When I took my final exams at university I was convinced my life would only get easier. “Well, now I will have a calm and measured life,” I thought. How wrong I was! Between work, seminary, ministry, church, and family, life only became more hectic. Yet despite my ever-increasing workload, I began to realize that having degrees did not mean that I no longer needed to study. Instead, I found that continuing in ministry required me to do more focused studies than I did even during my formal education. In college and seminary I faced theoretical problems. In the church, I faced real-life challenges.
The need to study doesn’t end with seminary. In fact, it’s only just begun. A pastor needs to continue learning, especially for these three reasons.
1. Study for the Sake of Your Life and Ministry
The famous French scientist Louis Pasteur proved in the 19th century that there is no such thing as spontaneous self-generation. Nothing is born from itself. Therefore, if we want to develop in any sphere —from personal spiritual life to raising children—then we need to invest in that particular area. Growth won’t “just happen.”
If we want to continue growing, then we need to learn through books, podcasts, research, and conversations. Pastors, therefore, should cultivate habits that will help them learn and improve constantly. Going out for groceries? Turn on a helpful podcast. Going for a run? Listen to a sermon. When you find yourself in your car or at the gym, start a series of seminars, turn on an audio book, or repeat your memory verses.
More importantly, visit people in your congregation. Don’t let all your learning be “distance learning.” Ask questions that help you learn how others think. In doing so, you become a factory that collects, analyzes, and then applies new information in your life and ministry. In essence, you are part of an exciting quest to find useful information and wisdom in all areas of life.
It’s hard to help others grow unless we ourselves are growing and developing spiritually. We do not consume content to simply pass it on. We pass it on through our lives as we grow closer to God and help others do the same. As Paul wrote:
Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers (1 Tim. 4:13–16)
Continuous study has always distinguished true ministers of Christ. Paul himself shows us an example when, even while in prison nearing the end of his life, he still set aside time to study God’s Word:
When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. (2 Tim. 4:13)
2. Study for the Sake of Instructing Your Church
As pastors, we all have our favorite topics to research or discuss. We love a good hobby horse. But if we’re not diligent in studying, we’ll find that those issues are the only ones we feel comfortable discussing. If we’re not learning anything new, then over time we may just repeat ourselves on an endless loop—preaching nearly identical sermons year after year. Failing to labor in study is one reason why some pastors change churches when their pre-prepared sermons end.
But our congregations need fresh, thoughtful, engaged meditations “with all wisdom” because our calling, as pastors is “to present everyone mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28). Like Paul confessed to the Ephesian elders, we must be able to tell our congregations “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).
Reading books, attending conferences, studying articles, and assiduous attention to Scripture will expand our arsenal of knowledge and wisdom. So will expositional preaching through different books from different genres. These are tools which the Holy Spirit will use to help us guide the flock entrusted to us.
3. Study for the Sake of Preaching to Unbelievers
It’s possible to say the right things in an unintelligible way. People may come to a gathering with heartache, but if we’re not careful, they may leave with a headache. That’s why ministers of the gospel need to understand their audience. Discerning pastors will study their own culture. They’ll understand unbelievers around them, which will help them clearly preach the gospel.
Let me explain what I mean. I am a pastor in Russia. During Perestroika, many Western missionaries came into the Soviet Union and told their hearers, “God loves you. Accept his love!” It’s a biblical statement to be sure, but it was often unclear to their Soviet audience. After all, Russian culture focuses more on how to receive God’s mercy, not his love, and how to avoid the deserved wrath of God for your sins. They should have said something different. For example, “God loves you, so he offers you the forgiveness of your sins!” This would have connected mercy and love for Russian hearers.
Gospel ministers should stay intellectually vibrant. They need to grow spiritually, knowing their Lord and Savior; they need to increase in knowledge and wisdom; and they need to strive to comprehend their world and its people. In essence, this is the fulfillment of the two Great Commandments— to love God and to love people!