One of the goals many people have each new year is to read more. As someone who loves to read and believes in the importance of it, I always enjoy hearing people make an effort to read more themselves. But the goal of reading is not just reading more books. An important part of growing as a reader is understanding it’s not just about quantity but also about quality. With that in mind let me offer up a few suggestions on how you can read better this new year with both quantity and quality in mind.
Set a goal. Just making a goal to “read more” won’t cut it. A lot of people make that their goal and end up reading the same amount of books they have always read. If you want to read better, which includes reading more books, you need to set a goal of how many books you would like to read this year. Be sure to take into account your schedule and pace of reading when doing this. Don’t just copy what others are using as their goal. Set a goal that is attainable for you but will also require you to push yourself throughout the year.
Make a reading plan. Having a goal without a plan is futile. Stephen Covey said it like this: “Goals are pure fantasy unless you have a specific plan to achieve them.” Let me share a few ways to go about making a reading plan. One way you can make a reading plan is by listing out the individual books you want to read throughout the year. This is by far the easiest and simplest way to create a reading plan. All you’re doing is making a list of the books you want to read. I did this for many years and it worked well. Another way you can make a reading plan is by making a list of the categories of books you want to read. This is what I like doing the best and will be doing this year (click here to see my reading plan for the year). If you’re doing a plan like this make sure you have a good variety of categories so you are forced to read many different types of books. More on that later. One more way you can make a reading plan is by using one that is already made. There are many reading plans you can find online but one I’m pushing people towards this year is the 2019 Christian Reading Challenge by Tim Challies. This plan includes multiple options based on the number of books you want to read as well as forces the reader read from a variety of book categories. The most important part of having a reading plan is to use it. Don’t throw it out mid-year or give up when you get behind. Stick with it and as you do you will experience better reading throughout the year.
Read broadly. This is one of the reasons a plan is so important. Most of us naturally lean towards reading certain types or categories of books based on our interests, careers, or favorite author. Those aren’t bad things but one of the ways to read better is to broaden your reading. This means reading books you don’t normally read. For example, I have found I often don’t read books by women. I don’t have anything against women authors but over the years I’ve noticed the books I tend to migrate towards are written by men. So this year and last year I intentionally put on my list to read a book written by a woman. Another example from my own reading is church history. I don’t enjoy the subject of church history as much as other subjects within Christianity so I don’t naturally pick up church history books to read. So this year I have on my list to read one church history book. Don’t get stuck reading one type of book this year. Make sure your plan forces you to read more broadly.
Read differently. I came across this blog post a few years back that really challenged the way I read books. Basically the idea is that you shouldn’t read all books the same. Some books require more of your attention and time while others do not. Determining how you read each book will not only help you read more but will also help you read better. I’d encourage you to read that post.
Keep a list. I once had a pastor, who reads a ton of books each year, tell me that he keeps a running list of all the books he has read. He said this helps him not only remember what books he has read but also allows him to use it as a tool to recommend books to others. I started doing this as well (click here to view my list) and I have come to understand what that pastor was saying. It’s been super helpful for me and if you plan to read more I’d suggest you keep a list for your own reference as well as to recommend books to others.
These are just a few ways to read better this year. I hope you not only increase your reading in quantity but also quality. Happy reading!
Fundamentalist by Joey Svendsen. This was by far the most raw and honest book I have ever read. However, it was much needed in my life right now. In this book Svendsen shares about his legalistic upbringing in the church as well as his ongoing struggles with mental illness. One of the main themes throughout this book is Svendsen’s journey of understanding his own salvation. He shares about how he use to view the “sinner’s prayer” as a checklist of things he must say and how he felt guilt about certain behaviors or activities all the while wrestling with his faith. He continues to share his stories of faith, doubt, and mental illness all the way up into adulthood. The subtitle of the book gives you a peak into the beauty of this story – “Stories of a mentally ill, obsessive compulsive, legalistic youth group kid turned pastor.” It’s a book that shows how our upbringing can impact us in huge ways and how our own brokenness keeps us from seeing and enjoying the beauty of the Gospel. This was a great read but I say that with caution. If you’re offended by Christians who cuss and are comfortable with talking about sex and related issues openly this is not the book for you. If you are familiar with Svendsen and his work with the BadChristian community this will come as no surprise. I’d still recommend the book but be warned there will be things in this book that don’t comfortably fit into the “Christian book” category. But that’s ok; it’s a great book!
Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This is one of Bonhoeffer’s most popular books and it stands as a classic on the topic of Christian community. In this little book Bonhoeffer lays out what Christian community is (chapter 1) and then follows that with what daily life looks like with other believers (chapter 2) as well as with yourself (chapter 3). The final two chapters deal with ministering to others as well as confession within the Christian community. The entire book is deeply rooted in Scripture but also extremely practical for Christians among all generations. This book helped me see exactly what God calls me to when it comes to community as well as how that should practically look in my life. There are encouragements in this book that may not come naturally or easy for us in our world today but I believe Christians reading this book, including myself, would do well to follow what Bonhoeffer is suggesting. I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who is desiring to get a good framework on what Christian community is and how it looks practically within the church.
Uncomfortable by Brett McCracken. This is another book on the topic of Christian community. Like the title suggest, the theme of this book is being “uncomfortable.” McCracken argues that both our faith and community as Christians is and should be a bit uncomfortable. In the first section on “uncomfortable faith” he lays out how our faith calls us towards the uncomfortable. Everything from the cross, holiness, love, mission, and more doesn’t come naturally to us. Faith propels us to believe and live out some uncomfortable truths. Then he gets into section two on “uncomfortable community.” In this section he dives into various parts of Christian community and how they are important and needed no matter how uncomfortable they make us. For example, he deals with topics like racial diversity, worship styles, and church authority. Two things really stood out to me about this book. First, McCracken rightly admits there is no “perfect church” and that searching for a church that is the perfect fit for you is the wrong approach. In our culture of consumerism this is a much needed reminder. I needed it and I think others do as well. Second, he lives out what he writes. He shares about how his own church context is not the most comfortable to him and how his church isn’t the “perfect fit” for him. He shares stories and illustrations from this part of his life and it’s extremely helpful.
Two other books I’ve recently read that I chose not to review are Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley and More Than a Carpenter by Josh & Sean McDowell.
Every student ministry loves to see new students walk through their doors. With this comes our responsibility to make sure these new students feel welcomed right off the bat. I’m sure there are many students who go to a student ministry program for the first time and leave never to return again because they didn’t feel welcomed. I want to share a few things with you that we do in our student ministry to help new students feel welcomed. Don’t mistake the name tag picture to be a suggestion on how to make new students feel welcomed. Name tags will just make them feel awkward. Don’t do it. Follow the suggestions below.
Train your student leaders to look out for new students and to connect with them as soon as a new student walks in. In our high school ministry we have a student leadership team made up of students from 10th-12th grades. One of the weekly responsibilities of this team is to be on the lookout for new students and to be ready to connect with a new student when they walk through our doors. I encourage them to ask them where they go to school, what grade are they in, what kinds of things do they like to do, and what made them to decide to check out our ministry. Even if you don’t have an official student leadership team you can train a few students to do this on a weekly basis. Not all students are great at this. You will have some students who are naturally more friendly and can easily walk up to a stranger and start a conversation. Find a few students who are gifted in this area and put them to work. The best way to help a new student feel welcomed to to have a another student welcome them and spend some time talking to them. The sooner this happens the better so train your student leaders to be quick to welcome and talk to a new student.
Train your adult leaders to connect with new students as well. Not only do new students need to be welcomed by another student, they also need to be welcomed by an adult leaders. Train your adults leaders to be looking out for new students. Train them to not just look out for them but to actually talk to them and to get to know them. It makes a huge impact on a student, especially a new student, when an adult intentionally talks to them and shows an interest in them. It’s easy for our adult leaders to clump up together and not connect with new students. For many adults, talking to a teenager is not always easy and at times very intimidating. But our adult leaders have to be willing to leave their comfort zones and connect with both new and regular students.
Train yourself to talk from upfront with new students in mind. Whenever you the student pastor stands or main leaders stands upfront and talks to the crowd of students, make sure you talk with new students in mind. Don’t just jump up there and welcome them to your program. A new student will not know who you are so introduce yourself. If you have trained your student and adults leaders well than new students have been talking to them all the way up until your program starts. Once it starts and you get upfront, quickly introduce yourself and give a general welcome. I also make sure I do a few other things when it comes to this idea of keeping new students in mind when upfront. Whenever I start my message, I always quickly review the current teaching series we are in as well as what we have talked about the weeks prior. Also, when I talk about things like retreats and mission trips I always explain what these look like and why we do them. All these things are things that are regular students know and may not want to hear explained over and over but making a new student feel welcomed and comfortable is more important.
These are just a few things we do on a weekly basis to help new students feel welcomed when they walk through the doors of our ministry. Even though I think we do well in this area we have not arrived. We can always get better. I’d love to hear from you. What are some things you do to make new students feel welcomed when they walk through the doors of your student ministry?