Happy are those who find wisdom, and those who get understanding
(Proverbs 3:13, Common English Bible).
Can you believe she said THAT!?!”
“I could not possibly imagine doing such a terrible, frightening, wonderful (fill in the blank) thing.”
“We had no idea the experience would end in this manner.”
These are not the latest gossip snippets from friends and family, but rather a few quotations from book club meetings. The sister, the crazy cousin, the president, the father, they could be your family or theirs; they could be anyone or even you. People around the world and those on the other side of the table are all within the pages of books. When you read and discuss books with people, their history and stories become your story too. The individual’s story of oneself can even become clearer and more defined to each person through conversations about other people. “A man tells his stories so many times that he becomes the stories. They live on after him. And in that way he becomes immortal.”1
As a person’s story becomes part of another’s life, their life becomes something precious. Book clubs become small group ministry in times of grieving and illness. Members motivate each other to strive to become their best. Book clubs in general and especially those in churches are at their finest when they help members understand each other, the community, the human condition and their relationship to God. Comments on character and actions in a novel will reflect the beliefs of the speaker and enable you to understand that person’s point of view on the world, other people and God. Questions and comments never spoken about an individual, a group or God personally may be stated when talking about a character or situation in a book. Book clubs give individuals freedom to inquire and observe where they may otherwise hesitate. The trust in a book club grows as the relationships and knowledge deepens.
Some church book clubs may worry about the appropriateness of a selection and if a religious selection is required reading. As Reformed people who believe God is sovereign and eternal, all stories are of God. In every story, whether specifically discussed or completely ignored, God is there and some of the best discussions will be centered on where. Although a diverse amount of biblical knowledge may be present in the group, discussion about God in relationship to literature can occur and with the Spirit’s power, deep friendships and understanding begin to grow and develop.
Book clubs can be easy to start, but difficult to maintain. Here are some tips for staring one in your church:
- Advertise that a new book club will begin on a specific day. Decide if you want it to be an open group (all are invited) or only men, history buffs, etc.
- Set a specific day and time at the first meeting. No one can make all the meetings, but consistency is important.
- Set the group rules. Trust is the main issue. To create relationships of lasting depth, people must agree to listen with respect and respond in love. Book club members can disagree, but they cannot be hurtful or spiteful. Do not expect deep discussions immediately, time is needed for this level of trust.
- Book selections are chosen in a variety of ways: a year’s worth at one time, one book for a year, choose as you go, New York Times #1 Best Seller, etc. Resources are found in Suggested Resources at the back of this issue.
- Leading the discussion can be done in several ways: Everyone is required to bring three questions. The person who suggested the book leads discussion. Many books have discussion questions or online discussion guides. A time limit may be set or free form conversation is allowed. Try experimenting to discover what method is best for the group.
Maintaining the interest of a book club can be a more difficult proposition. One idea to keep interest high is to choose a wide variety of books. Novels, best sellers, classics, biographies, history, theology, and world issues are all available for reading and discussing. Read a book on a specific topic and then invite an expert to speak. Ask your pastor or another local pastor or educator to suggest a book and ask them to lead the discussion. Check with a nearby college or your local library to see if an author will be speaking and read one of his/her books. See a movie or play based on a book selection. Chose a book for its setting and then visit the location. But whatever you do, remember to honor disagreements and respond with respect; no one will tolerate abusive behavior and badgering.
John Calvin wrote, “The entire sum of our wisdom…may be said to consist of two parts…the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” In a place where good books are chosen, discussion is honest, respectable and true, plus fellowship and caring abounds, we may have discovered a third ingredient in wisdom, knowledge of others. An outstanding book club can enhance your life, learning and love of God and others.
1Wallace, Daniel, Big Fish, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1998.
Debby Madden is a Certified Associate Christian Educator and currently serves as director of educational ministry at First Presbyterian Church, Carlisle PA. She has served the East APCE Region as treasurer and representative to the national Cabinet. Debby currently serves APCE as its treasurer. Debby is a lifelong avid reader and is a part of a community book club and her church’s book club. She also is a member of www.goodreads.com and welcomes other APCE members to “friend” her.