A Plan for Reading and Study

April 19, 2006

A while back I promised a post on how to develop a plan for reading and study. We’ve been covering a variety of topics on this blog, but I didn’t forget my promise. I hope this brief post proves helpful.

If you haven’t already read all the great posts on this topic–provided by Lig (his series might still be going), Mark and Al–please make time to peruse this material. And if you’ve already read it, let me encourage you to review it again. You will be freshly inspired by the content and discouraged by all you’ve forgotten.

It’s important to read these posts again, because if you don’t have a conviction about the importance of study, talking about a plan would be premature. Let the following words by Charles Bridges create a renewed conviction about the importance of studying Scripture–not simply because we are pastors, but because we are Christians:

“For if we should study the Bible more as ministers than as Christians, more to find matter for the instruction of our people than food for the nourishment of our own souls, we neglect to place ourselves at the feet of our divine teacher, our communion with him is cut off and we become mere formalists in our sacred profession.”

May God protect us from becoming “mere formalists in our sacred profession.”

So, do you have a plan for reading and study? Do you have a plan for each week, each month and each year? If not, your good intentions will be hijacked by the urgent and issues of secondary importance. You will look busy and maybe even feel productive, but eventually there will be a withering effect on your soul and in your preaching. But this doesn’t have to happen. It’s not inevitable, unless, of course, you don’t have a plan.

Here is what I recommend. Before your week attacks you (and each week will do this), attack your week. Spend time at the beginning of each week determining when and how long you need to read and study in order to cultivate passion for the Savior and prepare the sermon for Sunday. This simple practice can make all the difference. It has for me.

This practice protects my time of study from the many requests that come up each week. Because I have already determined what is most important, it is easier to decline or reschedule a request if it interferes with reading and study. Obviously, however, there will be emergencies and exceptions.

I would also recommend informing the church of your divinely prescribed mandate to study. This will help your people to understand this is a biblical priority for you as their pastor, and not simply a personal preference. Explain why you devote yourself to this task and how they will ultimately benefit. And ask them to pray for you as you devote yourself to the study of Scripture in service of the church.

So how much time should you devote to reading and studying each week, month or year? Lots! Actually, I can’t answer that question for you. You must work hard and seek counsel to come up with your own custom-designed plan. If you don’t know how or where to start, check out John Stott’s time allotments for study (apart from sermon preparation), which he has followed for many years:

One hour a day
One 3 hour period a week

One day every month

One week every year

This plan sure seems to have worked well for Mr. Stott.

Now, let me conclude with one personal recommendation. I encourage pastors to take two 3-day retreats each year for the purpose of reading, study, praying and planning. Put these dates on the calendar before the year begins. I have found that this unhurried time away from the daily routine of ministry refreshes my soul and makes all the difference in my leadership. I believe it will have the same affect on you. I would however, not recommend taking a retreat in March. The temptation to watch college basketball is too distracting. So take your retreat in a month where there is no Madness!