“Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.” This quote has been attributed to many people, but whoever said it first, its truth is widely acknowledged, but often ignored. Believing that a knowledge of church history is an important component of Christian education, retired school teacher Patricia Watkins put together a Summer Reading Club in 2014 for the children (aged eight to thirteen) of her church, Mission OPC in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Each participant received a folder with a list of resources (books and websites), a time line of church history, worksheets to fill out as they read, and directions for a final project. All of the books were biographies or collections of biographies of noteworthy Christians through the ages, and most were available from the church library. The books were to be read as interest led the reader or books became available in the library.
The Reading Club met every month for about twenty minutes following the church’s fellowship meal. The readers talked about what they had read and shared what they had found most interesting, what they enjoyed, or what they disliked about what they had read that month. The emphasis was always on what they had learned from reading, rather than on how many books they completed. Pat Watkins functioned as a facilitator, but allowed the children to take the lead and “own” the discussions.
Discussions naturally led from what happened to each Christian to why it happened, and this led to discussions of theology. Ms. Watkins answered questions when she could, and then referred the children to further reading and discussions with parents or elders. Children learned that right doctrine is important. People have died defending doctrines we too easily take for granted.
The Summer Reading Club was welcomed by parents and children with enthusiasm. There were challenges, though: getting kids to read at all in an age of instant entertainment; finding materials to challenge and inspire readers at various levels of ability and interest; allowing for busy family schedules, including family vacations, during the summer months; sustaining interest over the entire ten weeks.
In the end, the participants agreed that the program did indeed further their knowledge of, and appreciation for, the Lord’s work throughout history. One young participant said he liked the Club because “it encouraged you to read biographies and set goals for yourself about how many books you wanted to read.” One mother appreciated the Club because it got her children “to read a number of books that they would not otherwise have read.” Three years later, participants still recall the stories of people—including children—who suffered and died for their faith.
Here are some things to consider if you are planning to implement something similar in your church:
1. Organization. Ms. Watkins’s Summer Reading Club is just one way to do this sort of thing, so figure out what works for you, considering the age range of participants, reading lists, times for discussions, expectations, etc. Plan ahead as much as possible to avoid confusion and potential difficulties down the road.
2. Materials. See what resources may already be available in your church library, or ask families in the church if they have any appropriate materials in their home libraries. If more books are needed, Ms. Watkins recommends investing in biographies by Simonetta Carr from Reformation Heritage Books, the History Lives! series by Brandon and Mindy Withrow, and the Trailblazers series from Christian Focus. For a complete list of the resources Ms. Watkins used, please e-mail a request to email@example.com.
3. Incentives. Choose a few appropriate incentives—competition or small rewards—to encourage reading. Unfortunately, the joy of learning is rarely enough motivation, but even reluctant readers have been known to work hard for the right incentive.
4. Simplicity. Keep the whole plan as simple as possible. This is summer, after all.
If you think the young people in your church would benefit from this kind of summer reading program, get busy now and make it happen!
The author is a member of Calvary OPC in Glenside, Pa. New Horizons, June 2017.