1. Teach the doctrine of God’s word. Most all of your young people will already have a reading habit: whether it’s cramming before a big test or spending the summer in the latest apocalyptic thriller. Many will think “Christian” reading just isn’t for them, because a) they don’t need another homework assignment, or b) it’s not nearly as entertaining as The Hunger Games. This is why I teach, every year, that God’s word is more than just a fun read or a series of rote facts: it is a “living” word, a “powerful” word, and an “active” word (Hebrews 4 v 12). Just as God spoke the world into existence, so God speaks life into our hearts through his words. Christian books (hopefully!) faithfully translate those words into everyday life, meaning: Christian books have the power to change us, for ever.
2. Be a reader. It’s not enough to tell people to be readers – we need to be readers ourselves. Charles Spurgeon once said of John Bunyan: “Prick him, and he bleeds bibline.” The same ought to be true of us: others can sense if we ourselves love Scripture, and books about it. This is something I’ve been surprised by over the last few years: many of the young people and adults I teach will tell me later on they’ve picked up books I’ve mentioned or quoted in sermons. Why? Because they could tell I loved them.
3. Come alongside. Of course, mentioning books isn’t enough. Some people feel too intimidated to read Christian books, and others just need accountability. I highly recommend getting together one-on-one, or with a group of 3-4 young people, and reading through a book together. Not only will this encourage your teenagers to read: you’ll also find that, in a small-group setting, books come to life through their questions, insights, and personal application.
4. Read what they read. You may not necessarily be into the latest vampire romance (you might even give up on page 45 – but hey, at least I TRIED) but the stories our young people read give us a world of insight into what they believe and value in life. Not only that, but reading their favourite books (or even their assigned school books) makes you a credible book commender. If you’ve spent time in their world, they are more willing to spend time in yours (plus you get free sermon illustrations/applications).
5. Start small. If a young person is struggling with the problem of evil, don’t slap The Brothers Karamazov on their desk. Instead, print out an article; take them through a 4-week Bible study; find a short, easily digestible book on the topic, and help them through. Give them reading that addresses their questions. Teach them to crawl first, and walk second. When teens see that Christian reading can be accessible and applicable, they’ll be more likely to tackle heavier reading down the road.
6. Give options. When I first began reading alongside youth group members, I chose the books. Now, instead, I’ve created a reading list with 12 different categories they can choose from. I encourage them to choose from a different category each time, but I always let them choose. This helps them engage in every part of the process (so it feels less like homework), and it’s also a resource they can keep and continue on with for life.
7. Encourage investment. When I first started reading with young people, I figured they would never invest their precious spending money on books, so I always put it in the youth budget. But over the years, I’ve changed that policy, because I’ve found that when teenagers spend their own money on a book, they perceive it’s of higher value than if they get it for free. Translation: they’re more likely to read it. (I don’t ask them to cover the whole cost, but to split 50/50 with the church.)
8. Have a “social-media mindset”. Social media is all about sharing. I’d encourage you to think of your own reading as a social activity. When you read a great article, send it to your young people. Print it out. Post on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram Bible verses you’ve been reading, or helpful quotes you find. Whet your young people’s appetites: remember – crawl, then walk, then run.
9. Point to Christ. Finally, always communicate to your teenagers that the final word on God is the Bible, especially in the revelation of Christ. If a book mentions Scripture verses, look them up together. Encourage teens to think about how what they’re reading ties into the gospel. Never allow reading to slip into the Athenian trap of “talking about and listening to the latest ideas” (Acts 17 v 21). Instead, communicate to teens that reading, as all things, is a spiritual act of worship.
- Council Estate Christians in the UK read books (Duncan Forbes)
- Books, discipleship and cultivating a reading culture in Scotland, Brazil and Kenya (9Marks)
- iServe Africa Apprenticeship Programme Reading List