Regular readers of my articles know that I am a big proponent of lay ministry. I believe that healthy churches are led by teams of lay leaders working in partnership with their pastors to provide for all the ministry needs in the congregations they serve.
For those leadership teams to be the most effective, lay people should be included in the teaching and preaching ministries of the church. If lay people are going to teach or preach only on rare occasions, such as once a year when the pastor is away on vacation, the selection of the text from which to preach might be based on a favorite scripture. But if lay people begin to teach and preach on a more regular basis, perhaps once every month or two, it becomes more of a challenge for those lay people to find a scripture text from which to base a sermon or lesson that is fresh, relevant and theological balanced.
Though lay people may not have as extensive a library as pastors, any lay person who aspires to preach with any degree of regularity should have at least three types of resources in their theological library. Those three types of resources are a concordance, a commentary and a Bible dictionary. I prefer hard copies on a shelf so I can make notes in the margins of the books and insert photocopies of articles from other resources in the back of the book. However, many people prefer to use online or computer resources. There are a growing number of quality resources available in those formats, but the principles below apply to online, print, or digital formats.
A concordance is a reference resource that includes key words in the scripture. Each of those key words has the scriptures listed in which that word may be found. Many Bibles have a simple concordance in the back. However, a lay person who aspires to preach or teach regularly will want a concordance that is much more complete than what may typically be found in the back of a Bible. Some concordances have almost every instance of every word in the Bible referenced. These are the most helpful types of concordances for lay ministerse to use. Most concordances are based on a particular version of the Bible, so endeavor to find one that coordinates with whatever version is used most in the context of a particular local church. Lay ministers who do a lot of pulpit supply in a variety of churches may need a collection of concordances to help reference key words from various versions of the Bible.
A commentary is a reference resource that contains the scripture text first, followed by comments from a noted scholar about that text. The comments might contain an explanation of key words from the original language the scripture was written in. The comments might contain historical references to the culture that prevailed when the Bible was written. The comments might contain various ways the passage has been interpreted by others scholars through the ages. The comments will also contain the opinions of whoever wrote that particular commentary. Some commentaries can be found that cover the entire Bible in one volume. While those are helpful, it is better to invest in a commentary that has multiple volumes because it will contain far more information than a single volume commentary. Commentaries tend to lean toward the theological persuasion of whoever wrote it, so caution should be taken in selecting one that agrees with one’s local church. After a lay minister has gained a working knowledge of the Bible, it can be helpful to branch out and purchase some commentaries from viewpoints other than one’s home church, but this should only be done after the lay minister is well grounded in what he believes so that he does not become confused.
A Bible dictionary is a reference resource that contains the names of people, places, customs and cultures found in the Bible. Much like a regular dictionary, a Bible dictionary will have a brief description of whatever term it is defining. This can be very helpful to lay ministers studying a scripture passage for the first time, especially if the passage contains names or places that are unfamiliar. Some Bible dictionaries have pictures, which help lay ministers visualize the person or place being described. Because archeologists are always discovering new things in the places where the events of the Bible took place, it is a good idea to purchase the most current Bible dictionary available.
Lay ministers may want to add other types of resources to their library as time goes by, but having at least one good copy of the three types of rresources mentioned above will be very important in helping a lay person put together quality sermons and lessons.