Stocking up

A word to the wise: learn all you can while you can, because the longer you go on in ministry, the less 'discretionary time' you are likely to have.

If you are a younger man, perhaps a seminarian, you may feel busy. But you may, relatively speaking, have few or limited church responsibilities, you may be unmarried, you may have no children. If you are starting out, perhaps in tandem with an older or another pastor, or the Lord has blessed you with a smaller congregation, then while there is no end to the work that might be done and might need to be done, you may have less demands on your time and energy than a man in another or a larger sphere.

But, you will soon find that - if you discern and take and use the opportunities the Lord provides - the balance of your life will shift, and more and more demands will be made on your time and energy. While you may from time to time need to sit down, prioritise, and reclaim some of that discretionary time you once enjoyed, it will only get harder. In addition, you must remember that the pastoral ministry is a continual sacrifice, a constant giving, always pouring out and investing. Furthermore, there are likely to be periods of pastoral life - perhaps extended periods - in which you will feel that your labours will primarily be output, more intense passages of sacrificial endeavour. You may be counselling, preaching, witnessing, writing, organising, conferring, and a thousand other demands all of which draw upon your reserves (not to mention your husbanding and parenting).

That makes it vital that you take every chance you have, in accordance with circumstances, and make chances if they are not readily available, to store up truth and the understanding of it, because these are the reserves you will be drawing on and the tools you will be using for the rest of your life.

So while you have the opportunities, use every moment you have to maximise your intake. When you do not find the opportunities, carve them out. Your first priority must be the Word of God: love it and learn it and pray over it as a Christian man before you study it and labour over it as a Christian minister. Drink it in so that you become familiar with it in its broad expanses and its particular details. Then take what windows of time you have to read the classic works of trusted men: some of them are massive, others are slim (the works, I mean, although it is true of the men too). But these long-acclaimed and proven explorations and applications of truth, if well-assimilated, will equip you for years to serve the saints. Take the time while you have it to read through particular works of the church fathers, trudge through the expanses of the pre-Reformation at its best, hack your way through the rich verbiage of the Reformation, rummage through massive Puritan tomes, take on the weighty words of Scots worthies, expose yourself to the foundations and the overflowings of the awakenings, expand your devotions to read through the rich sermonic heritage of the past. Lap it up. Drink it down. Store up your heart's reservoirs and form your soul's tone from these things.

The time will probably come when you may wonder how you ever found time to read in this way, when you look with sorrow at books unread on your shelves that you wonder if you will now ever have time to read, when you mourn over wasted hours or days in which you might have been taking in so that you could give out. I think it is important and useful for a pastor to read scholarly works and to keep up with new material, but there is no substitute, in the cut and thrust of ongoing pastoral ministry, for a heart well stocked with the best and proven things, truth faithfully handled and powerfully applied, that you be not just intellectually equipped but theologically grounded and spiritually trained for the blessing of others. In this way, having been instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven, you may be "like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old" (Mt 13.52).