Monday, June 23, 2008

How An Expositor Does All That Reading

If you do what I suggested in the previous article, that is to read sixteen chapters (or your amount) a day six days a week, it could require as much as an hour a day just to accomplish that. Now, busy pastors may already have become nervous just thinking about this. What about family, school, and community activities . . . and meetings, and visitation, and counseling, and building programs, and special events, and emergencies, and weddings, and funerals . . . and ministerium meetings, and conferences, and seminars . . . oh, and I forgot solving all the world's problems that are now unjustly dumped at the doorstep of the pastor (like AIDS, the climate, corrupt governments, finding all the heretics on the internet, etc.) , and on, and on, and on in a way that is more run-on than this sentence.

Of course, then there is also the demand of the rest of sermon preparation - focused reading in the book or passages you are currently preaching, exegetical work, reading commentaries (and articles, and other books, and theology, etc.), organizing your research, developing a preaching outline or format, collecting illustrations, maybe discussing it with your staff or others, thinking through your wording, maybe writing a manuscript . . .

Hmmm, did I miss anything? Could it be ? . . . oh yes, prayer !!!

I have found prayer to be the main feature in the development of right priorities and disciplines, and also in the understanding and conserving of what I read or study. There probably are numbers of things you are doing that just do not need to be done at all, and other things that should be done by other brothers and sisters in the Body or on your staff instead of by you. Remember, as you pray and prepare, the most loving and effective thing a teaching-elder/"pastor" can do is preach the Word. Keep Bible-reading, meditation, prayer, preparation, and preaching foremost among your priorities. This is how the expositor loves God and loves people. Remember 2 Timothy 2:15 ? Matthew 22:37-40 ?

In addition to my Bible-reading time, I also try to devote about another hour a day to other reading (commentaries; books - including "secular" and cultural stuff, fiction; articles, etc.). In addition, I try to devote either a morning or an afternoon each week to reading. Further, in addition, I try to devote a day each quarter to reading. And also, in addition, I try to devote the bulk of a week each year to reading. I do also get some other reading time in on the go - keep reading material handy for when you travel, wait for appointments, eat meals alone, etc. Most reading other than commentaries, Bible study, and theology, comes from the recommendation of others.

Let me close by recommending you read chapter five of John Stott's now dated but classic book on preaching, Between Two Worlds (Eerdmans, 1982). Chapter five is entitled, "The Call to Study". It will be worth your time - that is if you can make the time to read it !!


  1. That is great encouragement. It is sad that you had to write a blog on this, it should have come as second nature to a "preacher". I would value a 'reading" suggestion list sometime if you would be so kind

  2. i completely understand what you are saying here. the value of continued reading time outside the scope of Scripture reading is essential. for a small-congregation pastor, how is this done? maybe this isn't even just a small-congregation pastor issue. how is anyone in the full-time ministry to go about doing this? what steps can be taken when there aren't others that many duties can be handed off to in the present? how does one prioritize between the "practical stuff" or "people stuff" of ministry and dedicating oneself to the absolutely valuable pursuit that you've described here? are most church bodies ready to allow a pastor two hours everyday to be spent in reading alone? what can be done to help a church realize the importance of this.

    i always find myself battling between the practical and the theoretical. are there steps that can be taken to bridge these two places, of practical/urgent things and theoretical/important things in this discussion?

    any feedback would be wonderful!

  3. Hi Brad . . .

    I thought I was being as practical as I could be - I guess not. I do not think this is a small church/large church issue. I think it is a matter of a man's personal discipline. There is no way a church can stop a man from taking two hours to read. It may just mean that he has to start at 3:30 or 4:00 am instead of 8:00. The feeding of his own mind and spirit are practically the greater priority. The only thing can stop a man is his own lack of discipline or laziness.

    How do you bridge between the theoretical and practical? Just do it! It is called obedience. A church will desire you to prioritize your time like this when they see the results in your life and preaching.

  4. he also must have a church that allows him to be devoted to the true work of pastoral ministry.

    this understanding is a grace of God when a pastor can serve in a church that lets him pastor as the Bible describes, not as a business manual describes. (and what a joy when you get to serve in such a church!!!)

    of course, the tension is that the Lord usually desires for the pastor to be the one to teach the body what his calling is!

  5. I also think that the leadership team of a church needs to protect the pastor and his family by defining and limiting the pastor's responsibilities. One man cannot do everything and I think it is a fatally flawed view of ministry to expect that a man will work 50+ hours a week in vocational ministry. This often leads to serious neglect of family. I for one am very glad that my elder team has established an our cap in my employment contract.