Having a well-stocked personal library is a key part of Christian ministry:
It will not come as a surprise to my readers that I have a soft spot for books – and bookstores, and libraries, and anything to do with reading. So to defend the importance of books and reading is something I have often written about. (In fact, as I type these words, it occurs to me I need to create a new category on my website to house all these pieces!)
The Christian worker should be a reader – certainly the Christian leader. Leaders are readers. As Theodore Roosevelt put it: “If you want to lead, you must read.” Or as Charles Spurgeon said, “Give yourself unto reading. The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own. You need to read.”
Of course the Christian pastor or teacher needs to be a reader. Thus there is a place for developing your own personal library. Good books are the tools of your trade, and they will be your allies for life. At least that is what I have to tell my wife when she informs me that more money was spent last month on books than on food!
But seriously, they are indeed a vital part of ministry. And I was quite delighted when I got a message recently from a social media friend with a photo of some highlighted text. I said it looked good to me, but only the book title and page number appeared. But I thought I knew which author it was, so I went to a nearby book shelf and there it was.
I pulled my copy of this book down and went to the page in question and read it through in its larger context. The book is Puritan Reformed Theology by Joel Beeke (Reformation Heritage Books, 2020). The passage is found on pages 545-546, which is part of Chapter 30, “The Minister’s Helpmeet.” It seemed quite useful so I thought that I might as well turn it into an article.
After all, I have long been a fan of Beeke, and I wrote him up here for example (and of interest, of the several hundred books he has written, the one that I discuss here is the one featured in the pic I used in that older article): https://billmuehlenberg.com/2021/10/21/joel-beeke-on-puritan-and-reformed-thought/
One section of that chapter is called “The Sobriety of a Pastor’s Helpmeet.” Let me share this short section in full:
Paul told Timothy that the wife of an office bearer must be “sober.” This rules out drunkenness or drug abuse, of course, but it also refers more broadly to exercising clear thinking and self-control. A pastor’s wife must be ruled by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, not her passions and desires. She must be watchful and vigilant (2 Tim. 4:5; 1 Peter 5:8). The Bible associates this clear-headed sobriety with the hope that Christ will return (1 Thess. 5:6, 8; 1 Peter 1:13; 4:7).
Sobriety is the root of the flower, from which the stem grows and by which the whole flower is nourished. It is a mind-set and attitude shaped by the doctrines of the Bible, especially the doctrines of God’s grace in Christ manifested in His past death on the cross. His present work in sanctifying our lives, and His future coming in glory (Titus 2:11-14).
As a pastor’s wife, you should cultivate your mind in communion with Christ. You should read God’s Word, meditate on His truth, and have daily personal devotions. You should also read good books. I understand that your schedules are full from dawn to dusk. But if you can read an edifying or useful book just fifteen minutes a day, you will be surprised how many books you complete over the years, for fifteen minutes a day adds up to ninety hours in a year. By reading and growing theologically, you will also increasingly become one with your husband, who, by gifts and calling is a reader, thinker, and communicator. You will enter his world by reading solid books. Also, consider listening to good preaching and teaching while you go about your daily duties.
By cultivating a sober, biblical mind, you will also become more deeply rooted so that you may be equipped to handle the times of discouragement that will come. There are many precious, sweet experiences of serving as a pastor’s wife here on earth, but there are also times of darkness and difficulty. A survey of evangelical pastors’ wives revealed that 41 percent experienced frequent emotional ups and downs, 35 percent thought they needed help with overcoming discouragement or depression, and 17 percent said they were close to burnout. For your own sake, you should be rooted and grounded in the faith and in the love of Christ (Eph. 3:18; Col. 2:7-8).”
Sobriety will help fortify your attitude to your husband in countless ways. For example, consider your attitude toward his books. Sobriety tells us that a minister is called to labor in knowledge and words. He trades in knowledge and crafts words. He is a servant of the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation. God has called him to this. Therefore, do not resent the number of books your husband has or make him feel guilty about buying more. He needs books the same way a carpenter needs tools. Some tools are only used once or twice a year, but when the time comes, they are sorely needed. So don’t expect your husband to read every book he buys cover to cover; some are reference works. Help him set a budget for books as part of your financial planning. When he is excited about a new book, share his joy. Consider, too, that you will benefit from his books through his preaching. View his books and studies and his entire ministry with a sober mind-set that is informed by the Word of God.
Needless to say, that final paragraph especially was to my liking! Indeed, I have long said the same thing: just as the carpenter needs his hammers and saws as the tools of his trade, so I as a teacher and writer need my books. So I was glad to get that affirmation from Beeke.
Of course I could end with a bit of humour here, including what is found in various memes, such as: “I’m a bookaholic on the road to recovery. Just kidding. I’m on the road to the bookstore.” Or this one: “Bookends? There are actually people who don’t own enough books to fill the shelf? Weird.”
One last one (which includes a pic of Grumpy Cat): “If anyone tells you that you have too many books, unfriend them. You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life!” Hey, I gotta go along with that.
But in all seriousness, there is a place for building your own personal library. Many of the great saints of God over the centuries had a love of reading and good-sized book collections. So if you find yourself being questioned about your love of books, remind them of what Beeke said. It seems like sensible advice to me. Happy reading.