An Orderly Filing System

By Jack H. Kirby

In 1 Cor. 14:40, the apostle Paul wrote, “Let all things be done decently and in order.” I am aware that the admonition was spoken primarily to regulate assemblies of the church, but the principle applies to all we do in life. Very early in my preaching career I discovered I was not very orderly in assembling my study material, sermon outlines, etc., and often spent many minutes or even hours searching for some study outline I had once made, or some article I vaguely remembered reading in one of the papers I received. Like most preachers I had religious papers, bulletins, etc. scattered in selected stacks, files, notebooks, and boxes. Much good and valuable information was contained therein, but difficult and time consuming to locate.

Being supported by secular work and preaching and teaching regularly in the pulpit, on radio, and in a semimonthly bulletin, I became aware of the value of time, and how much would ultimately be wasted in my lifetime by repetition-redoing what I had previously done. So I set out to arrange my material and index it to enable me to recall any article that I had read, or to locate all articles in my library on any given subject or scripture in a matter of seconds. Having spent much time in title and abstract offices, I determined to develop an index along the lines of that used by the abstractor. He is able to produce in seconds (or a few minutes at most) instruments filed in public records, some a hundred or more years ago.

I determined that I needed a double index reference on all printed matter, viz. subject and scripture, as well as on sermon outlines, radio scripts, and special study series outlines. To do this would require a code system to take a minimum amount of space in the index books. I gave certain publications a code name. The Gospel Guardian is GG, the Preceptor is Pre, Truth Magazine is T, Vanguard is Van., etc. Then following these prefixes would be the volume, number, and page where the article was printed. Hence an article appearing on page 10 of the volume 20, number 11 issue of the Gospel Guardian would be noted as GG. 20-11(10). Bound books were treated likewise, except no reference work was done on those that were strictly commentaries such as Barnes’ Notes, Clarke’s Commentary, etc. Threeringed, 8 1/2 x 11 notebooks were selected for the indices because they are durable and readily available. Their size allows plenty of space without crowding. Headings are made for each of the Biblical books and grouped as arranged in the Bible. Three columns are then drawn down each page, and each of the columns contains approximately one-third of the book’s chapters. These then were divided in two columns: one listing the scripture location and the other the material source. Each article that merits recall is indexed in this scripture index. For example, if an article on John 3:16 appeared in the volume 15, number 9 issue of Preceptor on page 3, on the index sheet entitled John under the column containing chapter 3, a notation “3:16” would be made and opposite that would be recorded the source: Pre 15-9(3). Many source references can be listed opposite each scripture notation.

Similar pages are prepared for Subjects with Subheadings shown for various sub-topics of a subject. For example, a sheet is entitled Baptism. Perhaps in Truth Magazine a general article on baptism appeared in volume 10, number 3, on page 4. So a note would be made on the Baptism sheet-T 10-3(4). Perhaps a subsequent article dealing with the subject of sprinkling appeared in Truth in volume 11, number 1, on page 8. This would be noted on the Baptism sheet “Sprinkling T 11-1(8).” Bulletins published and mailed by various congregations are treated likewise when an article appears that contains the quality of material useful for recall. Otherwise, they are given to interested brethren to read and use. Brother C. R. Nichol in his writings said that all sermon outlines should be thrown away after being once used. While I do not doubt the general wisdom and ability of the late Brother Nichol, I do doubt this statement. I see no wisdom in discarding that which required much time in research, study, and planning. I have kept all I have prepared and noted on the back of each when and where they were used. These outlines (prepared on three-ringed 5 1/2 x 8 = paper) are grouped in a general nature in notebooks by subject (first principles, church, etc.). Each notebook is given an alphabetical number, and the sermons in these notebooks are numbered A 1, A 2, A 3; Bl, B2, B3, etc. When an outline is used, it is then re-filed in its proper place. A complete listing of each sermon in a book by number is filed in each book preceding the first sermon. A composite index of each notebook and sermon by subject (using one or more key words) is kept as well as one on the primary scripture used in each outline. This enables me to locate any study I have made in a matter of seconds, and also to vary the “diet” of my listeners by not repeating favored lessons at a too frequent rate. The same procedure was followed for written radio scripts.

Admittedly this took some time to accomplish, but I began several years ago when the volume of my material was small. I had to go back and re-read all of my books and papers (which was profitable for instruction as well as indexing), but now as I get new books, and as the papers come in week by week, I index the worthy articles before I file the book or paper away on its shelf. Like the title abstractor, this keeps my index complete and up to date. The time I now save is incalculable.

Another advantage of this system is the ability to be able to “pick the brains” of so many writers and teachers, some dead for many years. It is possible to study as many as fifty or more articles on some popular subjects by as many authors. By studying with so many men one can get a broad spectrum of ideas and interpretations on the subject under consideration. I find that this keeps me from being too narrow or broad minded, at least to a degree. At least it keeps me studying to “prove all things,” and not to be “led away by every wind of doctrine.” I firmly believe all gospel preachers would benefit by indexing their library material. I urge you to so do. This method is only one successful way.

Truth Magazine XXI: 46, pp. 733-734
November 24, 1977