As a new Christian, I knew nothing about the Bible. I had not been raised in the Church and my knowledge was limited to knowing there were four Gospels written about Jesus. That was it. However, God blessed me in the early days with an insatiable appetite for His Word and I read several chapters each day.
My approach to studying God’s Word has changed over the years. I now read each day for encouragement and inspiration. But I also take time throughout the week for deeper study. You do not need to be a pastor or have a Bible degree to study God’s Word. A personal study will help you in your daily walk. And it will help you break some of the strongholds in your life.
Here are some tips for your personal growth and spiritual development.
Choose a Book or Topic
Choose a book of the Bible or a topic that you would like to know more about for yourself. It could be something you are struggling with or simply something of interest. One year I spent several months reading nothing but Christ’s words in red. It was challenging to focus solely on His words. Other times I have challenged myself with the prophets, kings, and New Testament letters.
If you choose a topic, a concordance will help you to find passages that focus on a specific word. For example, if you would like to know more about prayer, a concordance will give you a reference for each time the word “prayer” is used in scripture. You can also reference some great online websites like Study Light or Bible Gateway. These websites offer study helps such as concordances, commentaries, and topical Bibles.
I have a journal dedicated to my study notes. It doesn’t have to be fancy. A journal, notebook, or composition book will do. Some of us prefer fancy and others prefer practical. I also keep several highlighters and pens so I can mark words and phrases that seem to speak to me as I read.
Time and Space
My personal study is more structured than my personal prayer and reading time. I regulate my time and space for this activity. I prefer a quiet area where I can spread out my materials. I also prefer to study in the afternoon or evening since I am not really a morning person.
You choose the time and place that best suits you. If you have young children, then you may have to work around their schedules. But God will help you find a time and place that works for you.
Who, What, Where
So what do I write in my study journal? I prefer taking it verse by verse, chapter by chapter. I read the passage and mark the words or phrases that seem to speak to my heart. I may not understand why they are prominent, but I write them in my journal. After a few readings, I begin to ask myself questions about these words and phrases.
How do they fit into the larger scope of the passage? Who is speaking to whom and why? What are they trying to say here? How is this relevant to my life right now? What feelings are evoked in my spirit when I read this passage? What do I believe God is trying to say to me through this Word? Is there something I need to do in response?
As I begin to answer some of these questions, it naturally flows into a time of prayer.
Bible study journaling is a powerful way to deepen your walk with Christ. Today is a good day to step out on faith and dig a little deeper. Take the challenge and commit to 30 days of study. Then see what God will do in your heart and life.
I hope you will try it and let me know what He does in you!
Every vocation has its ups and downs; pros and cons. Pastoral ministry has more than its fair share. Here we are 2000 years after Christ’s death and resurrection, yet I’m not sure the Church in the Western World looks anything like it did in that first century. I’m not saying that it’s right or wrong just radically different.
As I read through the New Testament, I can’t stop myself from meditating on how we do things today. As a pastor, there are three things that scare me about 21st-century ministry.
Not Being Successful
Failure is a frightening thing, but not being successful is even more frightening. If there are extremes on either side, then there are those of us who are average. We preach average sermons and baptize an average number of people each year. We lead average Bible studies and record average attendance in our annual reports.
We live in a culture that celebrates big, shiny, and grandiose, not average. Those of us who are average at what we do have to get real good at trusting Jesus. We have to trust that our faithfulness is acceptable. But our culture doesn’t applaud faithfulness. Therefore, when we are sitting with our peers and begin to feel that we don’t measure up, we need to know that we know God applauds our faithfulness and obedience.
I would like to tell you that I have mastered this, but I haven’t. And some days it scares me that I am not successful the way the world measures it. But I’m getting better at trusting Jesus.
Not being successful scares me when I am with my peers. However, being successful scares me when I am in the trenches of ministry. It is so easy to let success get to your head and harden your heart. Success in ministry frightens me because I have seen so many fall from their golden, man-made pedestals.
Every success we achieve in ministry tempts us to wade in its glory. We have to be careful to give that glory back to God and keep our souls humble. Someone once said we are never as great as some people think and never as terrible as others want us to believe. The trenches of ministry help us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. For He alone is the Author and Finisher of our faith.
Never Realizing Potential in Christ
Yet, the thing that scares me most about ministry is never realizing my potential in Christ. We can find ourselves paralyzed between being successful and not being successful. We can struggle to find the balance to such an extent that we never realize our potential in Christ. My greatest fear is that fear itself will keep me from being the minister Christ has created me to be.
There must come a time in ministry when we no longer focus on success…whether we have it or don’t have it. Instead, we focus on becoming the minister Christ desires us to be. We must devote our energy to realizing our potential in Christ so that we can be His hands and feet in this world. And when we realize our potential in Christ, then we will be reflecting the New Testament Church as it should be.
