Reading Together for Accountability
I’m very careful in what I promise my children—mostly because they have frighteningly good memories and if I say it’s going to happen, it better happen. I’ve learned I can use this as an advantage though; if I need to remember something, it’s more effective to tell them than to write it down! And if something needs to be done, I alert them to help me make sure it’s accomplished. There’s something about speaking intention out loud that raises the stakes (and my ability) to follow through. Even when it comes to things I enjoy—like reading—I’ve found that working through a book with others provides accountability not only to finish the book but to apply what I’ve learned.
This accountability can be achieved in groups of any size. I attend a fairly large church, and all the women here are invited regularly to meet together to discuss a book we’ve read. There are many advantages to reading as a larger group. I’m motivated to finish the book. It causes me to think more deeply about what I’ve read as I know I’ll be discussing ways to apply what I’ve learned. The benefits can and should reach far beyond our soup and salad discussion nights. Once we’ve read and discussed, we all have a new batch of wisdom to which we can keep each other accountable as a community of believers. It works in a similar way to a Sunday morning sermon: hearing, learning and growing together as a body is God’s design for our individual growth.
A great example of this was when our group read Hannah Andersen’s Humble Roots. The lessons we discussed changed the way many of us understood what it means to be humble (a word we often use but also often misunderstand). The book taught us what it means to be who we are in relation to who God is and how he has made us. Now, though we read the book months ago, I am surrounded by a community of women who can remind me of the lessons they learned with me. We can remind each other when we fall short and be encouraged when we see each other speaking and living differently because of what we studied together.
Similarly, but on a different scale, this summer I read Stephen Shead’s Growing in Prayer with my school-age daughters. As in a larger group, we can read the lesson each day (and remind each other if we need to catch up!) then chat about what we’ve read as we seek to understand and apply the lessons. But with a group of three family members instead of 50 various women, the smaller number and closer relationship create more intimate discussion and accountability. As their mom and an older Christian, I can help them grow in the discipline of prayer and pray with them. And, as is often the case, God uses their young minds and hearts to encourage and teach me as well.
Of course the ways ‘reading together’ can be done are endless. Every group and situation will differ depending on the book selection and individual readers. But no matter what it looks like, reading in community with others has benefits that we simply cannot obtain when we read alone. And there are advantages for readers of any level. If you haven’t read in years but are considering starting, ask a friend to join you. If you read regularly but want to try a book that has always seemed like a challenge, find someone who has read it and can talk through it with you to help your understanding. Or set out to boost a habit or discipline—like prayer—by reading a book on the topic with someone else so together you can stay on track and follow through.
Whether it’s the act of reading itself, or making changes based on what I’ve learned through reading, the process is more enjoyable and more effective when others are involved. Reading is the least solitary thing I do alone, because my time and effort are more worthwhile when I draw in others.