Several years ago I was struck by a social media post by a pastor friend of mine. He was celebrating the completion of a reading goal. He didn’t publicize the number of books or seek to puff himself up, he was simply genuinely excited at achieving a goal for himself. Since I had just completed my dissertation, I was looking for something to do with all of my “copious amounts of free time.” I sincerely wanted to improve my reading variety and read something besides preaching books. This personal discipline sounded like just the thing to help me with that desire. I reached out to him and discussed his accomplishment and resolved I was going to try it. I started by finding a means to track my reading. I knew better than to trust my brain. I selected the goodreads app. I set a modest goal and started reading. Since that time, I have met and exceeded my reading goal each year. Not long ago, someone overheard me discussing my reading plan and asked why I set a reading goal. After giving it some thought I came up with several reasons: accountability, focus, discipline, and challenge.
The first reason I set reading goals is accountability. I tend to engage in activities addictively. Disc golf, coffee, occasionally tv, or video gaming. Sometimes those activities become consuming and choke out other activities. Knowing that I have a goal to meet is a built-in accountability partner. If I notice that I am falling behind, it compels me. Tracking them also adds the advantage of helping me identify when I am getting into what I call “hobby horse” reading. This is when you spend an exorbitant amount of time reading in a particular area. I tend to do this. I have huge sections of my library devoted to specific emphases I developed. I have large sections of musical biographies, special forces, and undercover police investigations of outlaw motorcycle gangs. Of course, the largest sections are preaching and commentaries (for obvious reasons).
A second reason for setting reading goals is focus. Admittedly this doesn’t always work out the way that I plan, but I try to divide my reading into 6 categories. The first category is in my specific area of vocational calling. For me this is preaching/pastoral ministry. I also try to read in the area of theology and ecclesiology. Church revitalization has become a large part of this section. A third category is the area of Biblical studies. The fourth genre differs from year to year. In this division I try to read in a specific area of history and contemporary events. One year I might read in the area of World War II, the Revolutionary War, etc. Genre five is biography. I love reading stories of individuals and seeing what events have shaped their lives. The final category is fiction. I try to read some books that are considered literary classics, as well as popular fiction, and I also enjoy books that are in a series such as The Chronicles of Narnia or The Green Ember series.
Proverbs 25:28 states that “a man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” This picturesque metaphor has always challenged me to make the effort to discipline my life. The area of my reading is no different. In much the same way as if I don’t plan to exercise, it is easy to not follow through. A reading goal is an action plan to set me further down my journey to becoming a lifelong learner.
The fourth reason was the easiest to come up with. I grew up playing sports. I
was am incredibly competitive. There is nothing I craved more than a good challenge to motivate me to the take it to the next level. Goodreads enumerates your finished books, even telling you whether you are on pace over the course of the year or if you need to pick it up. Nothing spurs my reading more through the year than nearing December and facing the threat of failing to hit the mark that I set for myself.
I hope my reasoning for setting these goals is an encouragement to you is to set one and jump in. I can’t wait to hear where the journey takes you.