The Preacher’s Private Life: Study Habits
Wendell Winkler (1931-2005) was one of the most accomplished preachers in the body of Christ in recent years. He was involved in the training of ministers of the gospel, and he proclaimed God’s truth from coast to coast. His talents were in great demand.
His organizational skills and powerful presentations made him a wonderful mentor to many brethren who aspire to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ. We continue to appreciate his willingness to contribute this masterful piece on the preacher and his study habits to this website.
In the nature of the case, the preacher has certain peculiar challenges, opportunities and responsibilities. In this presentation we will discuss his study habits. Thus, as we begin, let us observe:
The Preacher Is to Study
Dry wells cannot give forth water. Brethren will not long come to stagnate pools to drink. We cannot teach what we do not know any more than we can come back from where we have not been. A part of our cranium is not so arranged that it can be detached and knowledge deposited.
There is no royal road to learning. Shallow, repetitive preaching is inexcusable. The preacher, and the congregation for whom he preaches, is no stronger than the diet he consumes and he correspondingly feeds the local church. Each of these observations simply emphasizes the indispensable importance of the preacher being a serious student of the Word.
What saith the scriptures?
Though Timothy was a constant companion of the apostle Paul, and though the apostle’s hands had been laid on him, resulting in the impartation/reception of some spiritual gift(s) (2 Tim. 1:6), Timothy was still instructed, “Study to show thyself approved unto God” (2 Tim. 2:15).
Paul is an example.
Though winter was fast approaching (2 Tim. 4:21), and Timothy was encouraged to come shortly (2 Tim. 4:9) and bring Paul’s cloak that he had left at Troas, he was instructed to bring “the books, but especially the parchments” (2 Tim. 4:13). Yes, here we have study above necessary clothes.
Alexander Campbell, David Lipscomb, Hugo McCord and Franklin Camp are additional examples of great Bible students.
A word of caution
Though his primary work is studying/delivering the sacred message, the preacher must avoid closeting himself to where he is never out by the river Kebar sitting where they are sitting. To do otherwise would render his preaching irrelevant and non-receptive, along with him being rendered insensitive and socially maladjusted.
The Preacher Is to Study with Proper Attitudes.
The preacher is to study eagerly (Mt. 5:6; 2 Pet. 2:12; Ps. 42:1; 119:20, 40, 131).
The preacher is to study reverently. With David he should say, “But my heart standeth in awe of thy word” (Psa. 119:161).
The preacher studies the Bible purposely. He never studies the Bible from such shallow motives as to find curiosity items, to merely win an argument, to just “get up a lesson,” to try to find sanction for an already-espoused position, or to satisfy a proud ego in being known as some great Bible scholar. Rather, he studies the Bible to learn, to obey, and to teach (Rev. 1:3; Jas. 1:22-25; 2 Tim. 2:2).
The preacher studies the Bible regularly and frequently (Mt. 5:6; 1 Pet. 2:1-2; Heb. 5:12-14).
The preacher studies the Bible without prejudice. He engages in exegesis and not in
eisegesis. He will not study the Bible to merely sustain a position but, rather, to form his position. He will prove all things, holding fast only to the good (1 Thes. 5:21).
The preacher will study the Bible thoroughly. He will search the Scriptures (Acts 17:11-12; Jn. 5:39), seeking to know the totality of the Bible’s teaching on any subject.
The preacher will study the Bible discriminately (Heb. 5:14; Phil. 1:9-10, ASV). He will study the Bible discriminating between aids and additions, custom and law, essentials and non-essentials, law and expediency, etc.
The preacher will study the Bible hermeneutically. He will become very familiar with the laws of biblical interpretation and will avidly apply them in his personal studies.
He will be convinced of the absolute necessity of biblical authority and he will know how to establish the same, not being swept off his feet by the new hermeneutics now appearing on the horizon, fully well knowing that such does not constitute a valid hermeneutic.
The Preacher Is to Be Balanced in His Study
His study will be balanced because of the design of his sermons. Some lessons will be instructional, others convicting, some corrective, additional ones will be comforting in nature while others will be inspirational.
His study will be balanced because of the nature of the content and subject matter of his sermons. He must preach sermons from every major subject and category (the Godhead, the Holy Scriptures, the church, Christian living, the home, last things, sin, salvation, religious error, attitudes, apologetics, etc.).
His study will be balanced because of the methodology of his preaching. Some will be topical, others will be textual, while others will be expository.
His study will be balanced because of the applicability of his preaching. His sermons will need to be delivered to each and every age group, covering each and every spiritual developmental level, and each and every changing vicissitude of life.
His study will be balanced because every book/section of the Bible will be covered.
