Bookstore or library? On christian “ministries”

church bookstore

What is a ministry?

In the April 2008 issue of Christianity Today, Cindy Crosby reviews the Christian bookstore business in both its freestanding and church-lobby forms. Again and again, the bookstore owners whom she has interviewed speak of their work in terms of “ministry.”

For instance, Geni Husley says: “If our bookstore is not doing ministry and only peddling goods, we have no business being inside this church.”

Yes. But while she is ‘doing’ ministry, she is not doing it well.

My home church has a bookstore, cafe, vending machines, and other commercial accoutrements. When I attend the youth service, my more affluent friends browse the bookstore and find a few more devotionals to add to their collection. Others, who struggle to pay rent, look on jealously from the sidelines.

I am one of the affluent. In my own house and in the houses of many of my friends, I see rows of Christian books which are slowly turning to dust. We may never read them, but we all own some devotional classics, some bestsellers, and the five most popular versions of the Bible. Perhaps the lower classes can only afford the Wal-Mart edition of The Purpose-Driven Life. But we are more committed, we can afford meatier fare.

Yet the call of Christ is the call to community, and to cooperation as a living body. The call is to make the gospel accessible, to live in a world focused on God’s economy rather than our human one.

I cannot imagine Jesus charging a cover fee for his Sermon on the Mount, and then telling his disciples to hawk $5 paperback editions of the speech the next day at Synagogue.

This is why I believe that Christian libraries (whether community or congregation affiliated) are more in the spirit of God. They would allow even the most marginal to have access to all the collected wisdom about God and the communal mind and heart of Christ and his followers. Christian bookstores, by contrast, limit access to the affluent.

There is nothing wrong with a ministry to the affluent – but a ministry to all is better.

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