The Pastor's Study: Tools for the Craftsman
This week's installment of The Pastor's Study comes from Jeremy Writebol, Adult Ministries Pastor of Santa Rosa Bible Church in Santa Rosa, California.
Every craftsman has his own unique set of tools that helps him accomplish his task and produce quality work for the people he serves. For the preacher the tools we have for preaching are the books that exist in our libraries. One of the great benefits of living in such a technologically advanced age is that we now have access to thousands of books on our computers. As someone who teaches and preaches weekly I want to have the best tools available to help me craft sermons that not only inform the head, but more importantly move the heart to respond in faith to God. Accordance is my favorite software tool for studying the Scriptures. It gives me access to the best scholarship on the Bible so I can carefully and skillfully plan and prepare sermons.
When preparing a sermon, the pastor should always be working with the text of Scripture first and foremost—something the Accordance interface actually encourages you to do. Yet at some point in your study it is wise to consult the work of other careful interpreters. Reading a variety of good commentaries is like sitting among a community of scholars and pastors who are eager to help inform and shape your sermons. One of the great features of Accordance is that it offers not only a large quantity of commentaries and references to interact with, but a deep quality of commentaries as well.
I like to break my commentaries down into three major categories:
The exegetical commentaries in my library help me weigh out and work through the grammar, syntax and original languages of the text. They serve to help me "get it right" in terms of background, meaning and form. I use and am helped greatly by the New American Commentary (NAC) series. Other commentaries that are helpful for exegesis also include the Word Biblical Commentary, Pillar Commentary series and The New International Greek Testament Commentary (NIGTC) series. Each of these will give you great information on the depth and structure of the text and its original meaning. Each of these also makes different assumptions about its readers' level of scholarship. If you know Greek and Hebrew well then the Word Biblical and NIGTC commentaries will provide the depth you need. If you are not as well versed in the original languages then the Pillar and NAC Commentaries help unpack the original languages and meaning of the text.
Once I have checked my exegetical work and made sure it is consistent with the Scriptures, I then move to my homiletical commentaries. These are usually smaller commentaries or one volume sets that help me frame my preaching outline, get me to think about some great connecting points, and point me to applicational understandings of the text I can use to help my people.
Among these I have found the Tyndale Commentary Series to be one of the best. Others here that are helpful are the Expositor's Bible Commentary Series and The Bible Speaks Today series. Older commentaries like Calvin and Matthew Henry are also very helpful.
I should note here that the NIV Application Commentary Series is a bit of a hybrid that stands between both the "exegetical" and "homiletical" fields. It is very helpful. It can at times be brief in getting through the exegetical work, yet provides some excellent contemporary applications of the text for today.
Finally, once I have done my exegetical study and framed a homiletical outline, I want to put some flesh and bones on the sermon by way of application and illustration. Accordance again is a helpful tool here. Accordance allows pastors to build their own user tool of text that they can then sort and search however they like. This is a great way to keep your illustrations and applications personally relevant. I like to highlight books that I read on my Amazon Kindle and then copy the text file into my Accordance user tool. This growing database of comments and topics I am highlighting then becomes a resource I can mine for sermon illustrations and quotes. Accordance also has modules of quotes and sayings that are useful for illustrations.
Finally, it should be noted that while commentaries are helpful, they are merely tools to assist in the work of preparing and delivering a sermon. They can be used in the process of digging into the text, and they facilitate the work of constructing the sermon, but they cannot replace the craftsmanship of the pastor who wrestles with the text and applies it to the needs of his congregation. Thankfully, Accordance makes it possible for us to have a huge library of excellent commentaries right at our fingertips.