Working your Sermon Library

Working your Sermon Library article helps pastors and Christian workers in building a Christian Reference Library to use in producing sermons and classes.

Introduction by Pastor David Cox

I studied in Bob Jones University for 7 years. 4 in my B.A., and three more years between two Masters degrees. During that time, I was a “preacher boy” or ministerial student, and I preached during those years both on campus for my classes at times as well as preaching opportunities off campus. I used their library much, especially for study of my Bible classes. Without throw dirt on the Bob Jones educational system, the Bible classes and chapel services etc., the biggest spiritual blessing I received from my years at Bob Jones that stays with me until today is simply my spiritual times with books in the library.

God used the Bible to change and form and mold me into what He wanted me to be. That only happened because I spent time reading and meditating both on God’s Word and what books I read about the Bible. I truly do not believe that would have been possible sitting at my parents home and not having gone off to Bible College. So the chapel services, the Bible classes and their assignments, as well as the entire Christian environment all attributed to the conditions that allowed me to grow spiritually.

I appreciate good books on the Bible.

During that time in Bob Jones, I started my Christian Reference Library as most ministerial students did in those days. I bought books. There was a booklist (still around today I believe) that offered sales, and the student bookstore also had books. There was no other way to collect books in those days.

From my point of view, your ministry will never be all that it could be if you do not study long and hard, and as a factor of that studying, what resources you have will make all the difference in the world. I am not a fan nor follower of Pastor John MacArthur, but I have read some of his books. Excellent works! But from what I understand about him, he probably has any and every book in his library that he could need or use from sermon or book writing. He probably has staff helpers that collect these and lay them out for him to do a lot of the “dirty work” before he even opens the first book.

Study the Bible before you study other Books

Your first order of business is to get your overall message, the idea. You need to study the Bible before you turn to other books about the Bible. (See my explanation of Study the Bible before other books here). The concept of letting the Bible interpret itself is thoroughly biblical and should be your guide.

Build your library with good Books

Above all things, try to get the best books that you can. Note that it is possible today with the Internet, and free pdf books for example, to have an exhaustive library with so much stuff that you will never get through it all in any Bible study preparation for a sermon.

You need to know how to read a book before you get too many books in your library, and even then, you should have a good short list of what you have. By a short list, you need to know what type of work it is, how it is presented, and the doctrinal orientation of the author. See How to Read a Christian Book.

Some good Bible Programs

  • theWord – My first choice, free (PC, Mac via program)
  • – also free (PC, Mac via program)
  • – free (only for Android phones)

Overview of a Good Christian Reference Library

I have been building my Christian Reference Library since around 1970s. I enter Bible college in 1976. I had some Christian books that I took with me when I went off to College to study the Bible. Over the years, we have changed things greatly.

In the old days, there were only paper and ink books. Frankly, that was all any preacher knew as the era of Personal Computers had not started. There were lists of good reference books floating around back in those days, and there were Bible Bookstores with a large selection of books. Unfortunately, most people had a very limited budget, and the doctrinal orientation of who decides what books a Christian Bookstore buys was also a limitation (plus the availability of any given “good book”).

At one point we had to move to digital and the situation changed drastically. But the problems are the same.

#1 You have no books on a subject

This is the key problem for preachers and Bible students. The companion problem is that you have a bunch of books, but you have no way of finding that section in the book that deals with it. The problem is simply with paper books, there were indices in the back of each one, and it was the student’s knowledge about his library that would tip him off to look in one of those indexes for a topic. In the age of computers, I tried adding the index topics of a few of my books on 3×5 cards and then into a computer database. Neither was very good. I only did about 30 books, most systematic theologies, and I finally just review the actual paper and ink books in their table of contents or subject indexes instead of hand entering any of that information.

#2 You cannot find information (that exists in one of your books)

Again this is done away with if you use a Bible program and it allows a cross book search. theWord will allow you to search all the topics (chapters) of all of your books or a subsection of them. It will also allow you to search the entire text of all of your books in your library. But the one singular requirement is that the book has to be in theWord format. This is the same in e-Sword. If you have your entire library in Adobe Acrobat PDF format, that program allows you to also search all text of all your pdf books. (You will not find this by chapter titles though). As a problem in this mess, any theWord or eSword book that has cryptic titles will frustrate your study efforts also. I have come across a very few old books where the author simply used Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc. This tells you nothing about the contents of the chapter. I have tried putting revealing titles to each chapter and unfortunately a precusory reading of the chapter doesn’t tell you what it is about either. Frustrating. But these books probably will have few “gold mines” in them anyway.

#3 You cannot tell what or how much the author discusses the topic.

With theWord, the number of times the keyword occurs in a chapter is indicated, so if you search for “propitiation” or “atonement”, each chapter found with that word will have a number beside it (number of occurrences in that chapter) so you can go directly to the book and chapter where it is most mentioned. In my studies, that is not always an indicator of the best treatment of the subject, but in general a passing mention versus a treatment mentioning the keyword half a dozen times is usually represented by the number of occurrences as a safe guide.

#4 You are searching for the wrong keyword.

This is simply a problem in your head, not the books. You cannot blame the computer or your library for this. And this is a serious problem. If you don’t “grab” the right key words, you won’t find information on it. At times when I am coming up with nothing, I will go to google and google it. Google will offer the correct spelling if it is wrong. Also not that in a very few cases, the old King James English is the problem. “Savior” and “Saviour” will produce totally different results.

Also if you look at Google, some of those pages may give you a clue to a better keyword. For example, searching for “propitiation” is not going to find as many hits as searching for “atonement”. Keep that in mind, but you probably would want to track down both options in a study on this.

More Posts on Improving Preaching Issues

Pastor David Cox is a missionary. See my ministry updates here.