Books are expensive! How can a pastor purchase books when he has a limited budget?
God has promised to supply our needs. If a man’s determination to be a good student is the real thing, God will see to it that he has the tools he needs. God does not provide luxuries, but He does supply needs.
Often, honoraria can be used for books. You and your wife should have an agreement about this. Sometimes it means real sacrifice on your part to get a much-needed book. When you buy books, you do not spend money-you invest it.
Many churches now have a book fund for the pastor. Some churches have even enrolled in book clubs and other money-saving plans to secure books for the pastor’s library and for the church library. Of course, the books purchased for the pastor with this fund belong to the pastor, not to the church.
Watch for bargains in books: publisher’s overstock sales, shopworn items, and special sales at conferences. Visit the secondhand stores in your area, the Goodwill Industries or Salvation Army. Often you will find excellent volumes at very low prices.
There are still a few used book outlets overseas. If you get on their mailing list, they send you lists of books regularly. Used books can come into the country duty free. One such outlet is: The Lamp Press, St. Martin’s House, 29A Ludgate Hill, London E. C. 4, England. If the books you order from the catalog are available, they will be sent to you with the invoice. Pay your bill immediately! We visited a London book shop and the manager showed us an embarrassing list of names of American pastors who owed him money. Brethren, such things ought not so to be!
Finally, never buy a book you don’t need simply because it is cheap! A useless book is not a bargain; it is a thief.
What kind of reading should I do, apart from preparation for preaching and teaching?
Wide reading is valuable to a growing pastor. Everything you read can be used in your ministry. Bishop Quayle observed, “Every department of human thought must be the preacher’s concern, solely because he is a man.”
A man’s interests and tastes will dictate much of his reading, but he must avoid reading the same kind of book over and over. By all means get a library card and use it! During your pastoral visitation, stop at the library for a quarter of an hour and browse among the books. Note the special shelves containing new listings. Most libraries issue regular bulletins with their new titles listed, so get on the mailing list. Read book reviews in your metropolitan papers and the better magazines, secular and religious.
Along with contemporary books, the pastor should read the newspaper and a good news magazine. All of them have their faults, so select those that do the most for you. Of course, you will want to read the best in religious journalism, too.
An ideal time to catch up on your magazine and newspaper reading is just before and after meals. Pastors who are privileged to have lunch at home with the wife can use part of their lunch period for relaxing reading (providing the wife does not have some crisis she wants to discuss). Ten or fifteen minutes devoted to reading before and after your evening meal will help both mind and body. It is amazing how much reading can be done when you invest short segments of time wisely.
Ask your pastor friends, and the good readers in your church, what they are reading. Often a recommended book becomes just the thing you were looking for.
While focusing on the contemporary, don’t ignore the great books of the past. Wasn’t it Mark Twain that defined a “classic” as “a book everybody talks about but nobody reads”? There are some books that we ought to read and know simply because they are permanent fixtures in American writing: books such as Moby Dick, Walden, Pilgrim’s Progress (it is amazing how many pastors have never read Bunyan’s classic!), and The Scarlet Letter. To go back even farther, what about the Illiad and Odyssey, Boswell’s Life of Johnson, Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, and a host of other classics? Many pastors take a classic along on vacation and read it. At first, their reading is a chore; and then the spell grips them and they say, “Is this what I have been missing all these years?”
A pastor cannot afford to be a “bookworm,” but neither can he afford to ignore books. The secret is balance, and it may take you time to discover your own best schedule.
I am not the student type. I am more the active type. How can I discipline myself to be a better student?
When God calls, God equips and enables. God may not make you another Calvin, but He will help you fulfill your own potential. He will give you a love for the Word and a desire to study it and obey it. Not only do you need the Word for yourself, but you need it in order to feed your people. A careless ministry is a curse, and sorry is that congregation that must listen to a pastor who is unwilling to prepare himself and his messages.
What is “the student type” after all? Are you thinking of an ivory-tower scholar who so lives in his books that he does not know what day it is? Then thank God you are not “the student type”! One of the qualifications for the pastor is “apt to teach” (1 Ti 3:2); and “apt to teach” involves “apt to learn.” The Greek word here is didaktikos; it has come into the English language as didactic- “fitted to teach, instructive.” We must be receivers if we would be transmitters. The pastor cannot afford to be like the spider, and spin everything out of his own mind; nor can he be like the ant, and steal morsels from others. He must be like the bee and gather nectar, but “make his own honey.” (Bacon used this comparison; we borrowed it from him.) Or, to change the image, the pastor “milks a lot of cows, but he churns his own butter.”
Scholarship is a stewardship; we will answer for the use of our time, abilities, education and opportunities. With God’s help, the pastor who hated Greek can learn to use and enjoy the basic tools of the language, and no doubt enrich his life and ministry. The more we do a thing, the easier it ought to become. Many pastors used to hate going visiting; but the more they visited, the more they enjoyed and appreciated it. So with studying: give yourself time to grow and hit your stride. But don’t use the excuse, “I’m not the student type.” There is no “student type.” Paul’s words are as true today as when he wrote them: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Ti 2 :15 ). And while you are in 2 Timothy, take time to read 3:13-17.
To summarize: your own personal needs, the needs of your people, and the wickedness of this evil day all demand that we be the best students possible. The sword of the Spirit is as sharp as ever, but we must perfect our handling of it in the battle.
©2002 WWW used by permission. This article is copyrighted by the author and is for your individual use. Reproduction for any other purpose is governed by copyright laws and is strictly prohibited. This material originally appeared in When Pastors Wonder How by Howard F. Sugden & Warren W. Wiersbe, (Chicago, Il.: Moody Press, 1974), p. 66-69.
Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).