I remember sitting in a history class in college. It was the day a major term paper was due. Like the vast majority of the class, I had been up very late into the previous night finishing the paper. As the professor gathered up the papers, he said with a smirk, “You know there will be a day when you will want to write a paper just so you can learn something new.” The entire class laughed at that, and I joined a lot of my peers in dismissing the comment as insanity. It turns out that Dr. Gahan should get the last laugh, because he was right. At this point it has been over a decade since I graduated seminary and had to write a formal paper. That many years removed I can see the appeal, because writing a paper is an unique way of learning that is unlike anything else. The desire to write a paper is really just the desire to learn something new.
In the hymn “We are the Church”, the last verse states the church is always learning. I sometimes wonder how true that is. Now clearly, there is a level of learning that just comes with living life, but I wonder how seriously the average believer in Christ takes seriously learning as part of faith development. John Wesley encouraged and required those who wanted to serve as preachers in the Methodist movement to read five hours a day. That might feel excessive, especially when we consider that 25% of adults have not even opened a book in the past five years.
Perhaps we can find a middle ground between five hours a day and never. Reading, wrestling with, and applying what we read is one of the most effective ways to learn and grow. Again, John Wesley saw reading as essential to a healthy Christian life. In a letter he wrote to a troubled preacher, he diagnosed the problem as a lack of reading. In response to this man, Wesley encouraged him to read by writing to him: “Do justice to your own soul; give it time and means to grow. Do not starve yourself any longer.”
Reading is a discipline that some of us have fallen out of, but books feed our soul and give it a means to grow. This month, students are going back to school to prepare for another school year of learning and development. Perhaps this is a good time for all of us to do our own soul justice and commit to reading a faith based book before the end of the year.
We live in a time of unparalleled literacy and access to books. Whatever area of faith you want to grow in, there is a book for you, and it should not be too hard to find. May we all go back to school this August and do our part to ensure that the church is indeed always learning.