One of the burning questions that many people long to ask about pastoral ministry is what does a pastor do all week. In the broader culture, there seems to be a belief that pastors have it easy because they only work a few hours on Sunday mornings. While I suppose for some that may be true (which would explain this, if you see it on a pastor’s shelf run!), but for faithful pastors, who truly love Christ and the people He has entrusted to them, nothing could be further than the truth. Although I rolled my eyes when I was repeatedly told in seminary that I would be busier in ministry than I ever was training for the ministry, I am, and truth be told I don’t know a single pastor that puts in less than 55 hours a week and most put in far more.
So what fills all of those hours? There are administrative tasks, correspondence, discipleship, leadership meetings, counseling, writing and even occasional audio production and web mastery but if you were to drop by the office unannounced, you would likely find me doing what fills most of my hours, studying. (In fact I don’t really have an office at the church, I have a study. With the exception of the presence of a mini-helmet autographed by Terry Bradshaw and Rocky Blier, my current digs bear no resemblance to any office I occupied prior to ministry.) So why do I study so much? Let me give you a few reasons.
It is commanded. – The pattern for pastoral ministry in the Christian church is set for in the pastoral epistles, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus, and second Timothy contains this command: Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth(2 Tim 3:15). Rightly handling God’s Word is hard work. Time and again as I study less familiar passages I am amazed how they often meant something very different to the original readers than it means to a 21st century North American believer on a casual reading in translation. Did you know that the Ethiopian eunuch we meet in Acts 8:27 was not from the small country on the Horn of Africa we call Ethiopia or that he would have been one of the most powerful men in the ancient world? Neither did I until I spent many hours studying that passage. In order to do my best to rightly handle that passage, I not only had to study the grammar and the literary context but also the historical background and even the cartography of first century Israel. Whether a pastor’s primary responsibility in the church is preaching, counseling, administration or even leading music, they are commanded to do their best to rightly handle the Word, and that means study.
It is a stewardship issue. – In modern evangelo-speak stewardship has become virtually synonymous with financial management, but that is far too narrow a view. Stewardship refers to the care of any resource that has been entrusted to you. And as a pastor an awful lot of people have poured an awful lot of their resources, their time, their knowledge and their treasure into me. Long before my seminary professors began pouring instruction into me, others began discipling and teaching me. Pastors, elders and many wiser more godly saints took the time to begin instructing a more than rough around the edges new believer, and as time went on pastors and elders entrusted me with opportunities to lead and teach, and to make mistakes and learn from them. And then by the grace of God I was able to attend a seminary whose motto was “We train men as if lives depend on it.” (Although at times it felt as though the motto was “we train men as if we are trying to kill them.”) And while I was there countless men, professors and mentors alike, taught me how to study and minister. I learned church history, and theology, and the languages, and so much more, and it would simply be bad stewardship to put those things on a shelf never to be used again. In 1 Timothy 2:2 Paul instructs Timothy to entrust what he has learned from him to faithful men who are able to teach others, and whether a pastor has been able to attend seminary or was trained solely through discipleship in the local church, he stands in that long line of godly men and has been given a God ordained stewardship to train others who are able to teach. You cannot be a good steward of that responsibility unless you study.
Sunday Comes Every Week. – Every single week people fill up the pews and need to hear from God’s Word. Yes, God’s word is living and active, but it also needs to be accurately explained to the people, so that they can rightly understand it and apply it in their life. In one of the most remarkable scenes in the Old Testament after the returned exiles have rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem under the leadership of Nehemiah they celebrate by calling for Ezra to read from the book of the Law. And as Ezra read on a platform, Levites went throughout the crowd and gave the sense of the reading, so that the people understood the meaning (Nehemiah 8:8). In order to rightly explain the meaning of any text in order to be able to teach it accurately, long hours of study are required.
It’s my job. – I am privileged and blessed to be supported by my church to serve them full time. Yes that means I maintain the website, edit the sermon audio, counsel, preach, and even occasionally clean the building, however the bible is clear how pastors are to actually earn their living, by studying in order to preach and teach. Paul writing to Timothy wrote this: Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:17-18.)
A pastor’s study habits sets the pattern for the congregation. – In the midst of spiritual instability in the church, Paul wrote to the Corinthians to imitate him (1 Corinthians 4:16) and he wrote to the Philippians to imitate him and to keep their eyes on those who follow his example (Philippians 3:17). While neither of these passages are speaking specifically about study, they contain the principal that as a leader in the church you must model what is pleasing to the Lord. If your people see that you take study of God’s Word Seriously they will too. Conversely if you don’t it will show and your people will get the message you are sending loud and clear; God’s Word is unimportant and there is no need to study it.
Biblical Counseling is built on a foundation of study. – Too often when pastors speak of study what they mean is sermon prep. And while sermon prep forms the bulk of my study, counseling requires serious study time too. Paul wrote to Timothy, All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). And in this passage “all” means all. Not only is study necessary to prepare for individual counseling sessions, but a systematic study of the whole counsel of God is necessary to prepare for when unexpected counseling opportunities occur or when a session suddenly turns in an unexpected direction. While many think that counseling is some specialized esoteric skill set that only a few have, the essence of biblical counseling is being able to rightly handle the Word of God in a fluid one on one setting. One of the wisest things I ever heard on the subject of biblical counseling came from a man who served a small church in a rural farming community, he said “When a blight wipes out a crop or a virus kills all of a man’s chickens and he has no way to provide for his family in the coming year, the last thing in the world he needs is to hear what I think; he needs a word from the Lord, and that is what I am there to give him, the truth of Scripture.” To be able to rightly divide God’s Word in order to bring His truth to bear whether someone’s life has been torn apart by pornography or avian infectious bursal disease requires study.
Inquiring minds want to know. – As their pastor, I am the de-facto go to resource for the questions of the congregation. These questions range from exegetical questions about a specific verse or passage to resource/book recommendations and reviews to questions about whether the things they have heard about the bible on the History Channel are true. While it is impossible to anticipate every question, well rounded study habits, including reading/watching things from opposing points of view go a long way toward being prepared for all of the questions that come my way.
My own walk with the Lord depends on it. – The key to effective ministry is a worshipful heart. Pastoral ministry is hard work, with long hours and much to do, and on top of that a faithful shepherd constantly is consumed with concern for the sheep that the Lord has entrusted to him. If done without a heart of worship, ministry can seem like a grind, but when done as a conscious act of worship, fulfilling even the most mundane of ministry tasks is a true joy. But it impossible to worship a God you don’t know, and it is impossible to cultivate a heart that grows in worship without cultivating a deepening knowledge of God, and that requires study. As John MacArthur is fond of saying “in order to go high, you have to go deep.” As a pastor, my first responsibility is to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, and to rightly worship Him, and nothing fuels worship like an ever deepening understanding of all that God has revealed about Himself in His Word, so I study not just so that I can be a better preacher and counselor but so that I can be a better worshiper of the true and living God.
There are so many more reasons that I could enumerate, that the list is virtually endless. But these are not just the reasons that I study, these are also reasons that you should allow your pastors time and freedom to study too. Aside from praying for him, one of the best ways that you can serve your pastor, whether they are a preaching pastor, a counseling pastor or an administrative pastor and especially if they are all three is to encourage them to study and give them the time to do so.