Growing members that read

The Christian who doesn't read is likely to be experiencing a very average relationship with his Lord and with the church. One of the best services you can provide your people is to encourage them to read.

B. Russel Holt is the executive editor of Ministry.
As a pastor, one of the things I looked for in visiting the homes of my members was the presence of books. Now, I know I have an innate bias toward books. I can't remember not being able to read and not reading! I read books by the armful from the school library, the public library, and any other place I could find them. I read books by flashlight under the covers after my parents turned out the lights and told me to go to sleep. At any one time I'm usually reading five or six books, so I confess to being somewhat addicted to the printed page. But I looked for good Christian books in the homes of my church members for another reason: the reading Christian is generally a strong Christian.

Is the average Adventist member in North America regularly reading good Christian literature? If so, he isn't reading the books coming from the denominational presses! Richard Coffen, book editor at the Review and Herald Publishing Association, tells me that the usual press run for a paper-cover book at that house is approximately 7,500 copies. Church membership in the North American Division currently stands at about 650,000. This means that the publishers expect only slightly more than one percent of church membership to buy any given title!

One of the most beneficial services you can perform for your people and for your church is to encourage your members to read good literature that will build their Christian experience and grow strong characters. Of course, to do so you need to be reading yourself. Books are to the minister what wrenches are to the mechanic or scalpels to the physician. Someone said, "The average pastor around here doesn't read two books a year."- And the answer came back, "That's probably why he is still average!" That's true of your members, too. The Christian who doesn't read is likely to be experiencing a very average relationship with his Lord and with the church.

The religious press continues to pour out titles (some good, some mediocre, some poor). Our own presses provide a variety of materials for all ages and interests. Have you been inside an Adventist Book Center lately and seen the selection? Sometimes we hear the criticism that our presses seem to produce more children's storybooks than anything else. No doubt you can find a lot of storybooks at an Adventist Book Center. That's not bad, of course. Children need good books too, during the times the TV is being repaired. But I'll wager (preachers shouldn't bet) that you can find more variety and more solid spiritual food in an Adventist Book Center than you may have thought possible if you haven't been in one lately. And if the ABC doesn't provide enough selection, there's always the local Christian bookstore.

Never has a Christian had a greater choice in good reading. Why, then, does reading sometimes appear to be becoming a lost art? It's easy to blame television and the video revolution. It's easy to blame the school systems for turning out graduates who simply can't read anything more difficult than the help-wanted ads. But the facts are that electronic technology hasn't yet replaced the written word and doesn't seem likely to do so any time soon. Professor Daniel Tanner, of Rutgers University, says: "The demise of the stenographer was predicted with the invention of the Dictaphone; the demise of the theater with the invention of the talking motion picture; the demise of the concert hall with the invention of the phonograph; the demise of the motion picture with the invention of television; and the demise of handwriting with the invention of the typewriter." Like Mark Twain's death, reports that the printed page has expired are greatly exaggerated. Many people can read well, and will if they are encouraged to do so. That's where you come in.

Christian bookstore managers testify that success or failure in their business often hinges on the pastors who occupy the pulpits of their community. When a pastor mentions a book he has read and recommends that his people buy it for their home libraries, the bell over the bookstore door starts making the sound that managers like to hear. Not many people open a Christian bookstore hoping to get rich. Even with the best of encouragement and promotion, the margin between success and failure is often thin. The get-rich-quick schemes in the classified section of the National Enquirer encourage you to address envelopes, raise chinchillas (or worms), sell synthetic motor oil, or let someone find you a job in Saudi Arabia. But I've never seen one extolling the profits in a Christian bookstore. Even National Enquirer readers wouldn't be taken in by that! Most Christian bookstores are operated by individuals who are more interested in building up the body of Christ than in building up the gross national product. Certainly this is true of those operating Adventist Book Centers. Of course, they are businessmen, too, and it would be nice to be able to pay the bills and have a little left over.

So if you've come across a book that has expanded your spiritual horizons, why not tell your members about it? (It doesn't even have to be from our denominational presses!) If you weave into your sermon some concepts or quotes from a book you've been reading, why not mention that fact and encourage your people to read the book for themselves? Why not have a place in your newsletter for books you recommend? In most cases, your encouragement and advice will largely determine what your people read—or in some cases whether they read at all.

Wouldn't you really like to have a church of members who are growing spiritually through the things they are reading?—B.R.H.


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B. Russel Holt is the executive editor of Ministry.

April 1984

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