It’s October! Breast Cancer awareness, pumpkin everything, and clergy appreciation month. We have turned this month into one weird concoction. Clergy appreciation month started back in the early 1990s and it was originally a Hallmark holiday. Yet, It has come to be celebrated more widely in the United States.
Clergy appreciation month is an opportunity for congregations across America to take a moment and recognize their pastors’ efforts throughout the year. Some congregations go to elaborate lengths with gifts and breakfast. Some offer simple expressions of thanksgiving with cards and words of appreciation. As a pastor for nearly ten years, I can honestly say that prayer is one of the most valuable gifts you could give this month. We each have our own “love language”, but prayer is something we all need and welcome.
So how do you pray for your pastor? Here are some suggestions to get you started.
Pray for your pastor’s emotional/mental health
Your pastor sits with people who are experiencing life’s highs and lows. We will experience in one year what most people don’t experience in a lifetime. You may think we have no clue about the real world. But we actually know all too well. We have sat with families who have experienced death, divorce, marriage, birth, loss of a child, loss of a job, loss of a home. We have visited people in prison, the hospital, and the psych unit. Many of us experience financial pressure, especially when the church finances are not doing well. And we do this while caring for our spouse, children, and congregations. It takes a toll on our emotional and mental well-being. Your prayers empower us to remain faithful.
Pray for your pastor’s physical health
The stress of our vocation takes a toll on our health. We have hero complexes that feel a need to rescue all of those in our path. Therefore, we forget to rest and take care of our own bodies. Pray for us to take our health seriously and for our hero complexes too. (don’t judge; you do it too)
Pray for your pastor’s finances
Finances are a stressor for many families and your pastor is no different. Many of us are bi-vocational. We work a side hustle to keep food on the table and allow us to take an occasional vacation. Pray God would bless us financially to do His work.
Pray for your pastor’s spiritual health
Your pastor NEEDS time with God and not simply to write the weekly message. We need time to meditate and rest in God’s presence. Your prayers sustain us in times when God seems silent. Although there is a call on our lives, we still have times of spiritual dryness. Pray for God to speak into our personal lives and not only for us to have something to say on Sundays.
Pray for your pastor’s sermon prep
Sundays come regularly…like every seven days. And we need to have something to say. It should be clever and powerful and true and full of life. It is easy to write a message that is clever, powerful, true, and full of life when you have 30 days to work on it. Most of us have about 8-10 hours to give to the preparation of the message. We need God’s wisdom and strength as well as His anointing each week.
Pray for your pastor’s marriage and children
If you and your spouse have young children and also work, then you know the struggle. It is a daily challenge to balance house, work, family, child care, laundry, etc. Pray for a strong marriage in the midst of life’s chaos. Pray for the children to find their own identity in the midst of ministry. And pray for love to abound within the home.
Pray for God to show you how you can serve in the church
You may think this is a weird request. However, your pastor needs volunteers. God did not design the Body of Christ to sit in the pews while the pastor does the work. We need volunteers who are on fire for God and willing to work along side of us. Ask God how and where you can serve. Be a leader and you will become a blessing to your pastor.
Pray for God to raise up more leaders. Pray for your pastor’s leadership team
You pastor prays for you and the leaders of the church. But the leadership team needs your prayers too. Pray for unity, humility, and passion for the leadership team. Pray they would be single focused rather than divided. And pray for more workers for the harvest.
Pray for wisdom, leadership ability, and character
Everything threatens to beat your pastor down and slow the progress of the Kingdom. Satan does not want us to win! We need wisdom for each situation, especially the ones that come from seemingly nowhere. We also need you to pray for our leadership ability. We are always pushing the boundaries of our own skills and abilities. Pray for God to stretch us beyond our comfort zones so we can lead you along the journey of faith.
Pray for confidence, clarity, and communion
The enemy of our souls threatens your pastor regularly…or at least once a month when he/she has to report their denominational numbers. We have expectations to meet for our “job” just as most of you do. Each month most of us have to report to our denominations what God is doing in the local congregation. Those numbers threaten our confidence and sometimes cause us to question our vision. Pray for us to have clarity of God’s vision for us and the congregation. Pray for us to be confident that God is moving even when the numbers don’t reflect what we wish they would. And pray for us to have communion with other clergy who will support, encourage, and challenge us to be the ministers God created us to be.
Your prayers are able to move mountains! Please be faithful in the month of October to pray for us, especially as we are closing in on Advent and Christmas. We hope you will continue to pray for us throughout the year as well. Men and women of prayer are warriors for the Kingdom of God. Be strong and pray well!