In this series, I’m considering some things that I’ve learned while pastoring over the last 15 years. You can check out the previous posts and a series introduction here:
Part 1: Not everybody will like you, and that’s okay.
Part 2: Pray for people and let them know that you’re praying for them.
Part 3: Discipleship is easy, yet hard.
Part 4: Encourage your wife to serve where she feels led
Part 5: Make your vision, purpose, and mission to lead people to love God and love others
In this post, we’ll consider Lesson #6: Keep yourself saturated in the word of God.
I have a love/hate relationship with one-year Bible reading plans. On the one hand, they can be useful as they provide guidance and accountability to help you read through the whole counsel of God. It makes me sad when I talk to people that have been followers of Jesus for years if not decades who have never read through the entire Bible at least once; it makes me even sadder when I hear other pastors say there’s parts of the Bible they’ve never read. Even if it takes two or three years to make it through a one-year plan, it still gives us that wide taste of the Word of God.
On the other hand, they can work against the aim of deep saturation in God’s word. We face busy lives in which its hard to slow down. We get easily distracted. I’ve been there before—the checkboxes on the plan become just another thing to do and five minutes after you check the box, you walk away and can’t recall what you read.
Let me be Captain Obvious for a moment: The ministry of the Word is the most fundamental aspect of a pastor’s work. This is why in Paul’s lists of pastoral qualifications, we find multiple character traits but only two specific skills: The pastor needs to know how to lead his family and teach God’s word.
This means that we should be leaders of the pack when it comes to saturating ourselves deeply in Scripture. And I’m not talking sermon prep here, but the quiet times or devotional times that we have each day. Yet, we sometimes face that temptation to simply check off a box and move on to the next thing on our list.
But we will suffer and our congregations will suffer if we aren’t devoted men of the book.
Two main things that I have learned in order to keep myself Word-saturated:
First, mix things up in your devotional life when things are getting stale. Over the past two decades, I have read through the Bible eight times. I’m doing the one-year plan in 2019 with the aim to make it nine. A couple of years ago, however, I found my devotions growing stale with the one-year plans. They were becoming that dreaded check-the-box-and-move-on. So, I decided to mix it up.
In 2017, I chose four books of the Bible to focus on—one for each quarter of the year. The books were Romans, Leviticus, Mark, and Samuel. During the three-month period for each, I’d read through the book several times. Every new read-through would be in a new translation, in which I mixed the more wooden with the paraphrases, and the contemporary with the older versions. I also used the three months to read through a commentary that I had not used before. Then in 2018, I spent most of the year focused on the gospels of Matthew and Luke, as well as the Psalms. I didn’t do it in quite the same way as the four books of the year prior, and I didn’t prioritize reading a commentary on those books. That time led me to preach through Luke here in 2019.
Mixing it up provided a breath of fresh air. Now I feel that my 2019 read-through (the first month, at least) isn’t as formulaic. I’m still checking the boxes, but having taken two years to slow down, I am more focused in my one-year readings.
Second, make sure you’re learning from someone else in your church. I think, sometimes, we pastors put the pressure on ourselves—we feel we must be the ones leading all the main Bible studies, we must teach a Sunday School class or small group, and we must do other teaching. We forget that while God gifted us to be shepherd-teachers, he did not gift us as the only teachers in the church.
I don’t teach at our Wednesday night Prayer Meeting and Bible Study. I still lead it, but we have been working our way through the book of Romans in a heavily discussion-based format. I provide weekly questions and make the occasional interjection or clarification, but for the most part I sit and listen to what the others have learned studying the passage throughout the week. I also don’t teach a Sunday School class. I will fill in for various classes when needed, but again this frees me to learn from others and help deepen my time in the word and give me food for thought that didn’t come from myself.
God’s word is vital to the life of the pastor. Let’s do what we need to stay saturated in it beyond our sermon prep so that we keep growing and we can help God’s people grow.