The Work of the Word
Pastoring is word-working. Almost all of pastoral ministry is giving words from the word about the Word made flesh. You preach sermons from the word. You counsel with the word. You learn how to do ministry according to the word. One of the most essential qualities of a faithful pastor is his knowledge of the Bible.
Churches need good leaders, bold preachers, and loving counselors. And all those functions are strengthened or weakened by our knowledge of God and His word. Or, to borrow a metaphor from the Psalmist, how bright is the lamp of the word in our lives and ministries (Psalm 119:105)?
To be Shaped by God’s Truth
While planters and pastors may find the insights of leadership gurus helpful, nothing compares to knowing the Scriptures. Those who fear God can use truth found in secular business books (Ecclesiastes 2:26); however, a faithful and effective pastor will be more shaped by Scripture than anything else on his shelves.
Our Lord shows us how practical and powerful a working knowledge of the Bible is, for both life and ministry. When Christ was tempted by the devil, He responded with verses from the Old Testament (Matthew 4:1–10). When religious leaders cornered and questioned Him, He often answered with, “Haven’t you read?” (Matthew 12:3, 5; 19:4; 21:42; 22:31; Mark 12:10, 26). Our Lord expects us to be formed by the word, too.
To be Formed and Informed
Paul told the Corinthian Christians to be familiar with the narratives of Israel found in the Old Testament. He didn’t exhort them to know these ancient accounts because they had a Bible literacy test on his next visit. He wanted them to see how the Scriptures were to shape, inform, and guide them: “These things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). Everything in the Bible is multi-purpose. The Bible teaches us history, theology, and wisdom for life. The Bible shows us how to honor God, how God helps us, what God did for us, and what God will do for us. Paul shows us how the Old Testament is an example and a teacher for every Christian who reads it today.
As we read the story of Hagar, we see how she sees that God sees and cares for her. And then we see how God loves, sees, and cares for His people because He is always El Roi– “the God who sees.” And when you are struggling as a pastor, you can draw from this deep well and know that God sees you and your church. When we read about Joseph at the end of Genesis, we are reminded of God’s faithfulness amid staggering suffering and betrayal. And when personal heartache hits you–the kind you could never imagine–you can recall the story of Joseph. From the wanderings of Exodus to David’s hiding in a cave and to Elijah’s moping under a tree, the Scriptures inform and form us.
To Live by the Word
You can’t Google your way into spiritual maturity. You can’t ChatGPT yourself into being a trustworthy spiritual leader. It’s easy to find references from the Bible; it’s divine to be formed by the Bible. We should all strive to be the kind of leader who says more and more, “The Bible says.” Only reading, hearing, meditating, and living the Spirit-authored text over and over for years can give the kind of spiritual strength and credibility a pastor needs.
I’m convinced that when a pastor displays a healthy, humble, and robust knowledge of Scripture—its canonical story and content—the church will find it easier to follow and honor his leadership. Why? Because he is displaying the desire to be led by God’s word and to give them God’s word.
To Fight Well with Scripture
As a pastor, you are on the frontlines of the spiritual battles that rage around. And you are fighting a multi-front assault. You must consider your own personal spiritual warfare, and then add in the battles faced by those in your church. Simply put, you are at war. A deep and wide knowledge of Scripture is how you learn to wield the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17). Some texts are for defense against lies from our adversary. Other passages and narratives are side-steps and jabs at the devil’s temptations. Spiritual leaders cannot be, as Hebrews says, “inexperienced” with the Bible; spiritual leaders are the ones “whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14). Christians are bombarded with cloaked messages. Social media and social situations are arenas of formation, claiming, “Think this way. Feel this way. Act like this.” The Bible-knowing pastor enters in and says, “Walk this way.”
We need to know the Scriptures to bring the word to bear on the battle, helping the church fight against both the flesh and the devil. In Ephesians 4, Paul shows how the risen Christ gives his church pastors to help them grow into maturity, to be the kind of people who “will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit” (Ephesians 4:14). The more you know about God and His word, the more you can help anchor your people–and yourself–from the battering of lies and false teaching. Spiritual leaders are responsible for knowing what “does not agree with the sound teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the teaching that promotes godliness” (1 Timothy 6:3). Faithful and effective pastors know the gospel message well enough to sniff out aberrations like legalism, license, and more. It’s our familiarity and enjoyment with Christ and His message that help us serve the church.
To Feed Them with the Good Book
Despite what social media may lead us to believe, pastoral ministry is not just fighting. Pastors are feeders. We have a high-fructose delight to give the people (Psalm 119:103). Peter heard our Lord’s charge to feed His sheep and knew that this called for “the pure milk of the word” (1 Peter 2:2). In the next verse, Peter quotes the Old Testament, showing us that we need the whole milk of the word. Stunted knowledge of Scripture will stunt not only our growth, but the church’s, too. Don’t settle for 2% of the word. Drink the full marrow and fatness of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. And feed your people the same. May we never be peddlers of the skim of Scripture. We need the whole Bible informing us. We need every book to help us fight. We need the flavor of every story to season our lives.
Faithful pastoring is a model for spiritual formation. The people learn from their leaders. Pastors give lessons on how to use the sword of the Spirit from the pulpit, small groups, counseling, newsletters, chats over coffee, and other word-based content. But leaders who don’t have a strong knowledge of God’s word and ways—and of God Himself—lack the counterattacks and calories needed for the theater of kingdom warfare. Pastors manage the spiritual food pantry of the church. Feed them well. If we want Scripture to be our reflex, then take up and read. Begin today. It’s not too late because we never arrive. We just keep growing with the book.
Published February 12, 2024