The other day, my six-year old son visited the church office and asked, “Daddy, why do you have so many books?”
My first answer was practical: “Because I like to read.”
My second answer was theological: “And pastors have to learn in order to serve a church.”
It was another way of saying that we pastors (most are avid readers anyway) require some old-fashioned odds and ends that many professions no longer need. In this case, books. Good, hardy paper-and-glue bound books.
A pastor’s library needs to be robust and diverse because it contributes to a minister’s professional development in ministry. Without some basic building blocks in that library, a pastor will not be able to “gain in learning” and “discern wisdom with acquired skill” (Proverbs 1:5).
There are about four building blocks in a pastor’s study. The first block includes a variety of study Bibles and translations. Without God’s Word, all else is entertainment.
I know that some pastors are adamant about a translation, but I’ve come to learn that no, single English translation is perfect. Nor are any study Bibles.
Last Sunday, for example, we discussed 2 Kings 2:23-25, about the prophet Elisha divinely influencing two bears to maul over 40 boys because they dishonored him.
All of us in the class were stumped by this unsettling story, so we turned to various translations and study Bibles for help.
Some study Bibles said some things, while some said another. All agreed, however, that the story emphasized Elisha’s power in bringing about God’s judgment as an heir to Elijah’s power.
The study Bibles didn’t provide us with any concrete answers, but it inspired lively discussion.
A second building block includes books that encourage deeper faith, primarily devotional literature. Since many of us received our call to ministry after our salvation experience, there is a good chance our oldest books are related to the Christian life and prayer.
I still have copies of The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A’Kempis and My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers that I’ve used since high school. These books continue to challenge my faith and bring great conviction.
The next part of a pastor’s library involves a good set of Bible commentaries. It doesn’t matter how many books a pastor reads, nothing can replace commentaries in preparing for the preaching of God’s Word. Every pastor has a favorite series.
I always enjoy William Barclay’s The Daily Bible Study series and the older, regal Interpreter’s Bible Commentary. There are some new commentaries series from a diverse set of authors also, such as the Catholic-leaning Sacra Pagina New Testament series.
For novice pupils of the Bible who want to build a good home library, one-volume commentaries work just as well. I have found The Bible Reader’s Companion by Lawrence Richards and Our Daily Homily by F. B. Meyer to be particularly useful. A one-commentary volume on the New Testament by Eugene Boring and Fred Craddock, The People’s Commentary is insightful and fun to read.
Rounding out the pastor’s library are two types of books: One type helps interpret the Bible more deeply; and a second helps the pastor interpret culture more deeply.
The first type range from homiletics (the study of the art of preaching) to hermeneutics (the art of Bible interpretation).
The second type is broad, with books related to current events, culture or ethics, church history, and theology. Two books I read recently are The Urban Pulpit by Matthew Bowman, a history of mainline churches in Manhattan; and The Social Media Gospel by Meredith Gould, which discusses the necessity and uses of social media for evangelism and outreach.
I’m currently reading God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality, by Phyllis Tribble, a classical work in feminist theology pertaining to the Old Testament. I’m finding the book’s insights on Genesis 1-2 invaluable.
Aside from all of the visits, crises, events, committee meetings, and errands to which pastors attend, there must still be time to read, study, and prepare each week for that next presentation, sermon, or Bible study. It never ends, and without a study to call home, such struggles would be all the more difficult.