Two Necessities for Every Pastor: 1) Exegesis

I say pastor, but that’s only because ‘every apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher’ would make for rather a long title, but these two necessities are really for all ministers. I’m not saying that they’re the only two necessities, but these are two which seem to be increasingly and more easily ‘outsourced’. And what are they? Exegesis and Theology! As more and more of the advice on pastoral ministry seems to be aimed at social workers, let me just remind you of the vital importance of these two things that we can so easily take so much for granted that we forget altogether. (By the way, prayer might also fall into the same category!)

1) Do Exegesis!

Exegesis might seem like a big scary word, but it’s just studying the Biblical text carefully to understand what it means. And that’s exactly why it’s so important. For all our authority as ministers comes only from the Word of God (see e.g. Hebrews 13:7). We are called ‘to prayer and to the ministry of the Word’ (Acts 6:4), so if we’re to fulfil our ministry, we need to understand what the Word says.

But not only do we need to be exegetes to fulfil our calling, we need to be exegetes because we recognise the power of God’s Word. It is the Word that gives faith (Romans 10:17) and people are born again through the Word (1 Peter 1:23-25; James 1:18; John 5:24). It is the Word of the gospel that is ‘the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes’ (Rom. 1:16), and it’s through the Word that the Spirit sanctifies (John 17:17; Eph. 5:26). And when God’s Word does its work, it does it prosperously (Matt. 13:23).

The Word of God saves souls, transforms lives, builds His Church and changes the world. Martin Luther realised that at the time of the Reformation:
‘Take myself as an example. I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philipp and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everythingI did nothing; I let the Word do its work.
Like Luther, if we want to be used in the building of Christ’s Church, we need to let the Word do its work. And that means we need to study and understand the Word.

But, if it’s God’s Word that does the work, then why do we need to study, doing the (sometimes admittedly hard) work of exegesis? It’s true that, given the power of God’s Word, simply quoting Scripture, or just reading it to someone is powerful (after all, it is the pure Word of God), but without study, how do you know which Scripture to read or quote? Without taking the time to do the exegesis (to understand the Scriptures in context), how can you be sure that the Scripture you’re quoting really applies to this particular situation?

If the Word of God is powerful to do what it says (see Gen. 1), and if our job is to unleash the Word in its power, then exegesis is essential. Without exegesis, we end up relying on the traditions of men (even if they’re nice evangelical or Pentecostal traditions), on what we’ve been told about the Scriptures, rather than on the power of God’s Word itself.

Even though we may differ from him in our doctrine of Scripture, Karl Barth knew the vital importance of exegesis. When the Nazis expelled him from Germany in 1935, his final words of advice to his students was, ‘Exegesis, exegesis, and yet more exegesis! Keep to the Word, to the Scripture that has been given to us.’ Even against such powerful oppression, the answer is exegesis.

So, don’t outsource your exegesis. Don’t simply rely on what others say about the Word. Spend time in the Word, exegeting, growing in understanding what it says. For that is how we not only see the power of the Word in the lives of those around us, but in our own lives as well.

Next time we’ll look at the second point: ‘Think theology!’