Interview with Mark Atteberry

By Brad Dupray

Mark Atteberry’s enthusiasm for reading has shaped his life and improved his preaching. He has been in the preaching ministry for 37 years, beginning while he was a student at St. Louis Christian College. For the past 22 years Mark has served as senior minister with Poinciana Christian Church in Kissimmee, Florida. He has written eight published books, including Free Refill, Let It Go, and So Much More Than Sexy, all available from Standard Publishing. Two more in the works include his first novel, a romantic thriller. Read more about Mark and his books at www.MarkAtteberry.net.

 

What inspires you about reading?
I read for several reasons. I read to educate myself. I read to be entertained. I read for the sake of my ministry and trying to learn how to be a better preacher or leader. There are millions and millions of books floating around, but to find that one that connects with you is a real special experience. Finding a book that is truly special in your life from among the millions that are out there is the thrill of the hunt.

Do you ever find reading to be drudgery?
I don’t read anything I don’t enjoy. There are so many great books out there, so if I tear into a book and it’s not speaking to me, I just don’t finish it. I’m not going to waste my time reading something that doesn’t speak to me.

Don’t you feel like you might miss something if you set a book aside?
I talk to readers a lot and one of the things I hear people say is, “I can’t stand to leave a book unread!” I feel just the opposite. I don’t feel obligated to give my time to an author for a book that’s not speaking to me in an impactful way. That’s not an insult to the author, it just might not be a book that’s written for me. There will be other people out there who will be blessed by that book.

Is a love for reading something people are born with, or can it be taught?
It can be an acquired taste. It was for me. I’ve known a lot of people in my ministry who when I first met them they were not readers, but as they grew in their faith they gradually, through their growth as Christians, developed a passion for the Word and have become readers.

Are you drawn to a specific genre?
I love fiction. When I read a novel that blows me away, I’ll loan it out to somebody. A lot of times I’ve given books to people I knew weren’t readers and have seen them develop a love for reading through that book. Nonreaders don’t realize what they’re missing! I get so much more out of a book than a movie. It impacts me more deeply. It touches my heart more.

What do you think causes that deeper impact?
I try to read 50 pages a day. So a 600-page novel takes me 12 days to read. So for 12 days I can be wrapped up in that story. If I go to a movie, it’s over in two hours and I move on with my life. If I read the same story in novel form, it may be two weeks of enjoyment. I think people just don’t realize what they’re missing when they don’t read. Other entertainment options are so shallow—like movies, television, music—so much of it is terribly shallow and tawdry, almost empty. I would much rather wrap myself up in a book, whether it’s something nonfiction that’s going to edify me or a novel that’s just going to entertain me. I feel a book is almost always the better entertainment option.

There’s more than the entertainment value, isn’t there?
Pat Williams, senior vice president of the Orlando Magic, is a good friend of mine. Pat has written close to 70 books. He says if you read five books on any subject, you become an expert on that subject. In other words, you will know more about that subject than 95 percent of the people in the world. So you could read five books on Abraham Lincoln, or the Civil War, or Babe Ruth—pick a topic—and when you get done with those books you will know more than 95 percent of the people in the world! Think of the implications of that. If you want to be an expert on anything, whatever your passion or interest is, you’re five books away! It might take you six months or a year, but in that time you can know more about a given subject than 95 percent of the people in the world. That’s mind-bending.

What draws you to fiction over other genres?
I believe a novel can speak to you. There are situations where you can ask yourself, “Would I do that?” when you see what characters are doing. You can get a lot of education out of a novel. I read novels set in Russia that taught me a lot about socialism. A novel can be a tremendous educational tool. I really believe novels deserve a lot more respect than they get from Christians. Novels speak in a powerful way. If you disagree with that, go into any bookstore and see the size of the fiction section. Jesus taught in parables because he understood that stories connect with people. I read a lot of different kinds of books, but I have a passion for novels.

How does someone become a well-rounded reader?
I believe you have to read what you like. Nobody’s going to stick with anything if they’re not enjoying it. When I started reading, I started with novels. I just love a good story, period. Then I branched out from there and started reading other things. Mostly my curiosity for other genres was based on my work and wanting to know more about God and my relationship with him. You read according to your interest and your need. You should read a book because you want to read it, and if you don’t enjoy it you should set it aside and read something you do enjoy. There’s nothing wrong with finding a favorite genre and sticking with it. If you like reading biographies, stick with it. If you like fiction, stick with it.

