brothers and sisters, or to others outside my community of faith. We read not for ourselves alone, but for the sake of the world.
A friend of mine, who always seems to share words of wisdom and find others who need them, is a great challenge to me in my faith. I cannot use the difference in her life situation, or her apparent lack of troubles (this is true of no one!) as an excuse. Her peace and generosity and spiritual vision are directly in proportion to the amount of time she spends in Scripture. Just like the first-century residents of Jerusalem noticed “the boldness of Peter and John and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)
We read––and spend time in the Word––so others will recognize Christ.
If we view our reading life as a time which strengthens us and equips us for our mission, then suddenly, it is impossible to live a quiet life of private faith. We are preparing to engage…not in battle, but with healing, unifying story, recognizing the fullness of God’s Providence and love in our part of his great narrative.
Not everyone is a reader, nor does everyone have the luxury of time to read tomes of books. However, with Audible or other methods of listening, technology can serve us well. Engage as much as you are able and let others do the same.
A reading church should be reading primarily the Bible, whether it is from cover to cover, chronologically, topically or book by book. However, we don’t need to stop there. Stories are powerful. Many times the deepest truths make their indelible mark through the lively characters and events of a novel. If a truth is conveyed through the pages of fiction, it is, indeed, a true story. Just as we often memorize best through song, we often learn best through narrative. We need to increase our understanding and our empathy. When we read, what follows is
What does reading as a church look like? We are limited by our imaginations only. Here I have brainstormed to collect ways of sharing the written word.
1. Book Clubs - This is probably one the most obvious ways of sharing books in conversation. North Central already has a few informal groups who meet together regularly to do this. This could be done seasonally as interest waxes and wanes.
2. Bible Classes - We do this every Sunday and Wednesday evening. Whether it is listening to others relate their faith to us, or hearing the Word of God explained, reading together unifies us.
3. Small Groups or Family Time - Opening the Bible, a devotional or prayer book to discuss spiritual truths bonds us in profound ways. When we have spent quiet time alone in reflection beforehand, it allows the Spirit to speak through us more readily.
4. “Sister Churches” - Partner with a like-minded or interested group to get to know one another and exchange ideas. Is there another church in close proximity to yours? Choose a book to read separately, then take turns hosting a discussion time. Use this conversation to reach out and meet your community’s needs together.
5. Online Book Clubs, Book Reviews, Author Visits or FaceTime Chats - The fourth, fifth and sixth graders at North Central were recently able to talk with YA author Mitali Perkins via FaceTime about one of her novels as well as her faith.
6. Intergenerational Dialog - Periodically break the habit of segregated classes based on age. Introduce teens to elementary kids. Facilitate a middle school book club. Or a church family devotional with children sharing thoughts with older members, and vise
7. Little Free Library - “Plant” one and watch the ways your community can benefit. Don’t forget North Central
8. Oral Narration - Stories of faith, inspiration
Would you like to get started but aren’t sure where to begin? Pick your favorite gospel and read it along with someone. Otherwise, below is a list of books to consider for different occasions.
A curated but incomplete list of books and resources:
For Kids and Young Adults:
The Green Ember Series by S. D. Smith
The Chronicles of Narnia by C .S. Lewis
The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier
On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson
Resources for Families:
Read Aloud Revival - a website and podcast devoted to the goal of promoting families sharing books together. As host, Sarah Mackenzie provides a plethora of good book suggestions for a variety of ages as well as provides fantastic interviews with authors and experts.
Story Warren - Allies in Imagination. “Story Warren exists to serve you as you foster holy imagination in the children you love.” This website provides stories and articles to inspire your family. The Green Ember series, among other books, can be purchased online at their store.
The Rabbit Room - “fosters
Englewood Book Review - hosted by C. Christopher Smith from the Englewood Christian Church in Indianapolis
Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish by C. Christopher Smith
Great fiction for adults to help
The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
The Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos
Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry
Lila by Marilynne Robinson
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Memoirs of Faith:
The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis
Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
Authors to challenge us in dialog, devotions