God’s great preachers down through the centuries have agreed on the importance of study. If you would become the servant, shepherd, and speaker God would have you be, you need to begin by being a serious student.
The first thing necessary for study is time. Since preaching is the priority of the preacher, study must be a priority as well, and study demands time—not just “quality time” but quantity time! To give much publicly, the preacher must get much privately.
First, the preacher’s study time must be guarded.
A professor of this writer told his congregation, “You may have corn or corn shucks. Give me my mornings alone with God in my study and I’ll give you corn every time I preach. Interrupt me all morning and don’t allow me to study and I’ll give you corn shucks.”
Dr. W.A. Criswell, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas for fifty-five years, would rise at 5:00 a.m. and study until noon. Matthew Henry, commenting on Matthew 14:23, wrote “Those are not Christ’s followers who cannot enjoy being alone with God and their own hearts.” Preacher, when it comes to your study, seek solitude, and don’t be satisfied with less.
The preacher must be jealous of his study time and should be sure to give God the best hours of his day. Jerry Vines says, “The morning seems to be the best time for me. I begin my study time around 6:00 a.m. including my daily devotional time. I normally study until 11:00 a.m. I do this five mornings each week. I function best in the morning.” Find a schedule that allows you to study most effectively and stick to it.
The preacher needs a secluded place to study. Most pastors, with whom this writer is acquainted, find it almost impossible to study at the church. Many church offices are a perpetual flurry of activity due to the workflow of important ministries. Many pastors are now studying at home, away from both church and family interruptions.
Some pastors have two offices at the church—the one used for business and counseling and the other used solely for study. One pastor took me to a secluded area on the top floor of the church office complex, reserved only for his personal study. Only a few close associates even know of this secluded place, and none are allowed to bother him when he goes there.
Second, the preacher's time must be governed.
The preacher may have reached a secluded place, but finds himself without a scheduled plan. His mind may be occupied with a million other things rather than his study. Although a preacher is a very busy man with much responsibility in many different areas, when he is in the time and place set aside for study he must force himself to be single-minded.
When the high priest went into the Holy of Holies to make atonement for the people, nothing but the business at hand could be on his mind. God had given minutely detailed instructions to be followed, “or else” (Leviticus 10:1–3), and for the priest this was a most serious and sacred time. Read Leviticus 16 to get a sense of the solemnity of the occasion. Though Jesus Christ has made the sacrifice and atonement “once for all” on Calvary, today’s preacher must approach his work just as seriously as the Old Testament priest. The word give in Acts 6:4 and the word study in 2 Timothy 2:15 both carry the idea of earnestness and diligence.
Regarding the organization of the study environment itself: Books stored helter-skelter in boxes or shoved at random on shelves will not aid the serious Bible student. Books should be arranged and labeled topically. Place your commentaries in one area, biographies in another, etc., in the manner of a public library. If your library is quite extensive (over the years many preachers accumulate hundreds or even thousands of books), a card catalog or some computerized system will be helpful. As for the desk, beware of “messy desk syndrome.” If you are perpetually searching for a pen or a notebook or something else you need and know you have it “somewhere around here,” you will be both frustrated and ineffective. A clean desk and an organized study area will allow your mind to focus on God’s Word and your sermon preparation as well. Make sure the lighting is bright and the study pleasantly decorated so as to make the environment conducive for the mining of gold from God’s Word.
An excerpt from Dr. Tom Farrell's new book, Preaching That Pleases God, available from Striving Together Publications.