The following is a guest post written by Kevin Smith, Teaching Pastor at the Highview Baptist Church and preaching professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – both in Louisville, Kentucky.
Some preachers are not effective because they are unprepared. Faithful, biblical preaching is hard work, which requires preparation. Part (not all) of that preparation involves studying and learning.
We must study the Word, even as we study ourselves for the purpose of greater godliness (1 Timothy 4:16). We must study the congregation, in order that we may properly feed them the Word of God (1 Peter 5:2). We must study our societal surroundings, so that we know how to apply the Word to the saints’ day-to-day challenges (1 Chronicles 12:32).
Well, as you can see, that’s a lot of thinking and learning that the preacher must do to faithfully stand before God’s people and say, “Thus saith the Lord.” In light of this, I want to urge preachers to develop a lifestyle of regular learning. A lifestyle that stretches beyond attending a conference, pursuing a Bible-college, or, even a seminary degree – I’m encouraging a lifestyle of learning that encompasses all of the preacher’s years of ministry. As it regards biblical and theological education, the preacher should never be satisfied or finished with the learning process.
The faithful preacher is always reading a new commentary, analyzing a new theology book, or diving deeper into the original biblical languages and historical context. That’s just who he is! While exact methods, timing, and digital vs hardcopy may vary, these sources are a regular part of the faithful preacher intellectual diet.
Let me raise two considerations:
There is no struggle for the busy pastor that can rival that of time-management. If you are serving in a pastoral role, there will be many potential church responsibilities that can cut into your study and sermon preparation time. You must fight for your study time!
Some pastors distinguish their working/meeting office from their “study.” Others study away from their church office – like at home, a local library, or a quiet coffee shop. Whether it is your wife, or a firm ministry assistant, often someone must be the gate-keeper to keep people away from you during those precious times of study.
Give God your best time of day. Know whether you are a morning person or a night-owl, and set up your daily calendar accordingly. Additionally, the preacher that values the pulpit learns to delegate other church tasks, by developing and empowering staff and members of the church (Ephesians 4:12). For example, much of my ministry has been spent in construction projects. This is a good thing. However, these projects were not a distraction to my study and sermon preparation routines because I empowered gifted and capable Building Committee chairmen and members.
Even the most godly preacher has only 24 hours in his day – you must make choices about your time! Please, prioritize study and sermon preparation time.
In his letter to the Corinthians (chapter 1), the apostle Paul addresses schisms and divisions in that church. He reminded them that Christ’s Church (His Body) is not divided. Even if one were familiar and loyal to Paul, that did not diminish Apollos’ status in the church. Well, in your biblical and theological education, let me encourage you to study thinkers other than just the ones you are familiar with, and the ones to whom you have loyalties.
There is great benefit to reading outside of your denominational or theological tradition (within the broader Christian tradition). Often a commentary written by an African or Asian Christian can expose perspectives that you bring to the hermeneutical task that you might not otherwise notice.
Additionally, I want to encourage you to stretch your reading beyond the modern era of church history, beginning with the Protestant Reformation. Despite the term “Dark Ages,” there is much to glean from biblical and theological thinkers in the medieval era of the Church. Certainly, the era of the Church Fathers and Church councils should be valuable to contemporary preachers. One last encouragement – even as you stretch beyond your denomination and your national boundaries, also, stretch beyond your ethnicity in your reading and studying.
I write this blog with a big assumption – that you will embrace the words of my late pastor regarding the preacher’s call: it is a call to prepare, which is a call to study. May we all be lifelong learners as we seek to faithful preach the Bible.