Though the spiritual disciplines are the means by which one grows into a state of maturity in holiness, all believers must ascribe themselves to these disciplines and especially pastors. Peter expressed the necessity for spiritual growth when he commanded those under his leadership to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18); Likewise, Paul instructed Timothy to “be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:1). These commands – indicate that their readers are to be in continuous growth and strengthening in the knowledge and grace that comes from Jesus Christ. Such strengthening and growth for the believer comes from the spiritual disciplines, and the pastor who sees the disciplines as important will see growth in his spirituality.
Pastoral Growth by Discipline
As the pastor’s growth ultimately is contingent upon his participation in the spiritual disciplines, he must be habitually involved in the disciplines of Bible intake, prayer, meditation, service, and evangelism. Though the disciplines are the foundation upon all of the pastor’s ministry, it is primarily the foundation upon which pastors can preach faithfully the Word of God. Faithful biblical preaching flows from the pastor’s soul and reaches the hearts of those to whom he is preaching. Since the disciplines prepare the pastor’s heart to engage exegetically and homiletically with the Word of God when the pastor neglects the spiritual disciplines, his sermon preparation becomes lacking.
For this reason, the disciplines should be the primary in the pastor’s life, because the disciplines are the means by which pastors are to grow in holiness. Growth in holiness is a biblically warranted necessity for all who profess their loyalty to Jesus Christ, so this includes the pastor as his life as a believer. However, it also includes the pastor’s different activities in which he pursues to prepare his sermons. Thus, the spiritual disciplines necessitate the pastor to address his own soul before he ever constructs a sermon.
The pastor’s soul is cared for in four specific areas: his devotional life, prayer life, study habits, and leisure time. The pastor’s devotional life is necessary, because in it the pastor immerses himself in the Word of God. Like every other believer, the pastor must engage his mind and heart with the biblical text through intake, prayer, and meditation. Each of these methods of devotion to God are for the purpose of knowing (mind) the Word and internalizing (heart) the Word. Furthermore, the knowledge of God through the Word and the internalization of such truths in the Word are what affect the wills of all believers, especially those who lead God’s church through the pastoral office.
Nonetheless, the disciplines are not the only avenue through which pastors should prepare their soul to preach. A pastor’s study habits, and leisure time are a necessity throughout the weekly tasks of pastoral ministry. Studying for sermons entails more than simply thumbing through the biblical text and/or a few commentaries. Studying for sermons takes time so the pastor can determine the meaning of certain discourses in Scripture while also aiming to apply the propositions of these passages to those who will hear them proclaimed. Applying pericopes to a specific congregation takes devotion and diligence in the study. Studying is also necessary for the construction of one’s own sermons. If a pastor is to preach at all, he must aim to preach his own sermons which result from his personal devotion to Jesus Christ.
So, for a pastor to correctly prepare his own heart to preach, he must do so by the disciplines of expository preparation. The first way in which the pastor disciplines himself to prepare his own heart to preach is by his own submission to Christ. Right belief always informs right living, and this method of living is the foundation upon which all growth in holiness builds itself. The way to holy living is through one’s commitment to the Lord Jesus himself, which entails a relationship with him.
The second way pastors discipline their hearts is through prayer. Prayer is the dependence upon the Lord Jesus Christ for the power to live the Christian life. However, it is also the dependence upon the Lord Jesus for the power to prepare sermons through the power of the Spirit. These first two disciplines are the bedrock of all other disciplines. However, they are also the underpinning of the pastor’s sermon preparation as he disciplines his heart to preach.
A third discipline for pastors to prepare his heart to preach is through the act of biblical meditation. Biblical meditation is the internalization of biblical truths to morph one’s life into the image of Jesus Christ. Meditation assists a pastor to think like one and to form habits of spiritual maturity to grow in the Christian life. Fourth, the discipline of Bible intake allows the pastor to meditate on such dialogue from Scripture. Without a consistent intake of God’s Word, the pastor has no message to proclaim to a congregation. Therefore, a consistent intake of God’s Word entrusts the pastor with a consistent message of truth each week.
A fifth discipline in the preparation of sermons is the pastor’s own sanctification. A pastor’s becoming like Christ must be his foremost activity for his lifetime. It is the pastor who will be the model of godliness for those under his leadership. The pulpit is one way in which the pastor can emulate a sanctified lifestyle to those in his congregation. Thus, the discipline of sanctification is modeled through the pastor’s preaching. Therefore, a sixth discipline for expository preparation is biblical interpretation. Biblical interpretation is not simple task, but it is a necessary one, nonetheless. It is through biblical interpretation that true application can be extrapolated. Therefore, it must be done with integrity and precision. A seventh discipline is the theological instruction for pastors as they prepare to preach. Preaching is theological and therefore, it compels the pastor to become a theologian. Preaching communicates the truths of God through the intense study and interpretation. However, it does not require a formal degree, but a devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. Then can the eighth discipline of application be formed by the pastor. Yes, biblical interpretation and theological instruction are, in fact, necessary for a sermon.
However, a sermon is not complete without application. Unless the listeners are hearing how theology and biblical truth can change their hearts toward Christ Jesus, there is no sermon. However, application can only come to fruition through a ninth discipline of observing life with one’s congregation. Observing life is Murray Capill’s term for building relationships with one’s congregation. Thus, the pastor can only know the situations of those in his congregation if her is to spend time with them building relationships. These disciplines allow the pastor the opportunity to sit in his office and consider the weight of preparing a sermon that is biblically centered and worshipful to the Lord. Though biblical teaching is good, teaching is informational. Preaching, however, should be transformational. It must transform the heart of the pastor, and as the pastor preaches those same truths will transform the hearts of those who hear.
The Necessity of Expository Preparation
Therefore, the spiritual disciplines do matter to the pastor for not only his own soul, but also for his heart as he prepares to preach. It is the application of the disciplines that will navigate the pastor toward holiness in order that his sermon preparation is done with integrity and devotion rather than out of obligation. Thus, expository preparation focuses on the preacher because all holiness, godly living, soul care, sermon construction, and sermon delivery begin with the pastor and his heart. If the pastor is focusing on his own heart during preparation, the sermon will come from a heart submitted to God and devoted to proclaiming Christ and him crucified. However, if there is not expository preparation, there can be no expository preaching. Therefore, the pastor must endeavor to prepare his own heart to preach so he can preach Christ. Expository preparation manifests itself in this mission – preparing a pastor’s heart to preach for the glory of God. May all who preach love the God which they proclaim.