This post was originally published in March 2019. –ed.
Our culture is fixated on diets. We are continually bombarded with new and varied opinions about what we should and shouldn’t eat. After all, we’re told, our physical health is at stake.
However, when it comes to our spiritual health, it seems many Christians give little thought to the quality of their spiritual diet. That’s why the apostle Paul emphasized the critical importance of feeding on God’s Word—especially for those in leadership.
In Paul’s list of criteria for excellent servant leaders, he exhorts his apprentice Timothy to be a serious student of Scripture. First Timothy 4:6 speaks of being “constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following.” Paul knew that Timothy was already well-versed in the truth. “From childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). This is an exhortation to stay immersed in Scripture and faithful to its truth.
Being “constantly nourished” connotes a continual process of self-feeding on the Word of God. The godly pastor needs to hunger for the truth the way a starving baby cries out for milk (1 Peter 2:2). Timothy’s biblical intake was absolutely critical if he was going to “be diligent to present [himself] approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). At the same time, Paul charged him to “avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, men who have gone astray from the truth” (2 Timothy 2:16-18).
God’s servants are mandated to heed Paul’s warning. In spite of that clear command, many expose their biblical illiteracy every time they step into the pulpit. Others are more interested in and enamored of their own insights and opinions, rather than accurately and fully proclaiming what God has revealed in Scripture. The result is always a weak, shallow congregation that proliferates untrained and unqualified leaders who extend their pastor’s ignorance exponentially. Today the church is overrun with “leaders” who have human skills, but no passion for biblical scholarship.
Despite what current trends would have us believe, a godly pastor can be ignorant about pop culture and the latest internet memes. He can be ignorant about psychology and sociology. He doesn’t need to be an expert on world events, social movements, or leadership strategies. Being well versed in movies, music, and sports isn’t part of the job description either, and it’s often a hindrance to the actual work of ministry. Rather, a pastor must be an expert in the Bible.
Hand in hand with the consistent study of God’s Word is the ability to avoid the things that most often distract from that study. God’s people need to be fed out of the overflow of the pastor’s deep study of Scripture—not some scraps he was able to pull together at the last minute. Such weakness in the pulpit leads to weakness throughout the church. Good communication skills may entertain, but they are useless if the pastor is not unleashing God’s Word.
Describing the effort required to fulfill the pastoral calling, Richard Baxter said,
The ministerial work must be carried on diligently and laboriously, as being of such unspeakable consequence to ourselves and others. We are seeking to uphold the world, to save it from the curse of God, to perfect the creation, to attain the ends of Christ’s death, to save ourselves and others from damnation, to overcome the devil, and demolish his kingdom, to set up the kingdom of Christ, and to attain and help others to the kingdom of glory. And are these works to be done with a careless mind, or a lazy hand? O see, then, that this work be done with all your might! Study hard, for the well is deep, and our brains are shallow.  Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor (Edinburgh, UK: Banner of Truth, 2014), 112.
The simple focus of the man of God is on one Book, and a pastor must labor to master that Book. Ignorance is not an option—it’s tantamount to pastoral malpractice. The shepherd’s ability to faithfully feed his flock depends on how well he’s feeding himself.
(Adapted from John’s forthcoming book, Final Word)