When a pastor does not know his Bible

I’ve known of pastors who were basically ignorant of Holy Scriptures for one reason or the other, and who fed their sheep little to nothing from the pulpit.  In this day, however, there is no excuse for a pastor not knowing his Bible.  Resources literally bombard him from all sides, offering numerous ways to get help in learning this most precious of all Books.

When a pastor does not know the Word of God, he will….

One. Preach his pet scriptures over and over again.

Two. Surf the internet for catchy sermon titles and messages which he can recycle.

Three. This means he will have short pastorates so he can move on and preach the same sermons to another unsuspecting flock.

Four. He will disciple no one since he knows so little of the Word, a requirement for all who would become mature disciples of Christ

Five. He will end up preaching his opinions, repeating stories he has heard, quoting sermons from others.  He will have nothing directly from the Lord, but his sermons will be patchworks from rags and end pieces

Six. He may become defensive and argumentative toward those who criticize his failings (and his failings are huge).

Seven. He may preach false doctrine without knowing it, without having the tools for critiquing his own sermons, and thus be leading people astray

Eight. His failure may probably go unnoticed unless his congregation has people who know their Scriptures enough to want more from the pulpit.  A good sign is when a few leaders confront such a pastor and ask him to start feeding the sheep.  (He won’t like it, but they did him a great favor.)

Nine. Build sermons on “practical advice,” with an occasional scripture thrown in.  (I visited a church in Tennessee once where the guest speaker brought a sermon on friendship.  It was a good presentation, but could have been delivered at a civic club luncheon.  Nothing from the Word at all.

Ten.  He will raise his voice to distract the hearers from the weak content. It’s an old trick known to every veteran preacher.

When I put the question to my Facebook friends–“When a preacher does not know his Bible, he will…?” the answers swarmed in.  In short order, over 100 answers were given.  I’ve borrowed from some of the responses above.  Obviously, we need to say, there is no limit to what a preacher may resort to when he does not know God’s word but is required to bring sermons from it, two or more times a week.  It’s a heavy assignment even when you know the Word, but unimaginably burdensome when you don’t.

There is no reason why a pastor should be ignorant of God’s Word these days…

  1. This is not to say a preacher needs to know it all and have perfect understanding of every text. No one does.  (I started pastoring in 1962. I own a couple of seminary degrees.  I’ve preached from every book of the Bible. But I could give you a long list of what I do not know about the Holy Bible.  It contains the very mind of God.  It is an inexhaustible well.  So, no way am I saying a pastor should know it all.)
  2. But there is no excuse for a pastor not reading the entire 66 books of the Bible several times in his lifetime and being familiar with the general thrust of each.
  3. Early in my first pastorate, I grew tired of reading about “Paul’s second missionary journey” and such, without a grasp of his work. So, one day I got my notebook down, laid out the Bible and opened up the maps at the end, and then walked through the 28 chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, noting every location mentioned there.  I drew my own arrows to show where Paul and Barnabas and others traveled in spreading the Gospel.  Thereafter, I had it.  It has served me well for nearly 60 years. But one has to do this himself; no one is going to do it for you.
  4. Some years back, I heard of a couple of outstanding young preachers who did something fascinating.  As God blessed their ministries, they soon found themselves in over their heads, serving churches with huge crowds and vast responsibilities, for which they were unprepared. So, once a year, the pastor would travel to a city where we have a seminary.  He would rent a hotel room and pay a professor to spend  a couple of hours a day with him, during which he would teach a book of the Bible, one the pastor had been reading and studying on his own in preparation.  Sometimes, they would focus on a particular doctrine.  (Afterwards,  of course, he gave a nice check to the professor.) The pastor would return home, do his own studies, prepare his sermons, and deliver solid nourishment to his people. That professor could fill gaps in the pastor’s knowledge, point out where he was in danger of leaving the highway of orthodoxy and detouring into heresy, and help with his questions.
  5. These days, for Southern Baptists–or anyone else!–each of our six SBC seminaries offers a full menu of their courses online.  It’s not inexpensive, but neither is moving your family to that city and enrolling full time.  You do what you have to do.
  6. A pastor could invite an excellent preacher or professor to his church for a Bible study, but with the understanding that the two of them–the host pastor and the guest–would study together for a couple of hours in the daytime.  (I never did this as such, but always made time to take the guest to dinner and pick his brain on certain subjects where he knew far more than I.)
  7. Any pastor. Every pastor.  Should make as his goal to study the Word throughout  his whole lifetime.  I’ll tell you this:  It gets richer and more rewarding the longer you do it. You understand more of the great sweep of the redemptive story and appreciate far more what God has done, and the lessons of His various servants in the Word.

When my favorite seminary professor, Dr. George Harrison, died a couple of years back, in addition to the usual grieving, I felt like what a waste it was, that all the knowledge of God’s Word this man had was dying with him.  But I know how the Lord works.  He raises up a new generation of  preachers, pastors, professors, and calls each one to get into the Word and learn it, study it, and teach it.

The things which you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.  (2 Timothy 2:2).

4 thoughts on “When a pastor does not know his Bible

  1. I found this an application to my own life though I am not a pastor, but have been a minister’s wife for many years. Sometimes, I think I am so familiar with a scripture passage and just pass over it. Then, the Lord reminds me this is a living word, one that has a deeper meaning than I have seen before. When I take time to meditate on a passage, read some background on it, study it, I find a new application to my daily life, here and now.

  2. I`m a Pastor, and I totally agree with this word.
    I seek to look at those pastors who engage in reading and teaching the word.
    And God got me to know this website and one of these pastors …..
    Thank you Joe !!

  3. One of the ways I tried to help pastors struggling with this problem (when I was on the field as an IMB missionary) was to encourage them to become a “book” preacher. The choosing of a book after much prayer and preaching verse by verse is a great discipline. It has always been amazing how the folks in the pews get caught up in the Word when they already know what will be preached the following weeks, the music folks know what hymns to choose, the preacher has no Saturday night panic about what he will preach the next day, and everyone learns how the Word speaks clearly to our lives, especially the preacher. Ha!

  4. He will fail to:

    1. Exercise church discipline
    2. Protect his church against the surrounding corrosive culture
    3. Raise up leaders capable of sustaining ministry in his absence
    4. Seek guidance and mentorship
    5. Make the main thing the main thing
    6. Provide spiritual sustenance to believers in travail
    7. Provide wise counsel and guidance to young believers seeking direction

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