Thoughts of a Country Preacher

The Monday morning ruminations of a pastor.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Pastor and His Study

2 Timothy 2:15 Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

One night after Sunday evening services, a group of my twenty something’s came over to my house to see something on my computer. We came into my home office, and as I was getting my computer warmed up, one of them looked around my office and said, "You’ve got more books than the library does!"

This is not true; the town library does have more books than I do; though I might be able to claim to have more good books than the library does. But since they were there and interested I decided to use it as a teaching moment for those serving and being groomed to serve. I told them about how, as a teacher, I didn’t have the privilege of giving people my personal opinion or my best guess – I deal in truth, so when I teach, I have to have my facts straight, and that means only one thing – study.

One year ago today, I was in the home stretch of my seminary education & I was excited. By this time, I had already accepted a position at my current church & figured after a strong finish in seminary, I would be home free – no more long hours of study until the wee hours of the night. No more last minute trips to the library to get those last few sources I needed. No more long papers. It was going to be great.

Boy was I wrong. As a pastor, I find my self writing, and now memorizing what are effectively two six to eight page research papers a week. On top of that, I spend several hours a week going through old class notes and my various systematics to get ready for my Wed. night theology classes, and going over class notes and various books/articles to prepare myself for my personal evangelism class on Sunday nights. If anything, I’ve had to study harder to be a pastor than I did to be a student. Tack onto that my personal reading schedule, and at times I feel like I am in a constant state of study.

Given the stresses of day to day life, apathy and even hostility toward study, and other various factors, I know many of my brothers in ministry have neglected this area of life. But we do so to our detriment. God has called us to teach our people the truth, but to do that; we must first be well versed in it. So, if you will, allow me to offer a few suggestions to help you plan your study to make it a worthwhile pursuit.

First – Read several different genres of books.
When I go into a pastor’s study, I can usually tell what his hobbyhorse is, because all of his books are devoted to one particular area. If he is interested in marriage enrichment, he will have several shelves of enrichment books. If he wants to be a better leader, he will have every Maxwell and Collins book published. If he is interested in theology, all he will have are systematics. I am not saying that these subjects are necessarily bad. But if studied to the exclusion of all else, they can become bad. Have a balanced reading diet. I try to keep a cycle going where I read a theology book, a practical ministry book, a biography, and a work of fiction.

Second – Buy books that argue against positions you hold.
In my library, I have several books that are Christian classics – books I would gladly suggest to others. Books written by men like Dever, Rainer, Piper, and Ware, these are books you just cannot go wrong with. But I also have books that I would never suggest to others. Books like Spong’s "Why Christianity Must Change or Die," and Pinnock’s "Most Moved Mover." Why would I buy such things? Well, to quote Dr. R. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, "ministers must know the truth to teach it, and the error to defend against it." I would like to add that books like this help us think more clearly about doctrines we cling to, and can help us reconsider or own errors. I was once quite hostile towards reformed theology until I bought Steele’s "The Five Points of Calvinism." After reading this book I understood reformed thought better, and eventually came to a point of acceptance.

Third - Read Biographies
My own life and ministry has been greatly encouraged by those who have gone before me. By reading biographies, we learn of every aspect of our subject. Not just the successes that everyone hears about, but also their fears, failures and trials. The lives of men like Luther, Spurgeon, Billy Sunday, D. L. Moody, and others have taught me what a life of ministry will look like through the years. They have also taught me where some of the pitfalls of that life are, and hopefully will help me avoid them in the future.

Fourth - Focus more on individual commentaries as opposed to commentary sets.
Have at least one full commentary set in your library. MacArthur’s New Testament series is a good one, Barclay’s set is a good one, and I even enjoy McGee’s set quite a bit. But you will find that if you only buy sets, they will start to get repetitive. So, keep your ears to the ground for good individual commentaries, and buy them.

Fifth – Stay Up to Date with Your Studies
This sad scenario has been repeated all too often. I meet with a pastor, and we stop to look at his library. Then I start to realize that most of his books were published at about the same time he was in seminary. His library tells me something sad, "I stopped studying after seminary." New books keep our minds expanding, which keeps us out of ministerial ruts. Ever wonder why some pastors are so stuck in the past? It’s probably because their books are only from the past. Keep in touch with publishers, they will usually be glad to send you a flyer highlighting their new releases. When one seems interesting to you, order it.

Sixth – Join an Academic Society
Dues to these societies are usually pretty cheap, and come with great benefits. There are the networks of other scholars, most usually talk about books just published in their field (remember #5), and they review books, helping you weed out the good and the bad. They also publish quarterly periodicals that address various issues. Right now I am a member of the Evangelical Theological Society, and the American Society of Church Growth – both good organizations. I am also considering joining the Society of Biblical Literature, but have not yet made up my mind on it.

Seventh – Consider Continuing Your Education
Given the growth of online degrees, you no longer have to uproot and move across the country for a good education. Consider working on a D Min, or something like that. Anything that will motivate you to study harder.

Finally - Keep a List of Your Books
As I get new books, I log them into an excel program based on title, author, call number, ISBN, and price. This has several benifits to it. First, as your library grows, the search and find functions will help you quickly locate the items you need. Also if, God forbid, there should be a fire, your records will help your insurance company replace your library.

How do I get my books?
First, I talked my wife into a $100 a month budget for books, and then I stretch that budget to the limit. Mostly I shop online for used books; they are cheaper, and as long as you’re careful about what you buy, in pretty good shape. I go to places like,,,, and . Overstock is a secular site that deals with a lot of stuff, but when they have the Christian book you’re looking for, their prices can’t be beat. Also, keep up with your older pastor friends. I’ve had several retire from the ministry and donate substantial portions of their library to help further my ministry.

Need some direction on what books to buy?
Check out . This is a list of books compiled by Dr. Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. The list he provides will help you build what I would consider the basic pastoral library. It will be a good place to start.

Also, I should mention that there is currently a contest to win a theological library at He says that in order to be put in for the drawing, all you have to do is:

"Blog about it and link back to this (his) post. After you have made your post use the comment section below (on his blog) to let me (him) know where I can find your blog post and link.

- Mention it in a forum. Many people that don’t blog participate in forums. Try to find an appropriate topic for something like this, and mention it along with the URL (of his blog) so that others can find their way here. Then come back here and in the comment section (again, on his blog) below paste the link to that thread."

This blog is my entrance in this contest. I would encourage you to enter yourself, but the fact is that if you enter, there’s a better chance that I won’t win. So do what you will. :)

Your library says a lot about who you are as a minister, what is it saying about you?

Ezra 7:10 For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.


Blogger Kevin Stilley said...

Welcome to the contest! Good luck, ... or should I say "May providence reward your effort."

10:47 AM  

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