So, what does a pastor do on "study leave"? Well, he studies. But what? Here's what I've been working on this week.
1. Personal Spiritual Renewal
I've tried to spend a portion of each day in some combination of reading Scripture, prayer, journaling, and reading for personal spiritual renewal. In Scripture, I've primarily been in the Psalms, the last few chapters of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, and the Pastoral Epistles. For books, I've been reading in John Owen's Spiritual-Mindedness and John Ortberg's The Me I Want to Be: Becoming God's Best Version of You. These two books are, as you can imagine, quite different, but each beneficial in its own way. John Owen was a Puritan and his book presses the importance of meditation on spiritual things and diagnoses why a person may lack a spiritual mind. There is nothing light about Owen. Someone once compared Owen to a surgeon and said that before reading him, you should prepare to "come under the knife." But no human author has ever helped me more than Owen. Ortberg, on the other hand, is a contemporary author and pastor. This is a very good book on living in the "flow" of the Spirit. Ortberg writes with personal authenticity, profound insight into spiritual life, with large doses of warm humor thrown in. I like him, partly, because he is so human. I can relate to him and find his ideas and stories both insightful and applicable. This is a great book.
2. Reading on Preaching
A second part of this study leave has been devoted to reading (and some listening) about preaching. This week I finished again D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones' Preaching and Preachers. Few books have proven more helpful to me as a preacher, and it was refreshing to read again. I've also read Andy Stanley's Communicating for a Change, a book that approaches preaching from a very different angle than Lloyd-Jones! The gain of Stanley's book is its immense practicality. He is an advocate of "one point sermons" and shows you how to do it. I benefited from his book and hope to apply some of what he teaches. Yesterday I received in the mail Michael Quicke's 360 Degree Preaching. I've only read about three chapters, but have already found it very, very helpful. Then, I’ve been dipping into volume 7 of Hughes Oliphant Old’s The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church. Old has thoroughly researched the history of preaching, and in this final volume, provides brief analysis of dozens of contemporary preachers including John Stott, William Still, Chuck Swindoll, Charles Stanley, Tim Keller, John MacArthur, Dick Lucas, Sinclair Ferguson (those are the ones I’ve read) and more. In addition to all the reading, I'm also listening to various preachers, both to be fed and to learn from their unique styles. So, I've listened to Andy Stanley, Lloyd-Jones, John MacArthur, and Tim Keller - and plan to listen to several Sinclair Ferguson sermons before the trip is up.
3. Sermon Preparation
A third focus in this study leave is sermon preparation. This summer I will be preaching through the letters to the seven churches of Asia in Revelation 2 and 3. So, I've started working on these sermons: outlining, taking notes, and reading Grant Osborne's excellent commentary on Revelation. My goal is to get several weeks ahead in the "spade work" of sermon prep, so that most of the textual/exegetical work is complete and initial ideas for the message are on paper and simmering. I'm also charting out possible sermon series for the next year and am re-thinking my weekly routines for sermon preparation. I would like to develop a system where I'm preparing three sermons at once: doing the exegetical work for messages about three months in advance, writing the first draft of upcoming sermons ten days in advance, and then working hard on the current week's message. We'll see how sustainable this plan is, but so far, I'm encouraged with the headway I've been able to make.
I've also spent one morning working on the final edits of Christ Formed in You. Once these are approved by my editor, we'll be sending the final, edited manuscript into Shepherd Press. I'm excited to finally see the light at the end of the tunnel!
So, that's been the substance of this week. For those of you who attend Fulkerson Park, thank you for this extra time off to think, plan, study, pray, and prepare.