I have found it to be true, that as a general rule, people do not like to pay for maintenance, whether it is for their home or car, for example. Replacing the air conditioner on your home can be very costly, and after you’ve spent thousands of dollars, at least on the surface, you don’t have much to show for it. Sure, you’ve got a shiny new box sitting outside your home, but you can’t drive it, wear it, or eat it. The same goes for changing the oil in your car. You can spend $35 (or so), unless you have the time, gumption, and energy to change it yourself, and when it’s all said and done, you don’t really notice the difference. Your car handles the same. But if you don’t replace your defunct air conditioner or oil in your car, you can pay a steep price—you can find yourself walking to work on a hot, sweltering day!
The same can be said about preachers and sermon preparation. A good preacher typically has a good library. A good library consists of many books on a wide-range of subjects—exegetical commentaries, books on theology, church history, apologetics, preaching, and the like. A good library is necessary because, as well trained as a minister might be, when he gets his spiffy new diploma upon his graduation, it is not an ending but a new beginning—it is his license to learn. This means that as skillful as he might be in exegeting the Scriptures, he needs to consult commentaries and other resources to confirm his exegesis, learn, and sharpen his knowledge.
The problem is that few people in churches recognize the dynamic between a good library and good preaching. I think many people look at theological books as if they were pleasure reading rather than necessary tools—what a shovel is to a ditch-digger a library is to a minister—he can’t function properly without a good one.
Sadly, over the years, I have watched a number of pastoral calls fail to include money for books. Or if they do include money for books, it is a paltry sum. Would you expect a chef to create a sumptuous meal but not supply him with the necessary food to make the meal? Or to borrow a biblical analogy, I think far too many churches expect their pastors to make bricks without straw.
Just like the oil in your car, you might not notice the immediate pay-off, but a well-read pastor is a well-equipped pastor—one who can preach well informed, biblically accurate, faithful sermons. Churches should not expect their pastors to take their own money, though thousands of pastors do, to purchase books. If the church benefits from the preaching of the word, then part of the cost of “doing business,” if you will, is to ensure the pastor has an adequate library. And keep in mind, the pastor needs to have sole access to these books. They should not be part of the church’s library where other people might check the books out. A pastor needs to be able to have them on hand, mark them up, make notes in them, and even purchase books that would bore the average church member to tears but is crucial for the proper understanding of a theological subject.
Hence, if your church doesn’t have line-item in its budget for your pastor’s books, respectfully inquire why it doesn’t. At a minimum, if it is financially able, a church should invest at least $1,200 per year ($100 per month) in their pastor’s library; a better amount might be $200 per month. This higher amount is especially true for freshly minted pastor who needs to build a library. This might sound expensive, but the spiritual dividends far outweigh the financial investment—one that benefits not only the preacher’s labors but the people in the pew who hear the preaching on a weekly basis. If you are a pastor who receives such a benefit, do not squander it! Use it well—study hard and diligently prepare each week to bring the word of God to your congregation.