A great deal of discussion surrounds the role of preaching, preparation, and personal devotion when it comes to the pastor’s study habits. Some pastors approach ministry from a more integrationist mode, believing that sermon preparation and a personal quiet time can be synonymous. I want to give an alternate view. My conclusions may be somewhat anecdotal, but I hope that they will be helpful nonetheless.
One of the mistakes many pastors make is to assume that sermon preparation equals personal Bible study. While it is true that a pastor gains greatly from a systematic and expositional study of Scripture in the preparation of a sermon, a great deal of difference exists between personal Bible study and sermon preparation. Here are some of my conclusions:
Sermon Prep is a required task; Personal Study is a volunteer action
Part of our duties in ministry is having a sermon (or several sermons) ready every week. Everyone expects that we will be ready to preach, but the only time that we are ever questioned about our devotional life is during the interview process. Even staff evaluations rarely address the actual task of personal devotions. Thus, to have a personal quiet time requires a greater sense of dedication.
Sermon Prep applies to the masses; Personal Study applies to the student
We preach to our congregation, but we study for ourselves. One of the mistakes in ministry that most of us make is that we are always giving and never receiving. Therefore, because we are good at sermon prep, we can prepare good sermons. The problem comes when we start preaching out of our own ability rather than through the unction of the Holy Spirit.
Sermon Prep results from the overflow; Personal Study creates the overflow
When the pastor has spent time in the personal study, it results in a dynamic between the pastor and God. It is a spiritual overflow. That overflow then leads to a spirit-filled sermon. Without the personal study, a good sermon can still be preached, but will it be preached with spiritual power and boldness that comes from spending time with God?
Sermon Prep originates primarily out of what others have said about Scripture; Personal Study begins from a personal encounter with Scripture
When we prepare sermons, we usually depend upon commentaries, word studies, and sermon manuscripts to help with sermon prep. Because of the crunch of the weekly sermon, we look for shortcuts in the preparation. Most personal Bible studies, however, begin with just the Scripture. Time is not as much a factor, so outside sources are not as necessary. They may be used, but only after time has been spent in the Word. The two means of preparation are important, but the revitalization pastor needs time spent with God in the Word. We must first hear from God before we have a word for our people.
Sermon Prep results in the applause of people; Personal Study results in the affirmation of God
Let’s be honest. When we preach a good sermon, people let us know. The ego, though we try to control it, oftentimes guides us in sermon prep because of the applause of people. To keep our egos in check, we need that time to spend alone with God, without any applause. Yet, it is in that personal study that we please God and find His affirmation.
My encouragement, regardless of the conclusion one might make regarding these two disciplines, is to make sure that neither of these tasks is overlooked or relegated to a less important role in the life of the pastor. This fact is especially true in church revitalization.
I am not saying that some crossover does not exist between the two disciplines. Nor am I saying that sermon preparation serves as an unimportant or a menial duty, but what I know is that personal Bible study becomes essential both to the task of sermon preparation and to the success of church revitalization.