We live in a time when industries are constantly changing, technologies are rapidly developing, and skills are continually in need of sharpening. To stay current with the latest advancements, skills, and technologies in their fields, many professionals utilize (and many companies require) continuing education to help stay competitive, relevant, and effective. As a pastor to several professionals who are continuing education in their careers, I am aware that this pursuit is costly and is most often undertaken in the midst of an already full life, with real responsibilities and pressing demands. I look to the nurse who is administering a new medicine to my daughter and to the engineer using new technology to build a home for my friends, and say, “It is worth it…too much is at stake to not give yourself to continuing education!”
Likewise, God’s word reminds us that the churches we serve desperately cry out to us (regardless if they ever utter these words), “It is worth it to continue being educated on who God is and His glorious works…too much is at stake to not give yourself to continuing that education!” To be clear, this post isn’t about the need for formal certificates, classes, or degrees. Rather it is an encouragement for pastors to pursue personal efforts to grow and help each other grow in biblical truth, wisdom, faith, and love, which show Christ as our supreme treasure.
Writing to Timothy, a pastor of the church at Ephesus, Paul commands him: Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you (1 Timothy 4.16 NASB). Simply put, watching your life and doctrine is the ongoing, continual task of pastoral ministry. Whether that is informal venues or simply the disciplined pursuit of growth in knowledge of and love for God, pastors cannot afford to cease being learners of God. Congregations cannot afford this. The glory of God is too precious for pastors to ignore this. While we know these statements are true, the temptations to grow complacent in giving ourselves to the study of God are numerous: the degree has been completed, the shepherding tasks are overwhelming, sermon preparation is demanding, counseling load is great, or simply doesn’t seem to be enough time.
Paul’s words pierce the heart of the complacent pastor, motivate the will of the lazy pastor, and fan into flame the obedience of the faithful pastor: persevere in these things. These things don’t simply refer to verse sixteen but to what Paul has stated throughout 4:6-16, of particular interest in verse 6: being constantly nourished on the words of faith and of sound doctrine which you have been following.
Our souls are meant to feast on and be nourished by the words of faith and of sound doctrine. The healthiest of sheep are found following nourished and healthy shepherds. Malnourished shepherds do not inspire the flock to feast at the banquet of God’s sufficiency because it is exceedingly difficult to call others to places you are unwilling to go yourself. Emerging from the requirements for elders in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 is a man who is exemplary in his satisfaction in God and thus in how all aspects of his life are impacted by this satisfaction.
We have been entrusted to care for the souls of others yet are prone to allow our hearts to go unattended. We are tempted to give diligent attention to the life and doctrine of church members, all the while neglecting our continuing education of God Himself - both the knowledge of Him and right response of worship to Him. We fill our days with reading, studying, sermon preparation, sermon delivery, and counseling for the benefit of others yet we do not labor to experience the transforming effect that truth has on our own soul. We can so easily rely on yesterday’s (or sadly even last year’s) excitement for, knowledge of, and intimacy with the living God to carry us into the challenges and opportunities that we face today. We can unknowingly allow other theologians and pastors to drink deeply of God’s goodness and truth for us as we keep ourselves busy with ministry demands.
Brother pastors, fight for time to give a grace-motivated effort in and attention to your study to know more of God. Sound doctrine matters. If you have grown weary in the good work of pursuing more knowledge of God, the place to begin is on your face before the One who deserves your best. Confess your sin. Then, considering the grace awaiting you on the other side of confession, walk humbly in repentance. Practically, read of good books, listen to sermons, and/or attend a conference that requires you to think deeply about the things of God. After reading, listening, and attending…take time to meditate on truths learned so that God will be more greatly cherished. Encourage other elders or ministry leaders to labor with you in making time to continue in this education of God. Invite them in for purposes of accountability to this pursuit. Lead the church you shepherd into the needed discipline of giving themselves to studying doctrine. Don’t underestimate how impressionable this is in your preaching, congregational singing, and counseling ministries. For the glory of God, the good of the souls of those around you, and for your unceasing joy, give yourself to be a student in the classroom of sound doctrine, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. Paul isn’t teaching self-atonement or that salvation ultimately rests with man, but he is accentuating the God-ordained human agency in the accomplishment of salvation. As you watch your life and doctrine, be confident that you will see the Savior work.
I praise God for the sweet privilege of being part of this network where our shared mission and theology leads us to grow and help each other grow in biblical truth, wisdom, faith, and love, all of which shows Christ as our supreme treasure. I am thankful that this value doesn’t merely adorn a webpage but is shaped regularly by the brothers in this network. These brothers are giving themselves to learning more of God and intentionally encourage me to do the same. I also praise God that this network seeks to ensure that the end of doctrine is not simply the education itself. A head loaded with truth falls short of what sound doctrine is intended to accomplish. It not only fills one’s head with truth but also inflames one’s heart with affections for God. TCTN, excel still more at diligently ensuring that our right doctrine about God leads to greater enjoyment of Him