His study will be balanced because the Bible will be covered from every angle and approach. He will study the Bible testamentally, dispensationally, periodically, schematically, bibliographically, biographically and prophetically.
His study will be balanced because there will be a blend, an amalgamation, an appropriate measure of emphasis on/or between contrasting emphases.
Using accommodating language, there will be the contrasting emphasis between the devotional and the doctrinal, the positive and the negative, the meat and milk of the word, the theological and the practical, the goodness and severity of God, the human and the divine side of salvation, etc.
The Preacher Is to Employ Proper Assistance in His Study
A genuine love of the truth is necessary (2 Thess. 2:10).
An appreciation of prayer is necessary. Like the Psalmist, the preacher will pray, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law” (Psa. 119:18).
An understanding of his primary mission is necessary. He is primarily an evangelist, a herald, a preacher, a proclaimer of the good news. Thus, Paul exhorts, “Preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:1-2). Study also 1 Cor. 1:21; 9:16; Tit. 1:3; Rom. 10:13-17. And, since he is not inspired, study for the preacher is most evident.
A time is necessary. And, this will usually be in the mornings when his mind is fresh and unencumbered. And, concerning the necessary time for study, such will largely be governed by the eldership under whom he works.
A place is necessary. Great expositors were present in generations past, in contrast to the present, because they had studies and we have offices. Alexander Campbell, George Bailey and others had special places to study.
Tools are necessary. The preacher will need a good study Bible, a non-fading ink pen, such as used by draftsmen, a good, varied library with representative books, especially reference tools, in each area of discipline, tapes, a pocket notebook for constant note taking, a dictaphone, a copy machine, and files (illustration file, card catalog file, topical or general file, church building idea file, writing file, working file, sermon idea file, record file, scrap book file, track file, visitation file, sermons file, funeral file, sermons from periodicals file, Old Testament file, New Testament file, etc.).
A schedule is necessary. Though a basic schedule is absolutely necessary, there must be flexibility; for, the preacher will have interruptions and modifications resulting from family and congregational matters.
Concerning scheduling, he must also remember that each day has three parts: morning, afternoon, and evening; and, no man can work in all three, day after day.
Preachers will have goals; and, schedules are simply vehicles to help them reach their goals. The preacher may choose to study for his sermons and classes from 8:00 am. to noon each morning. Then, in addition to afternoons being used for visitation and local church planning and promotion, he can also extract from the afternoon an additional one or two hours, if he is a good time manager, for special studies/research/writing.
A plan is necessary. He must plan his work and then work his plan. The preacher’s plan must include personal-profit Bible study, sermonic/class preparation, memorization of passages and biblical information, and a study of a variety of subjects and material (problem passages, brotherhood concerns, great biblical themes, restoration material, religious error, apologetics, church prophets, etc.).
The Preacher Will Realize Great Dividends if He Maintains Proper Study Habits.
He will experience his own life being more and more changed into the image of Christ. Study carefully (2 Cor. 3:18; 1 Pet. 2:21-22). We are what we eat.
He will be balanced in his preaching. He will have 20/20 vision; that is, seeing matters, and responding accordingly, as Paul taught in Acts 20:20: “I shrank not from declaring unto you anything that was profitable” (ASV).
His preaching will be rich and full. He will have dug rich nuggets from the treasure house of God’s word. He will preach from the overflow, always “just quitting but never getting through”.
His preaching will be as fresh as the morning dew. In other words, he does not feed the church warmed over meals.
He will avoid frustration. Batsell Barrett Baxter used to speak of the tyranny of preaching in that every week had a Sunday; and, on that day preachers had two sermons to deliver. Without proper study habits, and with these precious but sobering responsibilities coming so frequently, the preacher will constantly stay frustrated.
His work will be the subject of commendation, rather than criticism. He will hear, “I have been enriched, I have been instructed, I have been helped, that answered my questions, etc.,” rather than “he preaches too long, his material is too fragmented, he is shallow, etc.”
His preaching will always be relevant. Much of the civic-talk-type sermons being preached in our pulpits today result from preachers not studying the Bible and not knowing their Bibles.
Congregations need more than mental health or interpersonal relationship type sermons. Additionally, they need sermons on sin, the saved, and sanctification. This is relevant preaching. However, such requires study.
He will keep himself in the pulpit. Rex Kyker penned,
“Often, we hear of men leaving the ministry. I think one of the major reasons for this exodus is that men, thoroughly capable of delivering a masterful sermon, simply cannot find time to properly prepare them. We have never discovered short cuts that enable men to prepare a great message in a short time.”
Our great need today is “prophets,” not promoters, pushers, psychologists, and pleasers. The answer to the need? Study!