Promoting Christ-centred Biblical Ministry

Index of Articles
Finding Ministry Resources on the Internet, Part 1
reprinted from the September 2003 edition of Essentials

   Part 1 of this series is a basic introduction to searching the World-Wide Web. Part 2 will discuss and list useful sites and resources. Andrew Malone is a tutor and visiting lecturer in Biblical Studies and Greek at Ridley College 
   I love libraries. I confess to drooling over pictures of great vaults like that of Trinity College, Dublin. I can fritter away hours in the Ridley library, scanning latest arrivals, flicking through journals, memorising call numbers, and so on. It's often interesting to see how long it takes me to get around to the study I actually intended to do.
   The Internet is like a giant library. So imagine the time I waste online! Current estimates suggest there are something like ten billion individual web pages ripe for the viewing. Nor is the Internet a specialist library; it has something to say on anything you can possibly think of. Time prohibits me from listing the myriad sites and topics I regularly peruse.
   That's the problem with any big library. It's got everything you could possibly want — and enough pleasant (and unpleasant) distractions to beguile you.   

Hence this series. It's a good starting point for those who would like to employ and enjoy the many great resources that the Internet offers, while minimising the confusion and time-wasting that such an enterprise can threaten. (Ministry already offers enough of these latter!)

Tip #1: Develop a useful image to help you picture the Internet, and what you're trying to achieve with it. I find the library analogy quite helpful for the world-wide web.
   Starting Points & Terminology   
   This isn't the place to discuss how to get connected to the Internet. That's easy enough to discover if you're interested. Nor is it hard to come by or use a standard web browser, such as Internet Explorer or Netscape.   
   Once you're online with your browser running, choose a search engine. These are websites whose whole purpose is to guide you to other websites. They're a lot like the computerised catalogues you can find in most libraries. The most popular is Google (, although similar services are offered by Yahoo, MSN, and a number of others.   
Tip #2: By all means trial a couple of search engines. But resolve to become familiar with one in particular, and get used to its quirks.
   Basic Searching   
   You can walk into a physical library and just browse. The same is more or less true for the Internet, but hardly a useful way to make sense of the maze of information that's available. It's much more sensible if you have a specific site in mind (a number will be suggested in Part 2), or if you're looking for something in particular. That's where a search engine is invaluable.   
   As with all computers, the temptation is to assume that they know more than they do. But a search engine cannot intuitively understand what you're looking for, nor can it understand the meaning of text on web pages. Sadly, the Internet isn't neatly indexed by Author, Title and Subject. So a search engine has no way of knowing that "Moo" should be interpreted as the name of a distinguished New Testament scholar. A search engine is only as smart as you tell it to be.   
   As a result, it's good to start with too much information. Consider the following results:   
   moo: 1,030,000
Douglas Moo: 20,050 (two words)
"Douglas Moo": 786 (precise string)
   The more precise you can make your search, the more likely you are to find what you're looking for. Consequently, the more complex search   
   Douglas Moo "Epistle to the Romans" NICNT review   
   returns a very limited number of relevant sites (~29), which is a much easier total to investigate.   
Tip #3: Err on the side of providing too much information in your searches. It is easier to discover you have too few results than too many. If you need more results, you can repeat the search with fewer search elements.
   More Complex Searching   
   Again, a search engine—indeed, any computer—only works with strings of characters. It cannot make the linguistic or social connections that we can make.   
   So, if you can bring yourself to do it, try to think like a computer. (It's nice to know that those of us with too much left-hemisphere processing have the advantage at something constructive!) There is no guarantee that a website lists Douglas Moo in firstname-lastname order; it may reverse the order or include his middle initial/name. We've already seen that just searching for the two words [Douglas Moo] turns up thousands of irrelevant pages where the two words occur independently. But be alert to trying various combinations, such as   
   "Douglas Moo" OR "Douglas J. Moo" OR "Moo, Douglas"   
   Remember, too, that a computer has no clue that "Doug" is a relative of "Douglas". Search engines—other than Google—can be instructed to use 'wildcards' or look for longer strings (called 'stemming'). Thus, a search for [Doug] or for [Doug*], depending on the engine, can return occurrences of both the shorter and longer names. (But be warned; setting this option will return "mood", "moon", "moor", "moose", etc, as well as [Moo]!) With unrelated names or words, like Bill/William, Bob/Robert, Saul/Paul, Gehenna/Hades, you'll just have to try all variations.   
   As already suggested, you might want to become proficient at the special features your chosen search engine offers. Most will let you force the inclusion or exclusion of specific terms by using a '+' or '-' respectively. If I want to find Moo's lesser-known work on James rather than Romans, you might search for   
   Douglas Moo commentary +James -Romans   
   Similarly, if you want to find references to Moo's more recent Pillar commentary on James, rather than his earlier work in the Tyndale series, a search might look like   
   Douglas Moo commentary +James -Romans +PNTC -TNTC (or +2000 -1985)   
Tip #4: Try to think like a computer. Try a series of different searches, rather than giving up after only one or two. The information really is probably available.
   Complex searching should also take into account that the vast majority of the web is run by or for Americans or the many nations whose English emulates theirs. Consider whether you might do better if you search for "color", "neighbor", "organization", "counselor", "fulfillment" and so on.   
   Evaluating & Relocating Material   
   As you explore your search results, be aware of some useful things to do. In particular, be prepared to recognise — and quickly bookmark — useful or potentially useful sites, and to abandon useless ones. Some steps for doing this:   

