A Challenge to All Pastors: How Well Do You 'Know' the Word?

happy pastor preaching from pulpit

I’ve known of pastors who were relatively uninformed of Holy Scriptures for one reason or the other, and who fed their sheep little to nothing from the pulpit. In this day, however, there is no excuse for a pastor not knowing his Bible. Resources literally bombard him from all sides, offering numerous ways to get help in learning this most precious of all Books.

When I put the question to my Facebook friends: “When a preacher does not know his Bible, he will…?” the answers swarmed in. In short order, over 100 answers were given. I’ve borrowed from some of these responses, to compile the list below. 

Here are 10 signs that a pastor may not ‘know’ the Word of God well:

1. Preaching pet scriptures over and over again.

2. Recycling others’ catchy sermon titles and messages.

3. Preaching the same sermons to another unsuspecting flock.

4. Discipling no one because he knows so little of the Word (a requirement for all who would become mature disciples of Christ).

5. Preaching only his opinions, repeating stories he has heard, or only quoting sermons from others. He will have nothing directly from the Lord, rather his sermons will be patchworks.

6. Becoming defensive and argumentative toward those who criticize his failings (and who doesn’t fail sometimes?).

7. Preaching false doctrine without knowing it, without having the tools for critiquing his own sermons, and thus leading people astray.

8. Proceeding unnoticed unless his congregation has people who know their Scriptures enough to want more. A good sign is when a few leaders confront such a pastor and ask him to start feeding the sheep. The pastor won’t like it, but these people just did him a great favor.

9. Building sermons on “practical advice,” with an occasional scripture thrown in. I visited a church in Tennessee once where the guest speaker brought a sermon on friendship. It was a good presentation, but could have been delivered at a civic club luncheon. It included nothing from the Word at all.

10. Raising his voice to distract the hearers from the weak content. It’s an old trick known to every veteran preacher.

Obviously, we need to say, there is no limit to what a preacher may resort to when he does not know God’s word but is required to bring sermons from it, two or more times a week. It’s a heavy assignment even when you know the Word, but unimaginably burdensome when you don’t.

There is no reason why a pastor should be ignorant of God’s Word these days.

This is not to say a preacher needs to know it all and have perfect understanding of every text. No one does. 

I started pastoring in 1962. I own a couple of seminary degrees. I’ve preached from every book of the Bible. But I could give you a long list of what I do not know about the Holy Bible. It contains the very mind of God. It is an inexhaustible well. 

So, no way am I saying a pastor should know it all.

But there is no excuse for a pastor not reading the entire 66 books of the Bible several times in his lifetime and being familiar with the general thrust of each.

Here are some ideas for ‘knowing’ your Bible more deeply:

Early in my first pastorate, I grew tired of reading about “Paul’s second missionary journey” and such, without a grasp of his work. So, one day I got my notebook down, laid out the Bible and opened up the maps at the end, and then walked through the 28 chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, noting every location mentioned there. I drew my own arrows to show where Paul and Barnabas and others traveled in spreading the Gospel. Thereafter, I had it. It has served me well for nearly 60 years.

But one has to do this himself; no one is going to do it for you.

Some years back, I heard of a couple of outstanding young preachers who did something fascinating.  As God blessed their ministries, they soon found themselves in over their heads, serving churches with huge crowds and vast responsibilities, for which they were unprepared.

So, once a year, the pastor would travel to a city where we have a seminary. He would rent a hotel room and pay a professor to spend  a couple of hours a day with him, during which he would teach a book of the Bible, one the pastor had been reading and studying on his own in preparation.  Sometimes, they would focus on a particular doctrine. Afterwards,  of course, he gave a nice check to the professor.

The pastor would return home, do his own studies, prepare his sermons, and deliver solid nourishment to his people. That professor could fill gaps in the pastor’s knowledge, point out where he was in danger of leaving the highway of orthodoxy and detouring into heresy, and help with his questions.

These days, for Southern Baptists–or anyone else–each of our six SBC seminaries offers a full menu of their courses online. It’s not inexpensive, but neither is moving your family to that city and enrolling full time. You do what you have to do.

A pastor could invite an excellent preacher or professor to his church for a Bible study, but with the understanding that the two of them–the host pastor and the guest–would study together for a couple of hours in the daytime. I never did this as such, but always made time to take the guest to dinner and pick his brain on certain subjects where he knew far more than I.

Any pastor. Every pastor. Should make as his goal to study the Word throughout  his whole lifetime. 

I’ll tell you this:  It gets richer and more rewarding the longer you do it. You understand more of the great sweep of the redemptive story and appreciate far more what God has done, and the lessons of His various servants in the Word.

When my favorite seminary professor, Dr. George Harrison, died a couple of years back, in addition to the usual grieving, I felt like what a waste it was, that all the knowledge of God’s Word this man had was dying with him. But I know how the Lord works. 

He raises up a new generation of  preachers, pastors, professors, and calls each one to get into the Word and learn it, study it, and teach it.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/DigitalVision

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