A Church Library

Cecil Willis
Marion, Indiana

Last night I began a gospel meeting with the Johnson Street church in El Cajon, California. After services, the local preacher (Wayne Timmons) and I had occasion to spend a few minutes in the room used for a "Study" by the local evangelist. One thing that impressed me was the spaciousness of the room. There was plenty of room to spread out one's materials so that he can work, perhaps with several reference books in use at one time. Some churches I know, and one for which I worked, had rooms assigned for a preacher's "Study" that were not large enough for a decent sized broom closet. I told one group of brethren that I could not get all my materials in their "Office," even if I left it all in boxes.

But another impressive sight to me was that the El Cajon church had a good library, which belonged to the church. Several years before they had bought some preacher's library. Incidentally, the El Cajon church also has a good program of teaching going. Their teaching program is such that a young man can secure very good preparation for gospel preaching, if he is disposed to avail himself of the teaching offerings of this congregation.

But it was my purpose in this article to speak somewhat about a library owned by the church. Ideally, it would be best for every Christian and certainly for every Bible class teacher to own a good library himself. However, that is not likely to occur. Too many brethren say they cannot afford to buy good religious books. That usually is not the case at all. Some who cannot afford to buy books to help in their Bible study, or who cannot afford to subscribe to a paper like Truth Magazine, somehow can afford a $30,000 residence and a $4,000 automobile. I even encounter a few preachers who say they cannot afford to buy books to use in their work. My view of the matter has always been just the opposite: I cannot afford to be without the books I need for my study as a Christian and as a preacher.

Can you imagine an automobile garage that cannot "afford" the tools necessary to conducting its business? Can you imagine a printer who cannot "afford" to purchase a printing press? I am aware that preachers and other brethren often have very limited budgets. However, the "I cannot afford them" quibble usually is a cover-up for the fact that one has his order of priorities all out of kelter. Most of us somehow "afford" the things we think are most important. The brother who says he cannot "afford" a set of Bible commentaries can somehow afford a $2000 boat, or a $2500 camper, or a hunting lease, or whatever else he really wants to buy. The preacher who cannot "afford" the study helps he really needs is destined to stifle himself as a student, and will never develop spiritually into the stature of which he may be capable.

There are some conditions prevalent in some churches that just make me shudder. Inevitably, the poorest teachers are the ones with the fewest study helps. If I know beforehand that I am to teach a particular class, I would not even consider going before that group of students without having studied several hours, and from several different study-help books. For several years I have made it a practice to buy two or three new books on each book of the Bible as I taught the Bible book, and to read those books as I taught the Sacred Book. Very few people will ever choose a Bible commentary just for reading purposes, but one can and will read several entire commentaries in the course of teaching a book of the Bible.

But a visit into the homes of many Bible Class teachers will evidence that they have no reference books from which to receive the help they so desperately need. Such teachers are qualified to do little more in the class than to read the piece of Bible class literature supplied by the church, and to recite the questions printed in the class book, which is to say that they are not prepared to teach at all! Every Christian who intends to do much study needs some basic books to assist him.

However, it is probably true that every teacher needs access to some books, which every teacher may not reasonably be expected to purchase himself. I believe that a church ought to make their teachers "without excuse" by providing for their usage some important and helpful books. Of course, no library is of any value if it is unused. I am not advocating that a church buy a long list of books merely to adorn their bookshelves. But any conscientious teacher will avail himself or herself of the usage of any Bible study-helps to which access is given. A church really interested in improving the quality of its teachers, and hence its teaching program, should see the need to make a goodly number of study-helps available, and then to encourage their usage.

This article is not being written just because Truth Magazine operates a bookstore. The fact is that we stock and handle a number of items which we think brethren and churches need, but upon which we do not realize any net profit. On the other hand, we do not stock or sell some items upon which we could realize considerable profit, because we do not think these items would be spiritually beneficial to either brethren or churches. For example, a number of bookstores have stated they intend to go out of the tract business because the time needed to fill a tract order, and the inventory necessary to do realistic tract business are such to make the sale of tracts untenable from a financial viewpoint. Financially, I concur with them. But Truth Magazine has no intention of going out of the tract business. We think useful tracts are badly needed by both individual Christians and in the work of local churches. We probably carry a $20,000 inventory of tracts and booklets. We certainly do not sell enough to justify that kind of an inventory or tracts, but printing conditions are such that one must print in large quantities.

The Pekin, Indiana church constantly is referring in its bulletin to new books that are added to their congregational library. Recently they mentioned that bound volumes of Apostolic Doctrine, Preceptor, and Truth Magazine had been added to their congregational library. Such volumes in years to come can be invaluable reference sources for teachers and young preachers. My occasion for going into the El Cajon library room last night was to try to locate two articles which had been published in Truth Magazine several years before, and to which I badly needed access in preparation for a series of articles which I intent to write. But unfortunately, bound volumes of Truth Magazine were not among the volumes of this otherwise good library. In my opinion, bound volumes of five or six of the good periodicals published by faithful brethren might very advantageously be made a part of the books that churches, which are trying to compile a good library to be made available to their members and teachers, procure and make a part of their permanent library.

If you need help in the selection of books for a library to be owned by the church, we will be glad to make some recommendations. Nearly any faithful preacher could guide brethren in making profitable purchases of useful books. My good friend, Brother Jesse Wiseman, used to say, "Putting good books in good hands is good work!" And I still believe it is.

May 10, 1973