How do you inspire someone to read who might not have that inclination—or can you?
I do think some people are just nonreaders. Some people just struggle with reading. There are people who just don’t have time to read. Like a single mom with three kids, working all day, picking up kids from school, feeding them, bathing them, and putting them to bed at 9:30—she’s going to fall asleep on the first page. Reading can be a challenge to eyesight for some people. I’ve had people tell me that if they read for 10 minutes their eyes start burning. In each of these cases audio books can be an interesting option.

There’s a convenience factor there, too.
On most smart phones you can download the audible.com app, buy audio books, and load them onto your cell phone. You can listen to them in the car or in your bed at night when you’re going to sleep. I have a friend who says every book he “reads” is an audio book that he actually listens to. He’s a doctor who works long hours, but has a 20-minute commute each way. So for 40 minutes a day he’s digesting a book. That’s a great option for people who are pressed for time or just don’t read well.

Some people say the cost of books is prohibitive.
I almost never pay full price for a book. I started when I was in college by going to thrift stores. I would say 95 percent of the books I’ve purchased in my life have been from either a used bookstore or a thrift store. That has a couple of benefits. One is, I never pay full price for a book. Also, I’m exposed to a lot of books I would never find in a chain bookstore. They’re going to pretty much have the new stuff and big sellers. That leaves a whole world of books out there that are 5, 10, 15, 20 years old, or more, that you wouldn’t see if you went to one of the chain bookstores.

Aren’t some of those books outdated?
Some of my all-time favorite books would be considered old books by most people. That’s a tremendous benefit of buying and looking for old books. I think the key to reading is to expand your horizons. I run by the thrift store once a week on my lunch hour and scan through the books. I would say three out of four trips I walk out empty-handed, but on the one week I’ve got something I’m interested in reading.

Have you tried to keep up with the explosion of resources, or do you just stick with printed books?
I have gravitated toward e-books. Not completely, because I’m a “paper-book” guy. I’m old-fashioned, but my wife and I ran into trouble (she’s as much of a bookaholic as I am!). We eventually ran out of bookshelves in our home. So when e-reader technology came along, we decided to give it a try—mostly just for space reasons.

Are you able to find the books you’re looking for in the e-reader format?
Now that we have it, we realize that it’s kind of a treasure trove. People would never believe how much free stuff is out there—free books that publishers put out there week by week. Publishers are trying to get you hooked on some author or genre. I go to BarnesAndNoble.com with my Nook and see what free stuff they’ve put up this week. The cost of reading comes way down. Lots of stuff is free, lots of stuff is 99 cents or $1.99. So I think that whole technology thing with e-reading and e-books is a real blessing to readers. I will always prefer a paper book, but if you want to open up a whole new world, the e-reader is a good option.

What has surprised you the most about your love for reading?
Reading turned my life upside down, because it turned me into a writer. If you had said to me when I was 21 that someday you’re going to be a writer and have books published, I would have laughed you out of the room. But once I started reading and that interest caught fire, I was so into books I thought I would like to try writing someday. I became a writer because I became a reader.

What has writing done for you?
Some of my best friends are in the publishing business. All of that is a huge part of my life and it all comes back to the fact that I picked up a book and started reading one day. Regardless of the money—you do get paid for writing books—travel and speaking engagements have come and my ministry has had influence around the world that never would have happened otherwise. I’ve received letters from readers in 17 different countries. When I look at my life and what it’s like today and think of what my life would have been like if I hadn’t picked up a passion for reading, it would be dramatically different.

Reading changed your life.
The ripple effects of me picking up that very first book and thinking, wow, I like this, is just phenomenal. I couldn’t have projected 35 years into the future to see what effect the written word would have. I just think people don’t know what they’re missing. Relax, get yourself a cup of tea, and read for 45 minutes. Do that every day and it’s astonishing what it can do for you!

 

Brad Dupray is president of Church Development Fund, Irvine, California.

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