Thoughts on life, leadership and the movement called the church by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Reading: How I Keep a Steady Book Diet Going

I've heard Bill Hybels make passionate pleas to leaders many times: Good leaders read.  That's because of a truth we know about life: we get better or we slowly decline.  This is a truth that can be applied to any facet of life.

For example, I've heard many spouses (especially husbands) make statements that mean something like this: "I don't need to read to be a good husband." Perhaps.  But I can assure you that any husband, regardless how good you are, can be better if you would read some notable books on the subject (this goes for wives, too, but far more wives are already willing to read about marriage.)  I know I'm a better husband because of the many marriage  books that have helped Susan and me have productive conversations.  They've helped me learn things I didn't know or understand -  aspects of her that I couldn't otherwise grasp. (Yes, my brothers, there ARE things you don't know about women and there ARE things you don't know about your wife and - Yes, I'm going to say it - there are things you still don't know about sex!  I know you think you've got that figured out, but you'd be surprised what a few notable works on the subject could do for your marriage!)

So, I'm always reading.  One of the things that Sabbatical has afforded me is more time to read.  A LOT more time.  But even in the normal course of my life, when I'm working full weeks and there is family stuff and other things to take care of, I still have a steady, healthy diet of books.  Here's how I make the time to make it happen without shirking something else.

Be Selective!
There was (and still is) an overwhelmingly long list of books on my need-to-read list.  Add to that a sizeable want-to-read list, and I figure that I will never finish, especially since I add two for every opus whose back cover I actually see.  

Believe it or not, I'm actually quite selective of the works I put on my list.  I'd love to read everything, because I love to read.  But time is always limited.  You can't read everything that everyone recommends.  You have to make some choices.

Which books?
One of the criteria I use is authorship.  I do read new authors, (which may be self serving, as I hope to be one of those new authors soon).  But there are some authors who have earned my trust.  They have proven not to waste my time with poor writing or incessant spider-webbing.  They know how to capture and hold my attention, say something that matters, make me think.  They challenge my theology.  They make me a better practioner, pastor, father, husband, leader, friend, or follower of Jesus.  Some of them just help take me to another place and disconnect for a while.

I also have a few people I trust who make recommendations.  Beth Stoddard says to me once or twice a year, "You have to read this book!"  I trust her. Her previous recommendations have almost always proven very fruitful.  Plus, she's not throwing something at me once a month.  There are a few others, too.

Occasionally, I pick something because of a title.  Titles are important.  Once, I bought a book while perusing at Barnes & Noble entitled, "Why Should Anyone Be Led By You".  It was an enticing question.  I can't say that it was the most riveting book I'd ever read, but it was very helpful and it was worth my investment.  I learned some things from their research and presentation that are still very helpful to me today.

How do I find the time?
I do not read as much as some people do.  But I do allocate time to consume a good number of books.  Here's how.

1) I read the Bible while I do cardio.  I intentionally choose to get my cardiovascular exercise on an elliptical machine precisely because I can do that and read at the same time.  Some people can run on a treadmill and read.  Others are able to do it on a stationary bike.  Those don't work for me, but if you're committed to it, something will.  So, four or five days a week, I read the Bible for 31 minutes & 31 seconds while I exercise my heart (sometime later I might explain how I came to that precise amount of time.)

2) I read a book while I'm doing freeweights.  People laugh at me.  I don't care.  In between sets, I digest the book I'm working on. That's 45 minutes, 4 or 5 days a week.  If you read for 30-45 minutes every day, you'll be surprised how many books you can consume.

3) Use breaks in your routine to read more intensely.  Take advantage of downtimes or slower seasons to read more.  The week immediately after Christmas is a slow time in church life, and I usually eat a book during that seven days.  I also allocate some extra time to read each summer and at a couple of other strategic times during the year.

Broad Horizons
I read on a wide variety of subjects in the normal course of my life. But I want to balance reading three kinds of books:

1) A book about my profession (church growth, leadership, theology);
2) A book about marriage and family;
3) A book that's just for fun.

So far this summer, I've finished several books, some of which I will review and recommend to you on this blog.  Henri Nouwen's The Life of the Beloved.  Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldridge; An Introduction to the Johannine Gospel and Letters by Jan van der Watt; Open Mind, Open Heart by Thomas Keating; John Grisham's latest book, and Replenish by Lance Witt, just to name a few.

I hope you make some intentional time to read.  It's important regardless what you do or what hats you wear.

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