Serve Others With Your Books

A former pastor’s books sat on the shelves of his old office-turned storage room, untouched for twenty years. People knew their value, so no one threw them away, but nobody knew what to do with them. So they took up a poorly lit corner office and began the duty of dust collection. 

Recent renovations required us to move some of his books. I didn’t count, but it’s safe to assume close to one thousand books lived in that room. Like everyone before me, I didn’t want to box them up and say farewell. After chatting with a few people about what to do with them, I am now combing through his books to start building a library for training current and future elders. It’s not quite like Hilkiah finding the book of the Law buried in the temple, but there are some gems. For every ten books on youth group games, one like J. C. Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on the Gospel appears. Our former pastor continues strengthening the church through the books he left behind.

I’m less than halfway done, and sorting through his books has me thinking about my personal library. How can I build a library that will be useful when I’m gone? 

Curate and Keep What Is Useful

If we want our libraries to be useful beyond our lifetime, we must do the work of a curator. A gallery hires a team of curators to acquire, develop and display their collections. The curators keep the gallery organized and beautiful.

I read the plaques when we visit museums. I enjoy the window into the history and people behind what’s on display. Pulling books off those shelves gave me a window into the history of this pastor and my church. I saw the controversies and questions he worked through and the authors he relied on during his ministry. Now, as much joy as that gave me, and we didn’t keep most books addressing those pressing issues (such as developing small groups). They were sound books but bound in their time and not as helpful to us. Our books, at least the physical ones, will eventually belong to someone else. We need certain books in our lifetime, but they don’t carry the same weight in fifty years.

Daryll Dash’s advice for which books to invest in helps me discern what to keep and what to donate. “Renounce books that won’t be read in ten years. Invest in books that have stood the test of time, as well as books that contain timeless wisdom that will be read for years to come.” Read books to help you now. Hold on to books that will be helpful long after you are gone. 

Have a Plan for Your Books After You

This is so simple and so crucial. It took twenty years and an unforeseen renovation for us to use these old books to train and equip elders. Without a plan, they simply took up space. 

Books are tools we use, not decorations we admire. A plan keeps your library useful. It’s a way to love the person who deals with them when you are gone. My library is small by pastor standards but big enough to burden my wife. I’ve started considering which books to give my sons, which ones to leave for our church, which ones to donate to libraries, and which are Goodwill bound. Having a plan is also an act of faith. If God can bring Moses safely through the river, he can bring the right book to the right person at the right time. A plan for where your books go after you is an act of faith and declaration of God’s providence. 

Books outlive their author and owner. Their ministry may endure for generations. Let’s be helpful stewards of the books we’ve been given.