The Pastor and Applying the Spiritual Disciplines

Donald Whitney gives his readers pertinent advice that can be applied to pastors. He encourages, “Don’t settle only for spiritual food that’s been ‘predigested’ by others.”[1] In other words, do your own study of the Bible before you resort to others’ work. Too often, pastors are diligent to study books before they study the Bible. This ought not be. Instead, pastors should aim to dive head-first into the Scripture for the purpose of knowing God. Jim Packer committed an entire work of writing for one purpose: to aid in all believers to understand that they one aim in life should be to know God.[2] This group of believers includes all pastors and preacher. “The pastor who neglects personal holiness has forgotten who’s in charge.”[3]

The pastor who neglects personal holiness is neglecting Christ in his life and in his ministry. The only foundation a pastor has in his ministry, but especially his personal life, is Christ Jesus. Paul instructed Timothy to pay close attention to himself as it pertains to his own godliness, because his hearers (that is, his congregation) depended upon it (1 Timothy 4:14-16). Therefore, the aim for all pastors should be godliness, because the godly character of the congregation depends heavily upon it.

If you could name the top three disciplines for a pastor to focus on primarily, Bible intake, prayer and meditation would be the place to start. J. Oswald Sanders has much wisdom to impart to his readers in regard to Bible intake. He notes, ““The discipline is always a preparatory to blessing and can bring nothing but blessing when rightly received…Food not digested is a bane, not a blessing.”[4] Sanders’ words relate to Isaiah’s words conveying that farmers do not continually plow, there are also planting, nourishing, and harvest stages (Isaiah 28:23-29). The same is true when we think of the way we read our Bibles, the way we pray, and the way we meditate on Scripture. If we are only “plowing,” we will find our spiritual life in a circular motion going nowhere.

The Importance of the Spiritual Disciplines for the Pastor

The spiritual disciplines are vitally important for a pastor. Sometimes, simply hearing the word discipline can make the wrong impression on a man in the ministry. Discipline, however, is a powerful word that we must define and heed diligently. “If you are married, the presence or lack of spiritual disciplines can serve to sanctify or damn your children and grandchildren.”[5] The spiritual disciplines’ presence, or lack thereof, can either make or break a pastor and his family. Not only can it play a part in determining your children’s future, but it can play a determining role in the pastor’s own personal life.

In a study done by LifeWay Research, it was noted that one in seven pastors admitted to Bible intake less than four times per week.[6] Although there were many who claimed to physically intake the Scriptures more than six times per week (almost 6 out of 10), there is still a need among local church for pastors to be disciplined for the purpose of godliness. Here are two reasons why.

First, the pastor is a believer. This point may seem a bit over-communicated, but realistically cannot be conveyed enough. Pastors are believers like every person in their church. The pastor is no special person that should be placed on a pedestal. He struggles like others with sin, sorrow, difficulty, and temptation. However, among the struggle of such things there should also be a pursuit of holiness. Jared Wilson notes that whatever pastors are is what their churches will become. If the pastor is a committed legalist, the church becomes legalists. If the pastor is a committed evangelist, the church will follow suit. Thus, it would follow that if the pastor dove headfirst in his Bible on a daily basis, it would naturally flow out of his speech, actions, and attitudes to affect the congregation in such a way that they would follow his lead.

Second, the pastor is a shepherd. Not only is the pastor to focus primarily on his own spiritual life, but he must be concerned with the spiritual life of those in his congregation God has entrusted under his shepherding care. Hughes explains, “There is no spiritual leadership apart from the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it follows that if we aspire to leadership in the Church, we must be full of the Holy Spirit.”[7] When pastors are full of the Holy Spirit, the church congregation will notice and want whatever he possesses. Christianity is “catchy.” Paul wrote to Timothy: “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). There is a relational quality to spiritually influencing congregants. Because God is a communicator, he ordains those shepherding his church to be relational in their shepherding. Jesus told Peter that if he truly loved him, he should feed his sheep (John 21:17). But the true act of the shepherd comes in the form of leading the sheep to flourishing. Of course, there is a massive spiritual connection to this truth. Pastors are used of God to spiritually lead their congregations to drink from the well that never runs dry.


Pastors need the spiritual disciplines in place in their life in order to prepare their own hearts to lead their congregations by preaching the word of God. Salvation (faith) comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Thus, pastors must take special concern with the message they proclaim each and every reach. Donald Whitney helpfully clarifies that God does not save people during the preaching of the Word, but through the preaching of the Word.[8] Therefore, it cannot be emphasized enough how important the disciplines are to the pastor who will stand at the sacred desk each week and proclaim, “Thus saith the Lord.”

[1] Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2014), 33.

[2] J.I. Packer.  Knowing God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1973), 29.

[3] Jared C. Wilson, The Pastor’s Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 42.

[4] J. Oswald Sanders. Spiritual Maturity (Chicago: Moody, 1994), 37.

[5] R. Kent Hughes, Disciplines of a Godly Man (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 16.

[6] While some would find this statistic fairly admirable, I would argue that there is still much work to be done. Pastors are spiritual leaders, and it is imperative that there be a consistent plan in place to be in step with the Spirit of God through a communion with His Son. See, Reasons for Attrition Among Pastors,

[7] Hughes, Disciplines of a Godly Man, 186.

[8] Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines Within Your Church: Participating Fully in the Body of Christ (Chicago: Moody, 1996), 67.

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