A Pastor Guts His Library

I cleaned out my office. My library is down to eight Uhaul book boxes. Six of those boxes full of books went to the Goodwill. They contained volumes I considered essential 10 years ago, must have classics for any pastor worth her theological salt. Not in boxes but staying behind on one long office shelf–a donation to the church library–are sets of works I once badly coveted.

Part of this biblio-purge is driven by an impulse to pare down, lighten up, cling less authors and titles for my sense of identity and impact.

Another part of comes from an awareness of a drift in my interests since I moved into this office eight years ago. That awareness is most pointed with regard to all the “Missional Church” books I gave away. I clung desperately to those books in my first call, but looking at them today I have a definite sense that those volumes were a great deal of ink spilled on one big idea, a kind of theoretical hall of mirrors where each contributor reflected what all the others were already doing, only a little louder or longer. I got the idea. My work is based on it. I don’t need the books anymore.

Yet a third component of this move away from all these books arises from a reconsideration of the value of a theological library for my work as a pastor. I am uneasy about a move away from a library stocked with the Niebuhrs and the Barths I was weaned on in seminary, but less and less of the ministerial work I’m doing utilizes those texts. At all.

I’m drowning in text: magazine articles, blog posts, books, newspapers–all in both digital and analog form (I’m the guy who prints digital long form journalism to read on paper). This book dump is not about a Kindle. It’s a desire to possess only books with which I can imagine a lively engagement, between me and the books as well as between me and people with whom I want to discuss and share the books. If I couldn’t imagine running to my shelves for a book,. I didn’t keep it.


6 thoughts on “A Pastor Guts His Library

  1. I really like your new criteria for keeping books: “It’s a desire to possess only books with which I can imagine a lively engagement, between me and the books as well as between me and people with whom I want to discuss and share the books.” That seems like a very relational criteria–and I think I will borrow it.

  2. I am with you on this one, Rocky. I have noticed a smiliar shift, though I’ve only purged a small portion compared to you. Good work!

  3. I did this some years ago and at the same time got rid of my book shelves. I find books now accumulating in a cupboard so regularly give them away.

    However I’ve kept books that have had a significant impact on my thinking or give me waves of nostalgia!

  4. love this. i did this several years ago — though it took my 2 rounds (a couple years apart) to really get down to a single bookshelf (from about 8). honestly, i can’t think of a single time in the years since when i’ve thought, “oh, if only i hadn’t gotten rid of THAT book.”

    of course, i fear that any book i’ve written likely didn’t make your cut. 🙂

    1. Ha! Youth Ministry 3.0 is on my Kindle, so its safe, and so is your Middle School Ministry book. I have an additional Youth Cartel title (“Adolescence”) firmly wedged inside one of the eight “keep” boxes. 🙂

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