- Study Expresses. When we read and study, it expresses our commitment to godly discipleship. One of the first things I remember learning as a new believer was that the Greek word for ‘disciple’ (mathetes) literally means ‘learner’. To be called to Christ is to be called to learn, grow, and develop, so that we may learn to live in a manner worthy of the gospel (Ephesians 4:1).
- Study Feeds. We don’t merely read good books, we befriend them. We open our mind to them and grant the gift of influence. As friends, books feed us. It’s what makes them potent. It’s what’s makes them valuable. I can’t begin to recount how much reading good books has affected me. It’s not possible to quantify how my companionship with the messages of Charles Spurgeon has lifted me in dark moments of discouragement, or how Thomas Watson has armed me to fight for contentment, or how John Piper has pushed me to treasure God until my last dying breath. As good companions, books feed the soul and expand the mind. They help prevent ministry-lite, which is leadership based upon impulses, impressions, intuitions, and instincts. Spurgeon once said, “You need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritanic writers, and expositions of the Bible”. Study feeds your ministry. Aspiring pastors and church planters listen up: ministry drains! Every day we’re pouring into communication, counseling, sermon prep, and a host of daily demands. In light of this pace, we must think strategically about how and when we will be replenished. Studying and reading can fill an empty heart.
- Study shapes. If entertainment is our primary source of education, information, and soul-formation, our minds will be shaped in very particular ways. In the same vein, if we regularly read godly, Scripture-saturated books, our minds will be particularly shaped in God-oriented ways. Study also shapes and inspires our innovation. Most of us aren’t creative geniuses. We’re not Steve Jobs or Beethoven or Andrew Lloyd-Webber. We’re just normal guys with normal brains who must pillage the minds of others for great ideas. If we are wise, we’ll recognize that we don’t have to be brilliant to be effective pastors or leaders – we just need to be well studied. The creativity of others can help shape our minds too.
- Study Protects. In 1 Timothy 4:16, Paul wrote, “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.” Paul calls Timothy to keep a close watch on both his life and his doctrine. Diligent study is an important way of doing this. There’s simply too much at stake for us to choose leisure over study! In fact, if I’m reading 1 Timothy 4:16 correctly, there is a direct connection between our growth as pastors and the spiritual maturity, and even ultimate salvation of those we lead. Piper said it well, “…the fight to find time to read is the fight for one’s life [and ministry!].” It’s easy to become settled in ministry. For the first five to ten years, we’re sharp. We push ourselves because we’re trying to establish our identities and ministries. We want to make our mark in the world of pastoral ministry. But once we start to see fruit and success, a new enemy stalks us: the stagnation of comfort! I’m talking about relying on past growth rather than fighting for future growth.
Practical steps for growing in study
At this point you may be saying, “Okay Dave, enough already! I get it! I need to read. How should I start?”
- Don’t be afraid to read good books more than once. Sometimes we think that a completed book is an exhausted resource. But good books, particularly classics, are always fresh with insight. Our growth changes what we need from what we read. That’s why an old book you once read can feel very new.
- Consider designing your study regimen under the headings of this article. Which books would best shape me right now? What titles would feed and protect me? Invite your pastor to recommend some selections.
- Don’t choose to read certain books in order to impress someone else. Instead, choose books by how they might shape you.
- Read books with pen in hand. Interact with what you read. Take notes, markup passages, etc. Books are meant to be used, not kept in pristine condition. I typically place a mark before and after each sentence or paragraph that crisply states a point or summarizes a section..
- Choose one person from history and spend a season of concentrated study on that person. Learn from Newton, Augustine, Bunyan, Simeon, Lloyd-Jones or Hodge. Sit at their feet and peer at your problems through their eyes. Biographies sharpen perspective.
- As to when to read, it’s a dance that each leader must learn. Some find time right before bed, others block out time each morning. John Stott says that, “…one hour a day [of study] is the absolute minimum of study time for busy pastors.” Maybe you can’t do that right now, so you need to shoot for 15 minutes a day. The main point is to crack the book and cultivate the habit.