I have been doing some reflecting on my life and ministry over the last few weeks. I am coming up on 20 years of ministry and 12 1/2 years as a Senior pastor. I have experienced God do some great things, and I have made my share of mistakes. One of my core philosophies of ministry is to invest in young ministers and give them opportunities like Godly men and brave churches did for me. While it might seem like the height of hubris for one with such a short time in ministry to be offering ministry advice, I choose to see it as this: If I can, by my occasional ministerial stupidity, keep those who follow after me from ministerial stupidity, then I will feel I have been successful. With that in mind, the first place I want to begin is by encouraging young ministers to stay moored to the Word of God.
Stay Connected to the Word of God
The most important lesson that I learned in my pastoral journey is the essentiality of staying connected to the word of God. This seems oxymoronic, but it is not. This challenge begins with seminary and ultimately never ends. At seminary, it is easy to fall prey to neglecting one’s personal devotions, since you are studying the Scripture in each of your classes (If you are not, then let me encourage you to find another seminary.). You study it each day in preparation for sermons and Bible studies. It becomes all too familiar. Like the lion tamer that works daily with the dangerous and deadly king of beasts, must be careful not to allow familiarity to lull him to sleep amid his dangerous work, so the minister must be careful to remain ever vigilant to not allow himself to operate on solely on past knowledge, learning, and experience rather than staying freshly attuned to the word of God. To do so invites the danger of becoming desensitized to the urgings and impressions of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, I have learned that ministry can be likened to a pitcher of sweet tea or lemonade. When ministering to someone in need, teaching, or preaching, one is pouring out of the reservoir of their soul. If there is no effort to replenish that supply, soon that vessel will be dry and empty. This leads, at best to burnout, but at worst could lead to sinful choices that damage one’s witness or cause disqualification.
With this in mind, I want to offer three practical guardrails to keep you on track in your personal devotional time.
Find a Bible reading plan and discipline yourself to use it. Vary the plan as well as your choice of translation to keep it fresh (Information on picking a good translation can be found here.). In the past I have used CSB, ESV, and NASB for my devotional readings. Your plan can take you through multiple parts of your Bible at a time, such as a New Testament/Old Testament plan or you could try a chronological one. If reading through the entire Bible is intimidating, select a plan that takes you through the New Testament. Plans can be found easily using a You Version app on your phone, or simply by googling Bible reading plans. Whatever you use, commit to it and see it through.
The second practice that will help you avoid the obstacle of disconnection from the word of God is the discipline of Scripture memory. You can memorize a verse per week or a larger section such as a chapter or a book. I would suggest starting small so as not get discouraged.
The third guardrail that I would suggest is to frequently read thirst creating authors. There are legions of books out there, and not all books are created equal. Each person has to seek out authors who cause them to hunger and thirst deeply for the things of God. Find the person who does that and read their work. Additionally, I would suggest reading authors you do not agree with completely. God has used authors such as this in the past to send me digging through the Scripture to figure out what it is that made me believe differently from them.
Brothers, it is imperative to drink deeply from the well of the Word of God. It is the source of our strength. Stay connected to it and see your relationship deepen with God and your ministry produce much fruit.