Many years ago in his excellent book entitled Preaching, Fred Craddock wrote a chapter on "The Life of Study." It is not possible to preach well if one does not read and study and reflect on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, it is all too tempting for preachers, in having to attend to all of the many and various pastoral duties throughout the week, to short-change the reading time and sermon preparation so necessary. When the sermon is no longer a priority for the pastor, she or he does a disservice to the congregation ready to hear the Word, and disobeys the Scripture which tells us to rightly divide the Word of Truth.
Every time I have met with the Staff-Parish Relations Committee of a new appointment, I tell them that the sermon is one of the main priorities of my week, and nothing will keep me from the study and preparation necessary. Even in the midst of the crisis weeks, when I have two funerals, a wedding, and some other unexpected event, I still make sure I have the necessary sermon preparation time, even if it means a late night or two.
Not only is it critical to take sufficient sermon preparation time each week, the pastor needs to read and study on a daily basis. At any one time I am reading four different books-- one in theology, one in biblical studies, one in Wesleyan theology and practice, and a final book in a miscellaneous area (e.g. American history, sports). I also make sure that I read authors with whom I know I am going to have major disagreements. It is all too easy for us to read those writers who confirm our beliefs rather than challenge them. If the pastor is not engaging with the profound theology of the ages and the wisdom of others, he or she will not preach engaging sermons. Church folk with any depth of faith can spot a shallow preacher from a mile away.
One of the other things I do is to take time away twice a year to do sermon planning. My Conference gives ordained Elders two weeks of study leave a year. Unfortunately, I know very few pastors in my Conference who take that time. I take a week in September and a week sometime after Easter, I travel four hundred miles away (which makes it too far for me to take a quick break to visit cousin Mabel in the hospital with a hang-nail), and I plan sermons for the next half to three-quarters of a year. Any pastor who gets such study leave time should take it, and if not, he or she should negotiate for such time with the church. Any church that claims preaching is important, should be willing to give the time and resources needed for the pastor to be effective in the pulpit.
Finally, the life of study is not only important for good preaching, it is necessary for the teaching pastor as well. Every pastor is the resident theologian of her or his congregation. Pastors owe it to their congregations to assist them as they work through the great doctrines of our faith, and the issues of our time as they relate to what we believe. If the church folk know their pastor is devoting her or his life to study and reflection, they will seek out the pastor as they study and reflect. If they don't approach their pastor with such issues, it is because the pastor, by his or her practices, has demonstrated that the life of study is unimportant. Congregations deserve better.
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