Pastoring communities whose members are increasingly demanding, cultured, and aware of contemporary trends has become quite challenging. The ease of access to the internet popularized information, making it common to both large and small cities. As a result, pastors are being challenged to raise their level of knowledge and the ability to articulate their ideas. Sermons need to be intelligent yet original, profound yet accessible, newsy yet accurate.
The concern with having pastors well prepared intellectually is not new. Years ago, church leader Ellen White wrote: “Our ministers will have to render to God an account for the rusting of the talents He has given to improve by exercise. They might have done tenfold more work intelligently, had they cared to become intellectual giants. Their whole experience in their high calling is cheapened because they are content to remain where they are. Their efforts to acquire knowledge will not in the least hinder their spiritual growth if they will study with right motives and proper aims.”1
The demands of the church can often prevent pastors from spending time in intellectual preparation. Therefore, we need to be intentional in our search for useful knowledge as we strive to enhance our ability to better serve the Lord. To that end, I would like to share five tips for effectively developing our intellect.
Time. Time for intellectual growth should be part of the daily pastoral agenda. The recommendation has been that pastors dedicate their mornings to read, study, and grow intellectually and spiritually. Pastors should regularly set aside between two to three hours a day for systematic study. Whether working as a district pastor or as an editor, it has always been important for my ministry to set aside a few hours for personal study. Working for the church has taught me that we need to be masters of our schedules and set the pace of our activities if we are to develop a balanced and integral ministry.
Content. You can define content from two perspectives: exploring one discipline at a time or maintaining thematic variety throughout the week. For example, you can research for a month (or more) on a particular subject or study an area of theology each day. For some time, I used the following weekly plan: news (Monday), biblical theology (Tuesday), historical theology (Wednesday), systematic theology (Thursday), and a review of themes to be presented on the weekend (Friday). While I was involved in my graduate programs, the study plan naturally followed the demands of the academic curriculum.
Information. Stay informed about the most important and recent publications in your area of interest or in theology as a whole. Follow the social media of leading Christian publishers. Subscribe to theological periodicals. Visit Christian libraries and bookstores. Browse the syllabi of theological seminaries. Access good theological discussion sites.
Technique. Each person has a preferred learning technique. For example, some like to underline material, others cannot grasp content without taking notes. Some do very well with mind maps, and then there are those who learn through brainstorming. If you still do not know which method is most effective for you, try to identify it through reliable testing.
Production. Aim to produce materials that grow out of your personal study, such as sermons, seminars, articles, blogs, Bible studies, small group guides, and books. This production honors God, solidifies your knowledge, and blesses the church.
“The times demand an intelligent, educated ministry.”2 May we be as the leaders in Issachar: “They kept up-to-date in their understanding of the times and knew what Israel should do.”3
- 1 Ellen G. White, Pastoral Ministry (Silver Spring, MD: General Conference Ministerial Association, 1995), 48.
- White, 43.
- 1 Chron. 12:32, International Standard Version.