How can the pastor free himself from his book buying compulsion when publishers connive to sell him just one more?

By Ronald E. Keener

How did you spend your Memorial Day weekend? With family and friends I trust, or cleaning the garage? I devoted a number of hours to making sense of my den that doubles as a library — 40 running feet of books, most of them church and management titles collected over 15 years.

If there is one thing that pastors and others in church work have, it is books. Entire publishing companies are kept in business by the insatiable desires of owning the latest theological, devotional, inspirational, scriptural, management, or leadership book. [Disclosure: This magazine thrives as well on the latest book that might benefit ministry.] More than likely, the “book allowance” is the most cherished part of the pastor’s benefit package, after housing and health insurance.

I had shelves from floor to ceiling, across one wall in the den, and piles sitting on the floor in front as well. It had gotten out of hand. Many books unread or even un-perused. But I couldn’t just throw them out, could I?

Book and print aficionado

Admittedly, for me, long a book and print aficionado, parting with a good book takes a stronger force than I have within me. I feel much like the pastor who wrote to me, “I could quit buying books any time I want to — is there a 12-step program for that?” So wrote David Frisbie, executive pastor, at, Broken Arrow, OK.

Okay, so you will keep the books you have on your shelves at home and in the pastor’s study. What can possibly be done to bring some common sense cataloguing to the process? Deborah J. Hertle, at Grace Church of Fredericksburg, VA, wrote to say that is an excellent way to manage your book collection.

“This helps me track which books I have at home or church or have loaned out,” she says. “It provides a record for insurance purposes and helps me sort through which books I have on any given subject when doing a research project.”

She advises to purchase the scanner that scans the ISBN number and thereby saves many hours of cataloging. “This program also tells you what your books value at for selling or insurance purposes.

Hertle, working in her church’s Mobilization4Ministry program, obviously has given this matter considerable thought and has mastered the topic. Gratefully, she shares what she has learned.

The newest version

You’ve heard of the Kindle electronic books, the newest version that came out earlier this year. “Kindle is a great way to manage future book purchases without cluttering up your book shelves. Books can be shared among several Kindles and are usually less expensive [$9 each one user has said] which saves you and the church on purchases.”

Hertle has figured it out for herself: “The savings on 23 books will pay for the Kindle. It’s amazing in its abilities!”

Clive Thompson wrote on “The Future of Reading in a Digital World” (Wired, June 2009), “We need to stop thinking about the future of publishing and think instead about the future of reading. Every form of media that’s gone digital has been transformed by its audience.”

But when it comes down to the books you hoard, you have another choice. “A professional organizer told me a revolutionary concept. You can get rid of books,” Hertle declares.

Church libraries

She has been donating and selling books on eBay and other sites. “Church libraries are a great place to donate since you can borrow the book back if you need it again. I know one woman who is supplementing her income by selling old books she picks up at garage sales.”

Well, I did much the same thing. I gave away a couple hundred books to a pastor friend who shares them with the staff at his megachurch. I gave some to my office staff.

But I was reminded too by Dave Frisbie that Half Price Books takes in many of his selections — and pays cash for them. “I sell them dozens of books at a time, fairly frequently,” he reports, and they also take VCRs, DVDs, magazines, and miscellaneous other things.

“Since discovering their stores, I now recycle many of my books this way,” he says, but there’s a downside to that. “Their stores are full of ‘bargains’ and sometimes I take home‚ ‘new’ books while recycling my ‘old’ ones.

Wouldn’t you know it, one of their stores is located just across the street from where I live. Ah, God is great. God provides. Comments?


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