1. Remember that, just as with most libraries, there are a few(?) dark corners that harbour older works which are no longer relevant or helpful. This is equally true of ministry resources on the Internet. There are myriad copies of the copyright-free works of the nineteenth century, like Matthew Henry's commentary. The more important or more recent the material you're searching for, the less likely it is to be on the web and the fewer sites it will be located on. Thus all our valiant searching for Douglas Moo only yields sites which will sell or review his paper tomes, rather than electronic copies of his work.


2. Be aware that anyone can write anything on the web. We get used to expecting reasonable quality products from respectable publishers; most books produced by Baker or Eerdmans or IVP usually have something good to say. But the Internet means that any individual or church or cult can be their own publishers! Such self-published comments can be quite useful for ministry — but they can be equally fruitless. You'll need to retain your critical faculties, and be ready to abandon a distressing number of sites. Don't be surprised.


3. When you do find something that you're looking for, or that might be helpful (perhaps in pointing you in the right direction), make sure you don't lose your place. You might be able to reproduce the search again; fine. Or you might need to get into the habit of using bookmarks. This is a feature available in web browsers which lets you flag your current page. You can then jump back to any such page at a later time. Be judicious in this, because it's easy to end up with hundreds of bookmarks. You might choose to only flag really good sites. Or you might have a particular bookmark collection (folder) where you put tentative bookmarks, and only upgrade these to your 'real' list when the site proves worthy.


4. Don't reinvent the wheel. There are a number of excellent sites where someone has already collated a good many theological and ministry resources. Find these gold mines, and make sure you can find them again! Such sites will be the topic of Part 2.

Tip #5: As with some libraries, the web is very much like a labyrinth. Don't be surprised if you find yourself retracing your steps. You should investigate different ways to mark your trail.
   More Information   
   <> offers a good introduction to the Internet, to browsers, and how to effective search for what you want. cf. <>   
   Search engines offer good advice on how their searches work and how to get the most out of the web. Both the following are good:
   With all of the advice so far, experienced users will find themselves moving faster than novices. But that's true with real libraries as well. Don't be disappointed to find that you need a bit of practice.   
   Indeed, as with a real library, you may find that it's wise to schedule some time for exploration and recreation. If you're new to this sort of web browsing, set aside a few hours just to wander around and have a look. Try new things. Discover what sort of 'undo' and 'back' options you can use. Enjoy getting lost. Similarly, if you know you're prone to digressing, set aside some time just to have fun, so that you can devote ministry time to ministry purposes. Yes, visit your favourite e-comics, download trailers for the (non-theological) Return of the King movie, find out from fan sites what's happening with The Bill or Star Trek or Neighbours — but perhaps not when it's Saturday afternoon and you're still working on tomorrow's sermon…   

  HOME Index of Articles