I say “amen” Sunday night after the concluding prayer, thankful to God for another opportunity to minister but tired from a busy day. There’s great relief, however it doesn’t last long because quickly I’m reminded of the next Bible study/sermon I need to start preparing. Preaching and teaching is a grace gift from God, but it requires much study and prep time. Amidst all the weekly sermon prep, visitations, and other work it’s hard to find time to do any study that’s not related to the next sermon.
However, while it can be difficult, I believe it is important for pastors to read/study widely. Even if it’s a small amount per week, it’s important for a pastor to stay sharp by studying beyond the weekly sermon prep. Here are a few reasons that such study is helpful:
It is a form of discipleship
Martyn Lloyd-Jones argues that “the preacher’s first, and the most important task is to prepare himself, not his sermon.”Preaching and Preachers, 178. A pastor can easily get caught up in preparing sermons and bible studies without taking time to nurture his own soul. While trying to communicate God’s truth to others, we skip applying it to ourselves.
Take time each week to feast on God’s word, read theological works, and study church history not merely for the sake of sermon preparation, but for personal edification. Lloyd-Jones goes on to argue, “Do not read the Bible to find texts for sermons, read it because it is the food that God has provided for your soul because it is the Word of God.”Preaching and Preachers, 184. Don’t neglect your own soul, lest after preaching to others, you yourself should be disqualified (1 Cor 9:27).
You will deal with a broad range of questions/issues
Spending time each week to study keeps us sharp and more prepared for possible questions/situations we might face each week. Before starting a sermon from the Beatitudes, one of the youth raised his hand and asked me how we can trust the Bible. That was not the content of the text I had prepared that night. However, I did study such issues in seminary, and it comes up once in a while through articles, books, conversations, etc. Therefore, I was able to explain the basics of the canonization process and how we can know we have a reliable Bible. I love receiving questions from people who are genuinely interested and I want to be as prepared as I possibly can for such moments.
It will help us learn from others
We all have much to learn from others. When we read, we are declaring that we don’t know everything and we are willing to look to someone else. God has gifted many men and women to write and blessed us with the opportunity to learn from their study of Scripture and experience.
As we learn from others, it helps us get out of our “bubble.” We are all products of the place and time we live and the worldviews that surround us. We easily develop presuppositions we’re not aware of. Getting out of our bubble often reveals such presuppositions and helps us see beyond ourselves. This, in turn, not only helps us understand our people better, but also helps us communicate to them better.
Pastor, let us never fall into the trap that learning stops when we walk across the stage and get a diploma. Instead, let us be ever-growing in our hunger to know more of who God is and what He has done. Bask in the Scriptures daily and soak in God’s majesty. Learn from the wisdom He has taught other believers by reading their books. Dive in the deep works of theology or helpful books on Christian living. Examine the viewpoints of others by reading their arguments; stretch your imagination by reading fiction; and, learn from the past by reading history. As you do so, it will edify you as a person and further benefit your ability to minister to others.
James Williams is the Associate Pastor at the First Baptist Church of Atlanta, Texas, and a Ph.D. student in Systematic Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.