The Devotional Life of the Pastor

Every preacher’s spiritual formation begins with a personal pursuit of the Lord. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones recommends that a pastor safeguard his mornings. Instead of taking care of the everyday affairs of the church, he should use his mornings to prepare for the work of the pulpit.[1] However, the Doctor does not force such an attitude as necessity, instead he gives leniency to prudence and wisdom for one to know his own body and own self. For example, if a pastor is rather sluggish and not so easy to wake up in the morning, the Doctor suggests he “Work out his own programme; you know when you can do your best work.”[2] Therefore, what follows is not a descriptive plan to which a pastor should adhere, but a prescriptive plan of application for the pastor to observe in his spiritual formation.

With each personality different struggles and strengths will be made manifest that the pastor should prudently take into consideration. The Lord gives all preachers certain gifts and abilities to serve His church. However, not all pastors are given all the gifts and the ability to act them out in a Christ-honoring manner. Therefore, the spiritual disciplines are put in place for spiritual growth and for the pastor to be able to form his spiritual life as he preaches on a weekly basis to a local congregation.

The Bible Intake of the Preacher

Charles Spurgeon notes, “For the herald of the gospel to be spiritually out of order in his own proper person is, both to himself and to his work, a most serious calamity.”[3] If Spurgeon were alive today, he would find this comment to ring true of our society. Too often there is calamitous spirituality going on in the pastoral study within the four walls of the local church. There is simply not enough Bible intake for the preacher’s own soul. Paul David Tripp gives great insight to how pastors can fight the urge of spiritual calamity. He writes, “You need to preach a gospel to yourself that does not find its rest in you getting it right but in the righteousness of Jesus Christ…You need to call yourself to rest and faith when no one else knows that private sermon is needed.”[4]

The pastor has an obligation from the Lord to spiritually feed the flock of God (1 Peter 5:2). This obligation has massive spiritual implications for the local body of believers, but also for the pastor himself. The spiritual life of the pastor spans to dozens and possibly hundreds of people of a weekly basis. His spiritual formation is not only a personal endeavor for his own individual holiness, but it is also to allow the depth of his study and the breadth of his knowledge to be divinely imparted to his congregation. However, the foundation of which this process of spiritual formation all starts is simply by the pastor getting into the Word of God. Martyn Lloyd-Jones advocates for every pastor to read the Bible through entirely at least once per year by their own plan or by a plan devised by someone else. He believes this should be the minimum of the preacher’s Bible reading each year.[5] While some might say this viewpoint can be a bit excessive, the purpose is not to simply “read” but to know God. Therefore, the Bible is more than just a way to select a text to preach, but a means by which pastors can know the God and grow in his likeness as they progress throughout their life in him.

The Prayer Life of the Preacher

J. Oswald Sanders observes that “The spiritual leader should outpace the church, above all, in prayer.”[6] Previously stated, the pastor’s spiritual formation is how spiritual growth and formation trickles down to the congregation. Leadership is always from the top down, and this principle manifests itself also in spirituality. However, it is possible that prayer is the most neglected spiritual discipline because of how easy and normal it is regarding the Christian life. J.I. Packer has noted that man was made for nothing more than to know God.[7] The lack of growth and health in our churches can depend on the lack of prayer coming from the pastor’s study and mouth.

If the pastor should only have one other duty, other than preaching, it should be to pray. Ronald W. Goetsch writes, “True, if you want to be a pastor, you must be a pray-er. To be either, you must be a person whose knowledge of God is not only academic and authoritative but intimate and deeply personal.”[8] The psalmist declares, “Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules” (Ps. 119:164).[9] The pastor’s relationship to God in prayer is immensely important when it comes to his spiritual formation. Instead of his prayer life only being academic or authoritative, the pastor must be a person of prayer because he aims to please God through his actions, which include his own spiritual formation. 

The Meditation of Scripture in the Life of the Preacher

In his book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald Whitney outlines seventeen different methods of biblical meditation. However, the most important aspect of his meditation methods is the distinction between meditation and daydreaming. Meditation is not simply sitting in your chair and staring at the ceiling. “That’s daydreaming, not meditation.”[10] Therefore, there is a certain methodizing exercise to meditation that many believers, and pastors, miss when it comes to meditation for their own spiritual formation.

“Meditation is not simply sitting in your chair and staring at the ceiling.”

Therefore, it is necessary to point out the purpose of biblical meditation. Meditation is ordained by God to reenergize the way the Bible affects your spiritual formation. The Word of God is not to be read and forgotten. Moses commands the Israelites to meditate on God’s word “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut. 6:7). Meditation is to the Christian as cud is to a cow. Just as a cow chews and regurgitates his food, so should the Christian (figuratively, of course) regurgitate the Word as he ingests it. The psalmist writes, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Ps. 119:97). Not only was the psalmist a lover of the Word of God, it was what he based his entire day upon. The Bible is not only his spiritual food, but it is the spiritual love of the psalmist. Pastors can learn as much from the psalmist.


[1] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Preaching and Preachers, 40th Anniversary Edition, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 179.

[2] Ibid., 180.

[3] Spurgeon. Lectures to My Students, 8.

[4] Paul David Tripp. Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 136.

[5] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, 183.

[6] J. Oswald Sanders. Spiritual Leadership: Principles of Excellence for Every Believer (Chicago: Moody, 2007), 99.

[7] J.I. Packer. Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973), 29.

[8] Ronald W. Goetsch, “The Pastor’s Devotional Prayer Life,” Concordia Journal 12 no. 6 (1986): 217, accessed July 27, 2019, http://web.a.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=5&sid=fb2a4b0d-c2c4-40f0-bbea-da12fd95c84c%40sessionmgr4006.

[9] Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[10] Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines, 57.