A young conference speaker was once asked how he found time to do all his studying. The clear, loud voice of John Stott replied from the other side of the room, ‘He doesn’t find time; he makes it!’
The first time the apostles would have realised that their decision to delegate in Acts 6 had been successful, was when a sense of peace surrounded them, and they realised that they had time to think, read, and pray. In other words, they had time to study.
When we are rushed off our feet with demands, our teaching becomes increasingly hand to mouth. There is no freshness, and certainly no increasing depth. Talks are recycled with no recognition that the culture, and the congregation, has changed. We become hacks.
Paul told Timothy, Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you.
Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Tim 4:13-16)
Timothy’s progress was to be in the area of his growth, both in life and in doctrine. And progress is a nice word. People would go home after one of his sermons, saying ‘Well he’s no Billy Graham, but at least he’s better than last week!’ Study. Progress.
But, but, but. We have all heard sermons where there is a huge amount of homework evident, and the preacher has obviously put in the hours, but it is unrelated to life. More than that, the congregation becomes completely passive, as if their sole role was to be the audience. Worse, they become dependent, fearful of asking questions, and threatened if they are asked one because they might get it wrong.
That means that the preacher has forgotten that the reason for those hours of study is to love other people enough that they are properly fed, and grow. So I pray, Lord:
- I need to increase in depth without becoming more complicated.
- I need to increase in wisdom, without people thinking I am clever.
- I need to increase in biblical rigour, without becoming irrelevant, or petty.
- I need people to grow in maturity, not increase in dependence.
- I need to consider how I will bring God’s Word to bear on his people
One final thought, about the sign on your door:
- And to do that, I need to work in a study, not an office.
Pastors: what books and commentaries are you reading at the moment? Are you still giving, as John Stott advised, an hour per day, a day per month, and a week per year into serious reading and thinking? Do you have a long term project to work on? Do you use technology to be able to use the time when you drive, or run? And are you keeping one constant eye on the church, to make sure they are depending on Christ, not on you?