The Study Habits of the Pastor

The way a pastor studies indicates the health of his spiritual life. Therefore, it is vital for the pastor to pay close attention to these three areas of study: his personal study, his sermonic study, and his intellectual study.

The Personal Study of the Pastor

Pastors are constantly interacting with the Bible through sermon preparation, pastoral counseling, pastoral visits and care, and in other areas. Often, it may seem as though their personal Bible study could be another task to complete. Pastors should guard against making such activities simply another addition to their work calendars. Martyn Lloyd-Jones advises that pastors should do more than simply read the Bible to find passages of Scripture for sermons.[1] A pastor with such engagement in Scripture is in grave error and in danger spiritually. This is not to claim that sermons cannot come from one’s personal reading of Scripture – the Word of God can work in this way – but that reading the Bible should never be for the sole purpose of finding a text to preach.

If a pastor is to be transformed into the image of Christ, it will be through a disciplined life of communion with God. Therefore, a pastor must discipline to take time for his own personal growth. This personal growth is the way he fills his reservoir. A pastor cannot fill his reservoir unless he is taking the time to nourish himself with the Word of God. Lloyd-Jones advises pastors to “safeguard their mornings” so they will not be distracted and so they will not neglect to prepare for work in the pulpit.[2]

In his book, Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health, Donald Whitney offers a question that all pastors should ask themselves on a weekly (possible daily) basis: “Do you thirst for God?”[3] This is the most essential question for a pastor’s personal Bible study – the question of thirsting for God. The psalmist claims that God “satisfies the longing soul” (Ps. 107:9). But God does not satisfy the longing soul with something other than himself; he satisfies longing souls with the only true satisfaction – himself.[4] Thus, a pastor must constantly be thirsting for God to satisfy his longing soul, and this satisfaction is only achieved through a personal Bible study.

The Sermonic Study of the Pastor

Another topic to make mention of is the topic of sermonic study for the pastor. Again, while this topic is not a major theme, it must be analyzed succinctly. Pastors can often find themselves in time crunches during their week either from a neglect to discipline themselves for the task, or from other pastoral duties taking precedence during a given week. However, the sermon(s) they will preach on the upcoming Sunday should not be neglected. Far too often, pastors will resort to an “already been chewed” sermon that’s been preached before or they will resort to not putting adequate amounts of time into studying.

However, there is another problem that can arise if pastors do not intentionally evade themselves from it: preaching someone else’s sermon. Scott Gibson writes, “A responsible preacher does the majority of his or her own work, possibly stimulated by various preaching resources, and prays to God for wisdom, guidance, and discernment.”[5] This problem of preaching someone else’s sermon entails more than the sin of stealing someone else’s material, but it deals with the pastor’s heart condition. A pastor who is consistently neglecting to preach his own sermons is one who consistently neglects his own personal holiness. In other words, unless a pastor is immersed in the Word of God, he is not preaching his own sermon. Therefore, the pastor must prioritize his content toward Scripture, then the use of other resources.[6]

Nevertheless, a pastor’s sermon study could be considered a spiritual discipline because it is directly related to prayer, when done biblically. According to Wesley Allen, a typical Jew would honor an hour of study as an hour of prayer.[7] In other words, an hour of sermon preparation could be considered the same as an hour of prayer because it is communing with God to proclaim his Word to his people. This becomes a discipline because sermon preparation can often be neglected because of laziness or other priorities. However, for a pastor to prepare well, he must study well for his sermons. And, of course, this only results from a prepared soul to preach.

The Intellectual Study of the Pastor

Paul wrote to the Romans that we ought to transform into the image of Christ by renewing our mind (Rom. 12:2); Jesus added to the Great Commandment to love the Lord with all our mind (Matt. 22:37). Therefore, the pastor must be constantly learning. In order to correctly model what it means to follow Christ, the pastor must be a disciple – that is, he must devote his life to learning. Thus, a pastor can learn in a number of different ways – here are three.

First, a pastor can learn by studying theology. Theology must play a vital role in the soul care of the pastor, but also it must play a vital role in his preparation, for the Bible is theology. Martyn Lloyd-Jones advises those under his teaching to read theology until they die because being a theologian does not stop once you attain a degree.[8] In the grand scheme of pastoral ministry, you cannot adequately lead the Lord’s church unless you have a theology of how a church is supposed to be led. Of course, not only is theology of the church necessary, but likewise is systematic theology, biblical theology, practical theology, etc. necessary for the pastor to shepherd his congregation.

Second, a pastor can learn by reading Christian biographies. Biographies benefit the pastor in a couple of different ways. On the one hand, they allow the pastor to be well-read with the “greats” of the Christian faith. On the other hand, it allows the pastor to interact with Church History to a certain extent. Reading biographies of Luther, Calvin, Edwards, and others will afford the pastor the opportunity to establish and live the truth that history really does repeat itself, even in the church. However, reading biographies also allows the pastor to keep up with the past. Piper notes, “Good biography is history and guards us against chronological snobbery (as C.S. Lewis calls it).”[9]

Third, a pastor can learn by reading other genres. It is vitally important for pastors to read theology and biographies, but it is also important for the pastor to read other genres of literature for personal enjoyment. Many pastors enjoy a good novel or a science fiction work, but it is necessary for the pastors to give his mind a break and read something for personal delight.[10] Your mind needs rest in order to think clearly, and it is not a neglect to read something less dense for a period of time. However, even still the learning process of any believer, but pastors in particular, can never truly come to a halt – it must be constant.

[1] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Preaching and Preachers, 40th Anniversary Edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 184.

[2] Ibid., 179.

[3] Donald S. Whitney. Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2001), 15-28.

[4] Ibid., 24.

[5] Scott M. Gibson. Should We Use Someone Else’s Sermon: Preaching in a Cut-and-Paste World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 69.

[6] Iain D. Campbell, “Preparing the Sermon” in Pulpit Aflame: Essays in Honor of Steven J. Lawson (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2016), 147.

[7] O. Wesley Allen, Jr., “An Hour of Study: Sermon Preparation as a Spiritual Discipline” Lexington Theological Quarterly 45, no 1, (Spr.- Sum.: 2013), 28.

[8] Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, 188.

[9] John Piper. Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry (Nashville: B&H, 2013), 107.

[10] Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, 193.

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