A common expression is that “leaders are readers.” No outside reading satisfies the need for Scripture, but we must make an effort to read other valuable works. The pastor does not escape this necessity. Even the Apostle Paul had his own reading literature. Second Timothy expresses Paul’s desire for it in a request, “The cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments” (4:13). It may be trivial to argue what documents Paul was reading but it certainly an important thing for pastors to consider of themselves. Especially since not all writings are equal. What are you reading and more specifically, what are you reading during your sermon preparations?
A preacher needs a robust library. Even Paul asked for books and writings that were important to him (2 Tim. 4:13). Scripture teaches the minister, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Reading newspapers and articles can keep us up to date on current events, but biblical commentaries are a central concern of pastors. Still, the truth of the matter is that help from resources such as commentaries, articles, maps, and the such should be utilized to refine, not define our sermon preparation.
The first step in examining our reading and study material is to identify the value of a resource. Not every book available is valuable to the pastor. With the continual uprising of self-publishing and print on demand availability to everyone and anyone, we will also see the rise of material available to the pastor marketed as valuable for biblical study. In keeping with Paul’s teaching we ought to, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). We must learn to identify those materials available to us and whether or not they are worth purchasing or taking up limited shelf space.
Once we have gained a sense of valuable content, we then need to understand how to pull that value out to its greatest potential. This requires our understanding of its purpose, especially biblical commentaries. I divide my commentaries into three different categories. These categories are exegetical, hermeneutical, and homiletical resources.
Exegesis is the process where a person looks for the truth to arise out of the passage of scripture. The opposite of this is eisegesis which is when a person projects their own meaning onto the text. Therefore, when we say we need good, exegetical resources, we are implying that we need those sources that help us come to the plainest meaning of the text.
These resources do not concern themselves as much with interpretation as they do with grammatical and historical foundations of the book. Understanding the original languages and the historical settings surrounding Biblical passages is incredibly beneficial to the preacher. It is an aid to know what the text meant the initial receiving audience before attempting to interpret for the present audience of the scripture.
To help understand the original languages the preacher can tap into resources such as Vines Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words(1996) or Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (2010). For a resource with the deeper grammatical depth, you can look for scholars such as William Mounce and their writings.
When looking for resources that provide a historical context for Biblical text look at resources like Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Manners and Customs (1999). A Bible atlas is also a good place to look, and some provide historical context like The IVP Atlas of Bible History (2006).
Most school’s for ministers will offer an entire course (or two) that focus on the subject of hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is the study of interpretation. In dealing with the Bible, it is the center of how one studies the Bible and interprets it along theological principles. In other words, hermeneutics is the lens through which people view the scriptures. There is nothing wrong with this as long as the theological principals and presuppositions they hold are biblical.
In this section of resources, we find those that are most readily available to and used by preachers. Commentaries by such writers as Matthew Henry and John Wesley are some of the most noted hermeneutical resources. While they may not be entirely focused on exegetical correctness, they do place greater emphasis on interpretation of the scripture text in a theological spectrum. Such commentaries like the Pulpit Commentary set (over 20 volumes) provide resources for both exegetical and hermeneutical purposes.
The final section of available resources can be categorized as homiletical resources. Homiletics is the area that focuses on the different styles of preaching delivery. While there are various publications available that deal with writing sermons, that is not the purpose of this section. Homiletical resources for preaching will not deal with the detailed part of a particular Biblical text but rather provide a clear, powerful rendering of those truths in relevant and practical ways.
Max Lucado provides excellent resources that take these truths while at the same time helping understand how these truths can be applied to our present day situations. Other various devotional books provide homiletical lessons for the preacher, such as My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers.
Other Available Resources.
While it is possible to place most published resources into one of these three categories, it is also important to briefly acknowledge other places where valuable resources can be found to aid the preacher. The internet has provides a treasure trove of resources at the preacher’s finger tips. Websites such as blueletterbible.org provide many of the resources mentioned above can be found on any web browser. Computer programs such as Logos (expensive) or E-sword (free) are also excellent to use. It is also great to listen to other preachers and websites such as sermonaudio.com are good resources to do just that.
It is important at this time to warn against plagiarism, the use of someone else’ material, especially when focusing on internet resources. It is a sad reality that some preachers would just copy a sermon from another preacher without acknowledgment or personal study. The temptation to cut corners is real for the pastor that is rushed or has not developed proper sermon preparation routines.