You used to be able to tell a lot about a preacher—and about his preaching—simply by walking into his library. If it was filled with catchy titles, how-to manuals, frothy experience-oriented fluff, as well as second-rate commentaries, you could know that isn’t the place to hang your hat as a church member. But things have changed. Now, a man can have an entire library on a computer’s disc that includes volumes that were once inaccessible, and with translations galore at his fingertips. It has become very hard to judge a man by his books (unless he‘s an old foggy like some of us), because all of the good stuff can be hidden away on a hard drive.
But, were you to be able to become aware of what he has on shelves and on disks—and how frequently the good stuff is used—you’d know what you used to know from visiting his library.
Preacher, we can’t tell anymore. That may be a blessing to all. But one thing is true: you know what your library (of both books and computer programs) is like, and of greater importance, you know how often you use the resources at your disposal. We don’t know, until we hear you preach. Then, over a period of time, we can surmise what kind of sources you are using and how hard you are working at exegesis.
What a preacher focuses on will determine what kind of ministry he has. Is it an exegetically-based ministry, or is a ministry of the popularization of modern themes? Do you really feed hungry sheep the bread of life, or do you hand over hand-me-downs from other preachers? Do you focus on sensational topics? Are you a prophecy hound? Do you always avoid the tough passages? Are your people being entertained—or are they learning? Do your people go away challenged, convicted, caring? Does your preaching edify? These should be matters of deep concern.
It has been historically true, and doubtless is and will continue to be true, that a man who is well read, who has good sources and uses them well, is more likely to have a fruitful and longer ministry than the one who doesn’t. He will tend to become a better exegete, he will be well-read in biblical and church history, he will be able to draw upon a wealth of systematic and practical theology, and his congregation will become the better for it. How does your library look, pastor?
Speaking of exegesis, how do you do it? Do you cobble together bits and pieces from various commentaries into some explanation of the preaching portion? Or do you do the hard work of figuring out for yourself what the passage says, using various commentaries to help you? Between these two approaches to the text, there is a large difference. That for which you have worked will come through in your preaching as authentic. That which has been cribbed from some commentator who did the work, will come through as inauthentic (unless, of course, you are an astute actor). Hard work requires using a goodly number of sources to help you come to valid decisions about a passage. But it doesn’t mean abusing them by mere copying. Are you guilty of this sin, preacher? If so, repent, and begin to do the right thing that you know, down deep, you ought to be doing. Rightly handling the Word of God is not only work, but a great responsibility.