When asked by the Pharisees which command in the Law is the greatest, our Lord Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt 22:37). For the pastor, these truths should shape the entirety of our pastoral ministry in a local church, especially our preaching ministry. We study and preach because we love our God and our neighbors. But notice again how we are to love God – with our hearts, souls, and minds. As pastors, we must realize that our vocation involves the whole person. In this article, the emphasis will be on loving the Lord with our minds and specifically how as pastors we can develop the intellect.
J.P. Moreland claims, “According to the Bible, developing a Christian mind is part of the very essence of discipleship unto the Lord Jesus.” I’m convinced that as preachers it would be wise for us to develop our intellect, thinking deeply about the truth of God, in order to effectively communicate His Word. Allow me to provide 3 considerations on how we can achieve the goal of developing the intellect.
Develop the Intellect by Loving and Studying the Truth
In his book, The Intellectual Life, A.G. Sertillanges states that we are called to, “Love truth and its fruits of life, for yourself and for others; devote to study and to the profitable use of study the best part of your time and your heart.” As pastors, we are called not only to preach truth but also to love Truth. The Truth that we study is a person, Jesus Christ, God the Son incarnate (John 14:6). It is imperative for us preachers to spend time in prayer and study. Flexibility is key for ministry. Important calls, emergency meetings, and spontaneous events seem to come in randomly. However, we must be disciplined in our study. As preachers, we need to guard the sacred activity of studying deeply about the things of God for our preaching.
With the multitudes of resources available there are really no excuses as to why the modern-day pastor cannot study deeply. Reading is key. Writing is foundational. And studying is the heartbeat of solid preaching. Whether it is Greek syntax, reading theology, or writing out ideas we must study with a heart of love. We think deep thoughts because our hearts are inclined to Truth for the sake of others and ourselves. As Sertillanges argues, “Truth visits those who love her…”
Develop the Intellect with a Posture of Humility
Sertillanges continues, “…and this love cannot be without virtue.” As a pastor, we have many responsibilities. Yet the primary call of a pastor is to be a man of virtue. Character is the most important qualification for pastoral ministry (1 Tim 3:1–7). The power of our words and ideas are confirmed by personal transformation. God may grant the giftedness to teach yet we are called to pursuit the gift of godliness. As we seek to develop the intellect, we must do so specifically with the virtue of humility. Humility is wrought in our hearts when Jesus saved us and continues as we grow in the Truth. The reality is we are not the only thinkers in the universe. Intellectual development must be done through a heart that is “poor in spirit.” Humility is recognizing our limited ability. As Philip Dow states in his book, Virtuous Minds, “Authentic humility…means an uncompromisingly honest appraisal of the capacities and limitations of our minds against the standard of an all-knowing, infinitely intelligent and always truth God.”
Studying can result in pride as Paul warns (1 Cor 8:1). But knowledge of God should result in humility. When we study the Word and think deeply about the Lord, any bit of truth we glean is evidence that God Himself has condensed to touch our ignorance by the Spirit. Pursuing truth cultivates character. Honest intellectual development creates humility. Biblical truth ought to kill personal pride. As Augustine argues, the man who “speaks well and lives badly really speaks words that do not belong to him.”
Develop the Intellect in the Real World with Real People
We should pursue truth within the real world, not just in our personal studies. Sertillanges states, “You therefore who intend to devote yourself to the vocation of study, beware of turning your back for its sake on the rest of life…refuse to be a brain detached from its body and a human being who has cut out his soul.” We are called to pursue the intellectual life within the world we inhabit, the here and now. This means that while we seek to cultivate deep thoughts, we live out the Truth in community. We are humans not machines. Our daily activities of pastoring, preaching, serving, and leading happen within local churches in local communities. If our intellectual development has no practical real-world application, all we are left with are unless ideas.
As pastors who seek to communicate Truth, we do so among God’s people. We must strive to engage those around us in love not just the books we read. We grow in knowledge in order to dispense that knowledge to others. We study in order to serve others. Our ideas about the Real (God) are intended to change real people. As Sertillanges aptly communicates, “The intellectual I have in view is…the same man in the presence of God, of his fellows, and of his maid, carrying within him a world of ideas and feelings that are not only written down in books and in discourses, but flow into his conversations with his friends, and guide his life.” Developing the intellect launches us into the real world with real people.
We must repent of the temptation to wield our knowledge like a sword or a hammer to crush those who don’t know the truth as well as us. Rather we exist as preachers to serve the church. The pursuit of intellectual development is not the end to itself. God and His glory is the end of our pursuit. Our minds may whither and memories will fade but God and His Word remains forever. So in the already before the not yet, let’s give our minds to Him for the sake of others that they may come to know the Truth we proclaim.
Michael Cooper is the Pastor of Grace Community Church in Mabank, Texas, and a Ph.D. student in Southwestern’s School of Preaching.