I awakened the other morning with this scenario playing in my head.
A young friend was being called into the ministry. He was trying to get his bearings. In my dream–if that’s what it was–I was saying to him, “Please learn to study. Learn to discipline yourself. Because we don’t need another lazy preacher.”
So, as I come to full consciousness, I’m concerned about lazy preachers?
Wonder where that came from.
Do we have lazy preachers? Of course. Always have had and always will have. You see laziness in ministers in a hundred ways, including some of these…
–a refusal to study. Some lift entire sermons from books and preach them. Others scan the internet in search of some obscure message they hope no one in their congregation has seen, print it out, work on learning it, and deliver it the next Sunday. (That seems like more work than if they did their own!) Others rehash old messages from their files. Others simply repreach favorite themes.
–an inability to control their passions. Their hobbies claim the bulk of their time and attention. Some become golf pros. Others develop a love for travel and soon are leading mission trips and excursions to the Holy Land in order to get out of the hard work of pastoring, but while appearing spiritual at the same time. Some become computer experts. And I’ve known more than one addicted to television watching. Lord, help us.
–a lack of planning. Lazy pastors don’t have time to meet regularly with their staffs, have no long-range purpose for their preaching ministry, and let the calendar and the telephone dictate their schedules.
–an undisciplined spirit. They retaliate, carry grudges, respond angrily when challenged, and shade the truth to make themselves look better.
I wish I could say this is rare. It isn’t.
The pastor who serves well will have to learn to do a number of hard things…
One. To study well. Ideally, we all will have acquired this skill in junior high, but most did not. Some will have to learn the basic things of studying even in their middle years. Better then than never.
Studying well means pulling together the basic books and commentaries on Scripture. Studying well means blocking off sufficient time several days each week, and at least a full week annually, for nothing but digging into the Word. Studying well means protecting your spirit, protecting your place of study from interruptions except for emergencies, and getting the support of your office team and spouse. Studying well means constantly working to learn better skills, to improve your knowledge, to be more effective.
The pastor who loves God’s word and lives in it has much to offer God’s people.
Two. To learn the doctrines of the faith. The pastor should master Romans and Hebrews, and as much of Revelation as he can. He should understand enough church history to recognize ancient heresies when they come to church in modern garb, and know how to deal with them. No one expects him to be an expert theologian, but a theologian he must be. Likewise, he is required to be an apologist, to know how to defend the Truth against error.
A pastor will want to prepare his people from the pulpit in how to answer questions about the Christian faith, how to respond to attacks from enemies, and how to love those who would do them harm.
The pastor who grasps the great doctrines of the faith will be a great resource to the Body of Christ.
Three. Interpret the great doctrines for the layman. Once he begins to comprehend the doctrines of the faith, he must do something even harder: learn how to express these truths in simple language in order to communicate God’s message. Few have ever done this better than C. S. Lewis, so the effective pastor will want to read as much of his writings as he can. He will find others who excel in making the complex understandable, and will want to learn from them. Caution: Not all will be members of his denomination, and some may even be called heretics. Pastors will want to venture cautiously into learning from these without adopting all they have to offer.
The pastor who can make the complex understandable is a treasure to the church.
Four. To develop sermons. This is difficult, and the craft is not static. That is to say, the kind of sermon which connects best with various groups, generations, and cultures is different and may change with time. What works in one place may bomb in another. The effective pastor must always be on top of his craft and know how to adapt.
The pastor who is forever working at perfecting his preaching is a gift to the church.
Five. To deliver sermons that really connect with people while lifting them to heavenly realms. Sermon delivery involves such aspects as speech, eye contact, pulpit presence, mannerisms, and word-choice, but also humor, pathos, and spirit.
The pastor whose preaching can bring the people into the presence of the Lord, and the Lord into the room with the congregation, is a wonder to behold.
Six. To discipline himself to do the hard work of pastoring. He must be a person of prayer. He must be willing to make himself get out of bed when the Spirit prompts him to write something down, look something up, or get started with his day. Only the self-controlled pastor can tear himself away from an enjoyable gathering to do the solitary work of studying and praying and planning.
A disciplined pastor is a blessing to the ministry and a credit to His Lord.
Seven. To control his spirit. Pastors will be attacked and slandered by people who hate God and resent His servants. But pastors will also be questioned by sincere friends who believe he should be doing better or more and something else. The mature disciple of Christ will understand this and not take it personally and will benefit from criticism, whether benign or malignant in intent.
Moses is a good role model. Throughout the forty-year crawl across the desert, the people of God (as well as the “mixed multitude,” a euphemism for unbelievers along for the ride) devoted themselves to making his life miserable. We can benefit by seeing how Moses dealt with them, although we probably should not expect the ground to open up and swallow the bad guys as it did in Numbers 16:32. To the contrary, our detractors may just as often go on to be elected to leadership positions in the church. So, we do well to learn how to serve God while harassed.
The pastor who can endure opposition and still love everyone is a lot like Jesus.
Let the young pastor determine he will work at his calling.
He must not expect the professors in college or seminary to teach him everything he needs to know to be effective in the Lord’s work. The best study he will ever do is what he does on his own, in the privacy of his office.
Let the young pastor get his maps down and learn the geography of the Holy Land. Let him walk through the book of Acts and step by step plot the Apostle Paul’s missionary trips. After all, he will be dealing with these for the rest of his ministry, so he may as well get it straight from the beginning.
Let the young pastor not get distracted into prophecy theories or pet doctrines of egotistical know-it-alls. Let him learn the four gospels backward and forward. Then, let him live in the epistles.
Let the young pastor invite the best preachers to guest in his church. While they are there, let him schedule an hour or two to pick their brains on what they have learned, what they regret, what they advise.
Let the young preacher get all the education he can. Let him never ever think he has arrived, or look down on those with less education. (Some of the most brilliant theologians the church has ever known had very little formal education, so don’t make the mistake of equating degrees with knowledge.)
Let the young preacher set his mind and heart to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).