Mac Brunson’s dad had an eighth-grade education. But every night, he’d stop by his son’s room to make sure young Mac had read his Bible that night.
It was important to read scripture, but his father wanted Brunson to be a reader, period.
“He said if I could read my King James Bible, I could read anything in the world,” said Brunson, senior pastor of Valleydale Church in Birmingham, Ala. “It was important to him because he worked during the Great Depression and hadn’t [had] the opportunity to learn at school. So, we read at home.
“It instilled a hunger for me to read, which has carried on to our kids and grandkids.”
If you’re a pastor, you have books. The collection probably started early, then got a significant boost if you went to a few conferences or were fortunate enough to go to seminary. Various commentaries and other ministry-associated items joined volumes reflecting personal interests and—voila—a small library formed. The size likely didn’t become clear until you had to move.
Not every pastor has a room dedicated to his library, of course. But it’s certain there are shelves at his church and/or home serving the purpose. The area becomes useful for research, education and often, refuge.
In the rare lighthearted exchange on today’s Twitter that brings smiles instead of heightened blood pressure, Brunson and retired pastor Michael Catt have been kidding each other over the alleged expanse and opulence of their respective libraries for a while. Their current back-and-forth began in May.
At least 30 times over the summer, both have dished as well as received by using stock images of classic libraries and other scenes from around the world. Brunson posts a castle and refers to it as Catt’s Smoky Mountain home/library. Catt replies with photos supposedly depicting Brunson’s library and private prayer room.
Catt actually did retire to the Gatlinburg area after 32 years as pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga. He was back at Sherwood last weekend to help celebrate the one-year anniversary of the church’s current pastor, Paul Gotthardt.
As a student at Mississippi College, Catt agreed with his wife, Terri, that $25 in their monthly budget could go toward books.
“That money went a lot further back then,” he said. “I could get a bag of books for that amount.”
His library eventually grew to some 10,000 volumes, but went on a strict diet for the move to Gatlinburg. Half of them went toward Gotthardt. He gave 3,000 to those who had surrendered to the ministry while at Sherwood. A number of histories and biographies went toward Sherwood Academy, the school hosted at the church. The remaining 1,500 are mainly signed first editions.
With the rancor commonly seen on Twitter, his exchanges with Brunson have done more good than many realize.
Catt was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2018, which has since metastasized into his back. When waiting to go into a radiation or chemo treatment, he’s cheered himself up by searching for a picture of an ornately-adorned library and posting it along with a comment on how Brunson’s personal devotion space is tough to top.
“The library thing has been fun,” he said. “I’ve had several pastors tell me it’s the only reason they stay on Twitter.”
Catt is partial to books on leadership and biographies, but embraces a wide variety. In addition to theology, Brunson leans toward books on history and biographies in his library that is comparable to Catt’s (pre-downsizing). A reader of anything related to Abraham Lincoln, he recently scored a first edition of “Lincoln and the Preachers” by Edgar DeWitt Jones.
“I’m a big reader about Lincoln and just happened to come across it,” said Brunson, who recently hosted a group at his home for tacos and discussion over the 16th president. “Most people have probably never heard of this book.”
Audiobooks and digital volumes are an option, both agree, but they lack distinctive aesthetics.
“I miss holding them,” said Catt of those books he gave away. “There’s a smell to walking into a used book store. My friend Ron Dunn could name the publisher of a Bible by the smell of the leather it was bound in.”
A library, Brunson said, can be a place of retreat for a pastor. “To a great extent, it’s part of my life to every day spend time in my library at church or my home.”
Time spent there isn’t just to relax, though. It also becomes a gym of sorts, one where he works to strengthen his ability to shepherd Valleydale Church.
“I can walk into a pastor’s study and tell you about the depth of his preaching based on his books,” he said. “If a pastor doesn’t read, his congregation is going to drink out of a stagnant pool. I want to be a fresh pool of water to pour out for my people.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Scott Barkley is national correspondent for Baptist Press.)