We’re excited to launch a new series in which we publish brief answers from experienced church leaders to the following 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?
Sam Storms, lead pastor of Bridgeway Church (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma):
My counsel to young pastors is to make every effort and read every book that will facilitate and deepen their “delight in the Lord” (Ps. 37:4) and enable them to communicate this truth. The only way long-term to empower people to say “No” to the passing pleasures of sin is by cultivating satisfaction in the superior pleasures of knowing and delighting in Christ. Make “Christian hedonism” the focus of your study! Don’t relegate joy to the periphery of your Christian life or reduce it the “icing on the cake of Christian obedience.” Make your joy in Christ the central pursuit of all pastoral study and ministry. You and your people will conquer the lesser pleasures of the world, flesh, and the Devil only by immersing yourselves in the surpassing and altogether satisfying pleasure of savoring all that God is for you in Jesus.
To this end I suggest that you read again Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, as well as God Is the Gospel: Mediations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself, both by John Piper. Add to this list Jonathan Edwards’s classic Religious Affections. But don’t simply read them. Meditate on them. Pray through them. Linger over their words. Savor the truth that in God’s presence is fullness of joy and at his right hand are pleasures forever (Ps. 16:11).
David Wells, distinguished senior research professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (South Hamilton, Massachusetts):
There are too many variables for a simple answer: what the pastor knows, where the ministry is, who is being ministered to. Still, we all have a chief objective. It is that we learn to walk with God through life. That requires, on the one hand, ongoing, deepening study of his Word and, on the other, serious reflection on our world. Today the complexity of our rapidly changing culture often leaves people confused. They don’t always understand their world. Nor do they always know how to work out their discipleship in this world. They need a worldview but one that is a view of this world.
This means that preachers cannot reduce biblical exposition simply to biblical exegesis. Exposition starts with exegesis, but it must then find a way to lodge that truth in people’s minds so that it enters their private worlds. It must make connections—saying either yes or no—in their understanding and to their lives. This is where many preachers are at their weakest. It seems some think reading Barna surveys is all they have to do. It is not. There are no shortcuts. They need to spend serious time gaining understanding themselves.
Wayne Grudem, research professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary (Phoenix, Arizona):
In addition to knowing Scripture and sound doctrine, it’s important to gain a thorough knowledge of how all of Scripture speaks to a wide array of various ethical questions today. Young pastors need to be able to teach people how to live with wisdom and Christlikeness in their everyday lives in an increasingly hostile culture. The good news is that such teaching is one of the main purposes of Scripture, for God “breathed out” the words of Scripture so that we could be trained in godly living: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).
Teaching biblical ethics is more urgent today because the standards of moral conduct commonly assumed and practiced by the dominant culture are far more opposed to biblical standards than they were 10 or 20 years ago. “In the last days there will come times of difficulty. . . . Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:12–13).