Do I have to spend time with my Bible if I don’t like to read?
Just because you’re a man and you’re reading this article doesn’t mean you like to read. A lot of men do like to read (I’m one of them), but the reality is lots more have found other things to fill their minds with. Maybe they’re okay with shorter pieces like those in this magazine you’re holding. But definitely not books—and that includes the Bible.
This retreat from reading is “very, very prevalent, not just in men, but in humanity in general,” says Michael Krahn, an associate pastor at the Aylmer Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference Church in Ontario.
“We are spending increasing amounts of time online and our attention spans are getting shorter.”
“The well-read American male of the past is mostly gone,” writes one U.S. blogger. “They account for only 20 per cent of the fiction market.” And when they do read, he says, it’s mostly just “technical manuals and comic books.”
And what’s true for society is also true for the Church. How bad it’s become is hard to say, since the man in the pew who doesn’t like to read—or maybe doesn’t understand what he’s read—will often try to deny he even has a problem.
“Men by nature don’t want to appear as failures,” says Kevin Trick, pastor of men’s ministries at Centre Street Church in Calgary. “Since being literate and articulate are high values in today’s society—just look at how much good speakers get paid—if a man feels he falls below what’s ‘expected,’ he will avoid being found out, and play the poser.”
Men by nature also “gotta have” the ever-changing products of this digital age—the computer, the Internet, iPods, cell phones, tablets, mp3s, video-on-demand, apps and so on.
“Guys have got big-screen TVs with their surround-sound system—or at least they wish they did, if they don’t—and that’s sometimes hard to compete with sitting down with a book,” says Jeff Stearns, [former] Marketing Manager at Impactus | Promise Keepers Canada.
“It’s sound, it’s visual, it’s stimulating. It’s just the way guys are wired.” Add to that their need to unwind after a long day on the job, and it’s no wonder they would rather zone out on the recliner and watch TV or a movie, or else play sports, go for a run or go to the pub. Anything but read a book.
For Christian men, though, the fallout from this reluctance to read goes far beyond how they choose to spend their downtime. Krahn worries it can strike at the heart of their ability to grow as followers of Jesus, if they can’t or won’t even open their Bibles.
“God chose to use words to reveal Himself to us—lots of words—and without regular, sustained, meditative Scripture reading, we’ll miss out on a lot of that revelation,” he says.
Trick adds that if men can’t process what they’re reading, then “they are usually not able to interact fully with worship or the message. And if a man cannot succeed, he will opt out of the exercise. Many men have opted out of growing in Christ.”
To try to keep his men opted-in, Trick has deliberately designed many of the men’s small groups to allow a man to share his story and how God is writing that story. “This is an opportunity to share from the heart, not from what one has read,” he says.
But the same technologies that are part of driving men away from the written word might also be part of the solution—because even if men don’t like to read, they can still listen.
Stearns would like to see more men do what he does and use their daily commuting time to listen to audio books. (According to Statistics Canada, we spend on average more than 110 hours a year either driving, taking public transit, cycling or walking to and from our jobs.)
“I know so many guys who commute to work and just spend it listening to whatever is on the radio,” he says. “I look at the number of audio books I’ve completed in just the last year, and it’s just a huge increase over what I was reading before.”
Included in Stearns’ collection are several versions of the Bible. “Listening to the Bible, you miss some of the fine details but pick up on a lot of the arching themes that come out,” he observes.
Krahn is not convinced. He believes there’s no comparison to the benefits that can come from a “regular, disciplined reading of God’s Word.”
“Listening,” he explains, “is a good substitute in cases where literacy is an issue. But listening is something most often done while engaged in another activity. Reading is something that requires singular focus, and for that reason is more fruitful.”
But Stearns also believes there’s much to be gained from dads setting a good example for their kids just by reading to them at bedtime. He tells of a friend who started reading to his young son. When the boy learned to read for himself, the dad committed to reading every book he read, even though he wasn’t much of a reader himself.
“His son is now 13. He loves books and is reading through them in half the time his dad is,” Stearns says. “I said to the dad, ‘This is a victory moment. Your son is reading and you’ve mentored him in that, despite your own limitations.’”