We live in an age of information overload. I searched the word “information” on Google and there were 8.6 billion results in .84 seconds. That’s a lot of information! The internet is like the metaphorical rabbit hole in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. With so much information readily available, distraction is a struggle for most of us.
What are some productive study habits for those who serve the church and proclaim God’s Word?
I would say to younger pastors in particular, the study habits you establish early in your ministry will lay the groundwork for all of your ministry. If you are lazy, unfocused, and unproductive early in your ministry, these habits are likely to continue throughout your ministry. If you work hard, focus, and seek to be productive early in your ministry, these habits are likely to continue throughout your ministry.
First, establish a pattern for study. The primary responsibilities you have for teaching should receive the best of your time. In a busy pastorate, study time can easily be pushed back and end up being hurried or shallow. For many years I prepared three different messages per week delivered in four worship services. I spent ten to twelve hours a week on my Sunday morning message, and around 4 hours per message on each of the other two. I easily spent twenty hours per week preparing sermons. Currently, on average, I typically preach two different messages per week delivered in three services. My total study time has not decreased. In fact, to prepare with the depth I think I need to, I typically spend as much time on two messages as I used to spend on three. Of course the total time varies depending on the difficulty of the subject, and the load of ministry otherwise.
Some pastors plan far in advance and even prepare their messages in full well ahead of time. I have never been very good at doing so. I plan my preaching calendar quarterly, and then stay about two weeks ahead in the spadework for messages, but the messages emerge on a weekly basis out of my study. How you study related to scheduling, is dependent on your personality and preference.
Second, pray consistently and ask God for wisdom and direction as you study. Our goal is to accurately and passionately proclaim the truth. The Holy Spirit will guide us if we depend on him to do so.
Third, the Bible should be your primary focus. A temptation in study is to jump quickly to what others have said about the Scripture in commentaries, sermons, and so forth. Resist the temptation. Pray and seek what God has said in his Word. Then, studying what others have said who hold to the truth of Scripture, will affirm your own study and help you see various aspects you may have missed on your own. With your study of the Bible, utilize as much of the biblical languages as you possibly can. If you are a seminary student, maximize your time in studying the biblical languages. Don’t be lazy and avoid them or do only the minimum required. If I were going to seminary again, I would discipline myself to study the languages with as much depth as possible. There are so many rich things to be mined by doing so.
Fourth, develop a pattern for reading books. I had a conversation recently with a theologian and asked the question about his reading habits. He indicated he reads one book a week, and while he is a slow reader, he is a determined reader. Volume of what you read is not the point. Learning from what you read is the point. A book a week would be fifty-two books a year which is a lot of reading. In the regular habit of preparing to preach and teach obviously you will refer to bits and pieces of many more books than this. Reading books through however, will provide depth and enable you to study certain subjects more thoroughly.
Fifth, read widely. A couple of years ago I realized I had established a habit of reading only “Christian” books and found myself in a terrible rut. My reading was like residing in an echo chamber. So I made it a point to again begin reading more works of history and philosophy, non-fiction, biographies, and some fiction. This is particularly good for illustrations and shaping the art of communication. I am not as big of a fan of fiction but if it is good quality fiction, it can exercise your mind in helpful ways and aid in creative thinking and idea development. Along with this, I would say don’t be afraid to read outside of your tribe within the realm of Christian books either. There is usefulness to understanding how other people think even if they are wrong, or if they see something from a different perspective than you do.
Sixth, in the acquisition of resources for study, choose wisely. So many new books are resources are being continually produced, that you can waste a lot of money and time on them if you are not careful. I think of books, whether they are in print or digital, as resources. I ask myself the question when I considering purchasing a particular book, how is this going to help me? A lot of books are just repeats of things I already know or have information on. Why waste the effort on reading them? A good resource is a tool that can be referred to over and over as needed.
A congregation knows whether or not their pastor is putting in the time for study. They can tell by what is produced when you stand before them. There is no place for laziness in our study. Depend on God and dedicate yourself to the study needed in order to be faithful.
2 Timothy 2:15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth.