When your interests are many, it is easy to get lost in the great sea of “must read” books. Perusing the bookstore can be agonizing for us bibliophiles, as we discover the sheer volume of books demanding our attention. Upon reaching the cashier, I must often shed books collected during my journey through the bookstore.

After paring down many book carts over the years, I began mapping out a priority list to help me make tough book-buying decisions. My list was initially formed by categorizing books by degrees of interest. As I spent more and more time in ministry, I quickly realized the need to have a library reflective of my profession.

Pastors shepherd their congregations by the wisdom of Scripture and through the vehicle of discipleship. Therefore, pastors should be well read and prepared to care for the intellectual and spiritual needs of their people. The many demands of the pastorate require resources suited to the calling.

Creating Your Pastoral or Ministry Library

1. Bible Commentary & Exegetical Resources

The chief task of any pastor is to glorify God through the exposition of God’s Word. This requires an in-depth study of the Scriptures. To conduct such study, commentaries, dictionaries, lexica, and other textual tools are necessary to mine God’s Word for meaning and application. A few excellent resources to help you choose the best commentary (by book) are: D.A. Carson’s New Testament Commentary Survey ($13.47), paired with Tremper Longman’s Old Testament Commentary Survey ($14.80), and the Denver Journal’s annotated Old and New Testament bibliographies.

2. Church History

Pastors are public theologians who are expected to know the history of the Church. A robust understanding of church history is required to avoid heretical pitfalls. By knowing what the Church has affirmed, denied, and split over, you will have the contextual tools needed to evaluate doctrine. I recommend Bruce Shelly’s Church History in Plain Language ($20.37) and Roger Olson’s The Mosaic of Christian Belief ($15.39) as a primer. More advanced readers might consider purchasing Justo L. Gonzalez’s The Story of Christianity ($16.19).

3. Systematic Theology

After acquiring the tools to mine (through) Scripture and measure your findings against those of the Church historical, start searching for quality works of systematic theology. Systematic theologies will help you quickly survey the subjects of Scripture. Some systematics will focus on the historical development of certain doctrines, while others will focus on exegetical aspects of doctrine. I routinely use Gordon Lewis and Bruce Demarest’s three-volume Integrative Theology ($57.67), Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology ($31.11), and Thomas Oden’s Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology ($38.39).

4. Apologetics & Ethics

Gather apologetics and ethics resources to assist you in matters of discipleship, evangelization, doctrinal formulation, and more. Reference works in apologetics should include Doug Groothuis’s Christian Apologetics ($24.54), Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli’s Handbook of Christian Apologetics ($13.92), and Brian Morley’s Mapping Apologetics ($18.97). Also important are: C.S. Lewis’s Abolition of Man ($7.89), Francis Schaeffer’s The God Who Is There ($13.29), and J.P. Moreland’s Scaling the Secular City ($19.34). For ethics, purchase Louis Pojman’s Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong ($27.89), J. Budziszewski’s Written on the Heart ($17.18), and Scott Rae’s Moral Choices ($21.47).

5. Homiletics & Rhetoric

The first four categories focus on the “substance” of what a pastor should master and communicate. Works of homiletics and rhetoric should be read to help pastors refine their ability to preach and teach what has been mastered. Haddon Robinson’s book Biblical Preaching ($19.93) is a classic. I also like Andy Stanley and Lane Jones’s Communicating for a Change ($13.81), Mortimer Adler’s How to Speak, How to Listen ($14.33), Tim Keller’s Preaching ($15.26), and Os Guinness’s book Fool’s Talk ($14.63).

6. Christian Education & Pedagogy

Christian discipleship requires order and purpose. Without a plan to disciple your church, you will not create many disciples. Consult resources that will help you develop strong, enduring Christian education programs. For an inspiring take on discipleship, read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship ($9.99). To look at the biblical basis for Christian education and discipleship, read Dallas Willard’s The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teachings on Discipleship ($12.31). For contemporary models of discipleship, read Jonathan Dodson and Matt Chandler’s Gospel-Centered Discipleship ($11.51) and Brad House’s Community: Taking Your Small Group Off Life Support ($13.54).

7. Social Criticism

Instead of molding your church into the image of the culture, be a prophetic pastor who brings to light cultural norms that dishonor God. This requires much skill. It is not enough to merely point to blemishes in culture; people have need to see why cultural shortcomings matter and how we can go about fixing them. Reading culture critics will help you have eyes to see the diverging trajectories of culture and the Church. Indispensible are Os Guinness’s A Free People’s Suicide ($14.52), Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death ($12.59), Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind ($16.21), and Ronald Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger ($13.28).

8. Christian Biography

My last suggestion is to buy and read Christian biographies. It is helpful to set before you the exemplars that have shaped the pastorate and ministry as we know it. Read or listen to Warren Wiersbe’s 50 People Every Christian Should Know ($11.72). The chapter on Pastor Christmas Evans is especially worthwhile. Read Alister McGrath’s C.S. Lewis—A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet ($17.90), William F. Buckley’s Nearer, My God: An Autobiography of Faith ($15.05), George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life ($16.35), and G.K. Chesterton’s St. Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox ($8.95).

I hope that this rough outline will help you critically examine your method of building a pastoral library. Of course, there are other titles that could have been mentioned, but my aim was to get wheels turning rather than provide an exhaustive or authoritative list. Happy book hunting!

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