Friday, March 7, 2008

The best way I can serve a church...

Earlier this week, Sovereign Grace posted an excerpt from a recent Leadership Interview. In it, C. J. Mahaney had this to say about the activity of reading:

...I would want to encourage pastors who I think might be tempted to view reading and study as selfish. I view reading and study as one of the most important ways I can serve the church. So it is not a selfish act for me to set aside this time. It is really the most effective way I can serve this church, by tending to my soul and by preparing for the various forms and expressions of ministry. The best way I can serve a church is by responding to the command to watch your life and watch your doctrine (1 Timothy 4:16). It is the example of a pastor over a period of years and decades that will make a difference in the life of a congregation. And therefore I want to guard my heart from growing familiar with the pastoral world, growing familiar with God’s Word, growing familiar with corporate worship, growing familiar when I am listening to preaching, growing familiar when I am taking communion, growing familiar with God. I want to guard my heart from that. And the best way I can do that is by attending to his Word and applying his Word to my heart on a daily basis. I think that is the most effective way I can serve those I care for and those I have been called to serve and lead.
Do we really believe reading and study are among the best ways we can serve our churches? And if so, how should we regulate our schedules? How do we set aggressive - yet realistic - goals for reading and personal enrichment? How much time should we spend in general reading versus preparing for next Sunday's sermon? What other ministries and activities should we decrease or delegate so we can devote ourselves more fully to our personal life and doctrine? Should reading time ever replace family time? These are issues I continue to wrestle through.

I'm reminded of the apostles' decision in Acts 6:4 to appoint "deacons" so the apostles could devote themselves to the priorities of prayer and the ministry of the word. I am compelled, too, by Ephesians 4:12, which says that the primary duty of the pastor-teacher is not the work of service, but rather the equipping of the saints. Yet it can be challenging to flesh these principles out practically at the local church level in a typical week. So many "good" things compete for our time.

I do spend a significant amount of time each week preparing for Sunday sermons, but I probably do not spend enough time doing "general reading." I once heard Al Martin classify "general reading" into eight categories. He said we should have regular exposure to each of these: devotional (e.g. Bunyan, Ryle); theological (e.g. Calvin, Owen, Dagg); biographical; historical; pastoral; polemical (refuting false doctrines and engaging controversies); technical (e.g. textual criticism, archaeology, seminary journals); and contemporary (both secular and religious). Blogs, newspapers, and magazine articles would mostly fall into the final category.

By God's grace, I would like to improve my general reading by (1) better balancing my book selections into these eight categories; and (2) being more purposeful in goal-setting, weekly scheduling, and daily discipline.

How about you? What guidelines have you established in your scheduling and study habits? How would you like to improve?

Fridays are often dedicated to practical church ministry issues. If you have a question or suggested topic for the future, please email me.

1 comment:

David said...

I read a LOT. When doing sermon work, anything that connects with the text or subject needs to be digested. This includes: listening to sermons. Reading books. Commentaries. etc.

It is comforting to hear that reading is not selfish. However, I am often too busy during the day to focus in on reading and heavy study. I'm a late nighter. Meaning that I do serious sermon work and study in the middle of the night. Seriously, you can drive by Palms Baptist at 2am on Thursday nights and I'm there. It's great. The phone doesn't ring, no crisis (and if someone does call... it really is a crisis).

Often one sermon requires reading at least one book. This means planning sermons far enough in advance to secure study aids and read through books. Actually, for a sermon on Song of Solomon, my wife read the book and highlighted the important stuff. Often my wife does reading and lets me know if a book is any good or how much attention I should give it.