Thursday, March 29, 2012

Why do Christian women find it so hard to read Christian books?

A question I've spent some time pondering in the past few weeks, and after a small turn-out at Book Chat last weekend.

Why is this so, I wonder? So many women at my church have said to me that they really struggle to finish reading Christian books. They're great at buying them, but getting beyond the first few chapters is a big challenge.

I used to be like this. Someone would tell me a Christian book was really good, so I would go out and buy it. Then it would sit beside my bed, unread, or if it was lucky, with the first few pages read, and nothing more would happen. I thought setting up a Christian book discussion group might help me to finish reading some of the ones I had and encourage others to do the same.

This has had an inconsistent response. Sometimes numbers have been really good, other times much less so. Sometimes I think it's the book. We had a go at reading J.I. Packer's Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God last year. Very worthwhile reading but I did find it hard going and I think some others found the same. We only had a small number at that discussion as well.

But other times...I'm not sure. The book we read this time around (The Murder of Jesus) was a great read. And it wasn't too hard to get through. Once I started reading it, I finished it within a few days. There were a few cancellations for last weekend, due to health and transport issues. These things happen. But then, in typical fashion, I start to wonder if maybe it might be me. I start thinking about other groups I know about who are reading books (of the non-Christian variety) that don't seem to be having difficulty attracting numbers. I suppose that's what Satan is wanting me to think.

I don't think women avoid reading Christian books because they're too busy or time-poor to read. I enjoy reading and I know that if I really want to read something, I'll make time to do it. I do this all the time. The books that aren't the Christian ones look a bit more interesting so they often find their way to the top of the "to read" pile beside my bed. But they don't challenge me to change my life in any way, or to become more godly in my thinking.

Perhaps that's what lies at the heart of the problem. I sincerely hope it's not me that's stopping people from coming to Book Chat, although in the moments I spend wallowing in self pity, I feel like it is. What I actually think is that it takes discipline and effort to read a Christian book (and finish it). What I read is going to make me painfully aware of my sinfulness and how I need to change myself. That's hard and confronting to deal with. It's much easier to go to the group where I can have a good time talking about some other book that's good for now but less meaningful in the eternal scheme of things.*

Even though numbers weren't high last Saturday, the quality of the discussion was wonderful. I would have loved to hear what others thought of the book too. I often think that reading a book that links heavily to Scripture chapter by chapter in a Bible study group is something we should do more of.

So with all that in mind, next term we are going to read Barbara Hughes' book Disciplines of a Godly Woman. The link takes you to a review by Tim Challies who is a well-known evangelical blogger.

The word "discipline" is already putting me off a little bit. But that's what I think reading Christian books comes down to in the end. Discipline isn't easy. And it's only by God's grace that we can do it. It's much easier to pick up the other stuff on our bedside tables waiting to be read. But as Christian women, why wouldn't we want to be disciplined and to read something that helps us to live a more godly and less wasted life that matters for eternity?

*All this is not to say that we should only read Christian books. I think that reading both is a great idea and I do go to a group that discusses other books, which is really excellent too!


Meredith said...

I think you have to factor in a bit of spiritual attack as well. When it comes to books that are for our spiritual good then the devil will surely distract us. Worth keeping in your prayers.

That said, I LOVE this book. I used to read it every year for about ten years in a row. Good for encouragement and a rebuke - and each year I was encouraged or rebuked in different areas as different things were going well or needing attention.

I don't tend to underline in books, other than my Bible, but I have underlined a quote on page 14 of this book which says,

"Many of us think of spiritual discipline in terms of 'living the letter of the Law' or as a series of draconian rules that no-one could possible live up to. Such legalism seems to us a path to frustration and spiritual death. But true discipline is a far cry from legalism – thank God! The difference lies in motivation:
Legalism is self-centred; discipline is God-centred. The legalistic heart says, 'I will do this thing to gain merit with God.' The disciplined heart says, 'I will do this because I love God and I want to please Him.' The true heart of discipline is relationship – a relationship with God."

And that is what makes this book so very good. Because she presents a series of "disciplines" upon a foundation of grace. She has walked the tightrope between grace and works, and I believe, has got the balance right. So go forth and enjoy it - and I pray lots of women will enjoy it with you.

One for a wish.. said...

I think I read books generally for a bit of escapism. These days I choose secuar books that don't need a lot of thought as I don't have the headspace. This is where Christian books differ. They need contemplation, and I also usually find myself lacking, so that's why I don't read many of them as I should. Sometimes I just need to forget about my own life for a while I guess... Is it the right kind of thinking? No. But I just thought I'd give you my thoughts in case it was helpful.

Deb L said...

Maybe it's frequency too - how many books are you reading a year as a group? People who don't read much can get overwhelmed by more than two or three books a year. I seriously doubt it's you, Karen. I'd read a book and have a cup of tea with you...but distance is an issue!

Sarah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sarah said...

I've found in the country that many Christian women are not keen to get together in women's groups or Bible study groups or book clubs. Many women I've talked to seem to mostly read fiction or Christian parenting books. I've heard a few women say that they don't like going to church unless their husband is there with them, so if he can't go to church, they often won't go either. When I asked them why, they said women need their husbands to teach them. I'm not so sure that submission covers not reading books or meeting with women, and by no means does this view reflect every country woman, but it is more prevalent than in the city.

Karen said...

Thanks for all your thoughts, ladies, I do appreciate your encouragement :)

@Meredith, I'm looking forward to reading DOAGW. It's been on and off my radar to read, but one of the new ladies who came last weekend suggested it and I think it might have a bit broader appeal than the other book I was going to put out as an option. I'm currently trying to decide whether to get the paper version or the e-book, or both (can hopefully talk my husband into both along the lines of "then I can loan the paperback to someone and it doesn't matter if I don't get it back..." )

@Sheryl. Totally hear you on the escapism front. I'm about to blog on a book I've just picked up at the library this morning after having it reserved for months. It's pure escapism (well, I hope it is...or perhaps it will just freak me out...). I do agree with you about Christian books needing contemplation, and if you're like me and do most of your reading as winding down before sleep, then it's generally not the most conducive contemplative time!

@Deb. We're only reading four each year. One per term. I know not everyone can commit to that many, but I also think I've perhaps erred on the side of "no pressure to come along" a bit much. A friend who is a regular attender suggested to me that sometimes people need a little bit more of a nudge so I'm going to put a few individual invites out there (and encourage them to tell their friends too). I think it would be good to have a core group of around five regulars, and then a few who can be a bit more in the "come every so often/when I can" camp. Just so there's a few more viewpoints to throw around in a discussion.

Karen said...

Sorry Sarah...comment overlap there I think!

Thanks for your comments too, you've got me wondering now whether maybe that is an issue for anyone and I might try and do a bit more digging to see if that's the case. But mostly around here the excuse is busy-ness...we are blessed to live in a place with lots of things to do and be involved in, and I think that's what gets in our way sometimes.

Our minister has been quite encouraging about getting the group off the ground and I think I need to be more excited about plugging it. Perhaps I've been a bit unassertive (as I have a tendency to be sometimes) and don't sell it as well as I could...