This is the second installment in a new series in which we publish brief answers from experienced church leaders to this question:
In addition to knowing Scripture and sound doctrine, what should young pastors today be studying? Is your answer any different from what you would’ve recommended 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago?
Don Carson, research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois:
The answer is inevitably challenging, because “knowing” something might not refer exclusively to cognitive material. If the focus is on the cognitive, then it is always important to remember that (1) pastors are generalists, so they need to be doing some broad reading—e.g., church history, missions, evangelism, available Bible studies, and so forth; (2) pastors sometimes confront a particular problem or need, and then have to read up in that area—e.g., openness theology, homosexual “marriage,” ecclesiology, corporate worship, and so forth. Those principles are as sound today as 20 years ago, but their outworking will vary from church to church.
But if “knowing” extends beyond the narrowly cognitive, then pastors must above all know more of God. One cannot forget the dictum of Robert Murray M’Cheyne: what a congregation needs most is their minister’s holiness. At the very least, that means times of prayer and meditation using classic devotional helps.
Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina:
There’s no end to the making of many books! God calls the minister of the gospel to a multifaceted assignment. Personally I am convinced four challenges stand out. He is to be a pastor / theologian / missionary / evangelist. Keeping all four of these in balance has always been a challenge, but the challenge has never been greater than it is today. To be well trained and to stay abreast of all that is required to fulfill this calling, we must read well and widely. The Bible is a given. Commentaries and other study aids for sermon preparation are not up for debate.
But where should we venture beyond this foundation to cultivate a well-rounded ministry? A few suggestions for regular reading:
- The great hymns of the faith. They will nourish your soul and are filled with great theology.
- Missionary biographies. They will inspire and encourage you to persevere when times are difficult.
- Marriage and family. Never in our history have our people been more desperate for instruction that is biblically faithful and practically helpful.
- Preaching. We never arrive. Keep on honing your skills.
- Evangelism. Those in the Reformed tradition don’t usually gravitate naturally in this direction. Read especially those outside the tradition. You may not always agree with them, but you can learn from them nevertheless. After all, “all truth is God’s truth,” and few things are more valuable than a teachable spirit!
Scotty Smith, pastor emeritus of Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tennessee:
I recommend young pastors study and get equipped for (not listed in order of priority): (1) conflict management (conflict is inevitable, but healthy conflict is all too rare); (2) family systems theory (not only for working with families in your congregation, but for work with your leadership culture); (3) emotional intelligence (because too few pastors are emotionally intelligent and prepared for the psychodynamics of interpersonal relationships in ministry); (4) servant leadership (not leadership per se—too much chest-pumping abounds already); (5) transition theory and planning (planned obsolescence is much better than getting the “left foot of fellowship”); (6) suffering, depression, and loss (not only to care for those you will pastor, but to prepare yourself for seasons you will go through; (7) fly-fishing, photography, hang-gliding, rock guitar playing . . . whatever will put a huge smile on your face and joy in your heart. Study and have fun, or you never will.