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Ken Hemphill:

Recently I was in Tulsa sharing in an EKG/Sunday School conference.  It was both well organized and well attended.  A large crowd gathered for the better part of a beautiful Saturday to learn how to develop a more effective Sunday school. 

While staying at t local hotel, I picked up a quarterly magazine which focused on high performance business and people from the local area and beyond. Included was a book review of Secrets of the Millionaire Mind.  I quickly scanned the article to see if there were any principles of value.  The author speaks of mastering the inner game of wealth and pictures the brain as a large storage vault of millions of files for the various categories of life.  Harv Eker’s goal is to help readers revise the money files which might be betraying our success. 

One of the corrupted files and its replacement captured my attention.  “Rich people constantly learn and grow.  Poor people think they already know.”  The point is clear.  People who have been successful are those who continue to read and learn.  Those who think they know all there is to know about a subject remain impoverished. 

As I thought about that “file,” I recalled a pastor friend telling me of an event he attended where Kenneth Blanchard, the author of numerous best-selling leadership books, was the keynote speaker.  He made a simple statement that startled the participants.  He indicated that with very few exceptions “readers are leaders.”  Yet he went on to relate the statistics of how few people today are actually “readers.” 

I speak at numerous meetings where a Lifeway bookstore is provided.  I am constantly amazed at how few of the participants at these meetings attended by the leaders or potential leaders of our churches actually purchase books.  Here are some stats I found interesting:

  • One-third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
  • 42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college.
  • 80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
  • 70 percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
  • 57 percent of new books are not read to completion.

On my way home from this trip, I was browsing in an airport bookstore when I ran into a recent graduate from one of our Baptist colleges.  During our conversation he indicated that he was relieved that since college he no longer had to read. 

Can it be true that we no longer read?  Are Eker and Blanchard correct about their emphasis on the importance of learning to success?  Could this explain why many churches struggle to recruit leaders for various ministry needs?  Is this the primary reason that many churches are plateaued and declining?


A Memory from the Past

As I have contemplated these questions, I have thought about an event that occurred just before my dad died.  My dad had undergone surgery for a brain tumor.  The surgery had impacted his short term memory and thus when he wanted to tell you something that came to mind, he did so before he would lose the thought.  We were watching television when dad leaped to his feet and called me into his little study just off the family room.  He asked me if I wanted any of his books since he would no longer need them. 

As I looked them over, I thought about my childhood when I would enter the house and find my dad lovingly reading his Bible and his books.  Books were a part of our home and my childhood.  I glanced at the top shelf and noticed all the “old” study course books that dad had led his people to read together while he was pastor.  Many of these were about Sunday school and church growth.  Others, however, were about key doctrinal issues.  All were written for and studied by laymen. 

My reflections led me to think back on the times when I would accompany my dad when he would speak at a sister church.  We would walk the hallways of the education building and I would always be impressed by the certificates displayed on the wall that indicated how many study course credits various teachers had earned. 

I have since pondered what impact the reading of these books had on our people and their churches in the decades when Southern Baptists experienced their most rapid growth.  From 1940 to 1960 Southern Baptist increased enrollment in Bible study from 3,590,038 to 7,382,550.  During that same period baptisms increased from 245,500 to 386,469.  Last year baptisms totaled 332,321.  Sunday School enrolment peaked in 2004 to more than 8.2 million. Last year, it had dropped over half a million to 7.6 million.

According to one source: "There was only one baptism for every 48 Southern Baptists in the country in 2010. Sixty years ago, there one baptism per every 19 church members. In eight out of 10 years, the number of baptisms performed have declined."

I believe there is a direct correlation.  Church leaders were reading and growing and this, in turn, led to numerical and evangelistic growth for churches.  Let’s paraphrase Eker’s file.  “The effective read and grow.  The apathetic think they already know.” 

A Call to Action

Luke gives us a glimpse at Jesus’ childhood.  His summary statement concerning Jesus’ development is found in 2:52; “And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”  Notice the emphasis on “continual” growth and on balanced growth which included wisdom which would include the ability to apply knowledge.  Earlier we are given a glimpse of Jesus’ growing hunger for a greater understanding of the Scriptures as we find Him in the temple listening and asking questions of the teachers (46). 

Somehow I had overlooked verse 47.  “And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.”  At some point during the day the tables turned and the wise scholars began to ask questions of Jesus who demonstrated an amazing understanding of God’s Word.  What had been the source of such great knowledge?  Remember the incarnation means that the boy Jesus was fully man.  No doubt Jesus’ parents had taught Him the Scriptures from infancy, developing in Him the desire to “keep increasing” in wisdom. 

Later when Jesus was asked by a lawyer concerning the great commandment He responded; “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37).  I hear more emphasis on loving God with all your heart and soul than I do loving God with all your mind. 

This is a call to action.  Let’s love God with all our mind.  Such a commitment would require that we renew our commitment to reading God’s Word and supplementing that with other good biblical materials that call us to action.  If you struggle with reading, get help for the glory of the King and the sake of the kingdom.  You can also buy or borrow good books on tape.  Further it would mean that we renew our commitment to Scripture memory. 

Effective Christians read and grow. 


Ken Hemphill will be speaking at some of our All Star Sunday School Training Events. To attend an event, or host an event. see http://allstarsundayschool.com/