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!
Finding Common Ground by Tim Downs. My campus pastor had me read this book to better understand his philosophy and style of ministry. Because I have been on staff under my campus pastor for a little over two years now I had a decent idea of where this book was going. However, it was great to read a book like this that I know had shaped my campus pastor’s view of how he does ministry. I was glad he had me read it because it was a book that challenged some of my views on how to speak to and reach the unbelievers in the world around me. As the title suggest, Tim Downs goal in this book “is about the crucial job of finding common ground between the Christian and the secular worlds, two vast continents that are rapidly drifting apart” (page 12). As Christians, we are not called to remove ourselves from the culture and to create a “sub-culture” of Christianity but instead we are called to engage and be salt and light in our culture. In this book Down helps the reader understand the importance of sowing the Gospel. That means taking the times and means necessary to connect with unbelievers, understand them, and helping create an atmosphere that when the time is right the soil of their hearts will be ready for the Gospel. Throughout this book Down gives the reader tons of principles, ideas, and practical information to help Christians connect with unbelievers in their culture. Two chapters in this book really challenged me. First, was chapter 4 called “The Sower’s Art.” In this chapter Down talks about how the communication contains both science and art. Science being what is said, the raw content, and art being how the content is being shared and presented, the style of of the communication. Christians are guilty of putting a lot of emphasis on the science of connecting with unbelievers and sharing the Gospel. We focus on getting all the facts right and make during our theology and doctrine is perfectly lined up. These are not bad things. In fact, we need to be practicing good science in our communication to unbelievers. However, Down says, “Christians don’t tend to see the value of art. In this area, we are thirty years behind the rest of our culture” (page 54). In this chapter Down helps Christians understand how we can take the Gospel and Biblical beliefs and package them in a way that is understandable and effective for the unbeliever. Down says, “We must begin to encourage all Christians that spiritual growth requires developing goths science and art. Every Christian must grow in his knowledge of Scripture and theology, but equally in his ability to communicate it persuasively and attractively, whether through rioting or teaching or interpersonal communication” (page 59). The other chapter that really challenged me was chapter 11 called “Planting Part 2 – Materials.” In this chapter Downs challenged Christians to really evaluate the type of materials we give unbelievers that informs them about our faith. We should use resources that are relevant, speak the cultures language, raise good questions, and other things. I’d recommend this book for anyone who wants to effectively connect and reach unbelievers in the culture around them.
Sexual Detox by Tim Challies. I have read many books on the topic of sexual sin. Some have been great while others have not been so great. This book was one of the best books on the topic of sexual sin that I have ever read. In this book Challies writes to men who are sick of porn and the negative effects of sexual sin. Challies tackles issues such as the reality of pornography and sexual sin, masturbation, the gift of sex, and how men can go through a “sexual detox” in their soul as well as in the bedroom with their wife (or future wife). Challies deals with the reality of issues surrounding sexual sin but offers Gospel-centered principles on how men can be victorious over these sins. This is an incredible book that every man should take the time to read. It will convict and get to the heart of porn, lust, and sexual sin while offering practical advice on how to honor God and your wife in this area.
Two books I have recently read that I chose not to review here are The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer and The True Measure of a Man by Richard Simmons. I am currently reading Jesus Continued by J.D. Greear and plan to read Prayer by Tim Keller next.
Leaders are readers. As leaders, we hear and know that phrase well. But reading takes time and discipline that sometimes we just don’t have enough of. We have a list of books we want to read, but our schedules are so packed we don’t know when we will ever have time read them. For some of us, we just struggle with the discipline of sitting down long enough to read a few pages of a book much less an entire book. But if leaders want to be better leaders than they need to be readers. I want to share a few tips on how you as a leader, or as someone who may just wants to read, can read more books.
Make an effort to read at least 30 minutes a day. In college I had a friend who would read books left and right on top of his required reading for classes. At the time, I was struggling just to keep up with what I had to read for classes and the thought of reading books outside of that seemed impossible. One day he told me how he did it. He said he simply makes himself sit down for 30 minutes a day and read. Sometime he may go over that, but he would make himself read for at least 30 minutes. It sounded simple enough so I gave it a shot. To my surprise it worked! So much so, I still use this principle today. I have a sticky note on the wall near my desk in my office that says “30 min a day” to remind me. Leaders are usually very busy people, but reading 30 minutes a day is manageable and not hard to do. Give it a shot! You will be surprised at how many books you can work through if you read at least 30 minutes a day.
Understand the different ways you can read. There are many ways you can read. I recently have started trying to understand more about this and the different ways to read. What helped me was a recent article I ran across on Tim Challies site entitled “7 Different Ways to Read a Book.” I have learned the value in not reading every book the same. Based on the book and why you may be reading it, you may have to change up the way you read it. I would encourage you to look over the seven different ways you can read a book from the Challies article and apply that to your reading.
Always have a book with you. This is another tip I picked up in college, but this one came from one of my professors. He was teaching a class on Acts and part of the required reading he assigned was a commentary on the book of Acts. You normally don’t sit down with a commentary and read it cover to cover. But for this class we were required to do just that. The commentary he had us read was a pretty technical commentary so it was a pretty heavy thing to read through. He knew it was not an easy assignment and it would take a long time. Right after he told us about this assignment during the first class he said the key to reading a lot is to always have a book with you. He told us how he would always be carrying a book with him so even if he had a 5 minute window of time he could read. I applied that and finished that commentary quicker than I thought I would have. I still do this as well today. It’s a simple thing many people often don’t think about. Carry a book with you and pull it out when you have a few minutes here and there.
Reading is an essential part of growing as a leader. However, reading takes time and discipline. I have found that making time to read each day for at least 30 minutes, understanding different ways to read, and always having a book with me has helped me not only become a better reader, but has helped me read more books.
I just got done reading 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper today. I must say, I enjoyed this book much more than I thought. At first I was very skeptical about someone actually dying and going to heaven only to be sent back to earth. Even after reading this book, I really believe it cannot happen. But I am not going to judge or cut down Don Piper just because he believes it happen to him. Even though I don’t really believe it happened in the sense Piper says, I still was encouraged by this book. Only one chapter of the book was really devoted to his 90 minutes in heaven. The rest of the book was about his recovery and how he helped others that went through the same type of recovery he went through.
I think the main theme of this book and what Don Piper learned through his ordeal is what 2 Corinthians 1:3,4 says: “All praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the source of every mercy and the God who comforts us. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When others are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” (NLT) Don Piper talks a lot about how he was depressed and angry through his recovery but God comforted him and got him through. And just like this verse says, Piper learned how to help others and comfort others that are going through what he went through.
I believe every situation we go through in life, God has a reason and we need to always use our past troubles and pains to help others because if they are going through something we already went through, we can identify with their pain and comfort them! That is what I got out of this book and I would encourage everyone to take a few days and read this book. To get all the information and details about this book, go to the website. Also, to learn more about Don Piper himself, go to his own personal website here.
If you want to read another great review of the book head on over to Tim Challies blog and read his review. You can read that review here.
Another popular book about this type of thing is Heaven is for Real which tells the account a young boy who claimed he went to heaven. Worth taking a look at if this type of think interests you. Also, I ran across a book called Flight to Heaven that is a pilot’s account of this sort of thing.