Shedd: The Intellectual Character of the Pastor

Homiletics and Pastoral TheologyThe next element of pastoral ministry Shedd addresses is “The Intellectual Character and Habits of the Clergyman.” He spends a large portion of this chapter explaining that the pastor should devote himself to reading only the very best and most useful works for the sake of his time, passing over all second-rate works. He then proceeds to survey the best authors which should be read in the areas of poetry, philosophy, and theology. He frequently makes remarks such as, “To read these three authors is to read everything worth reading in the area of philosophy. Do not waste your time with other inferior works.” A learned professor of English Literature, Shedd seems well-qualified to make the suggestions that he does, and this segment of the chapter makes for very interesting reading.  

I was most interested, however, in what he had to say about how and when the pastor was to do this reading. I have often wrestled with guilt over devoting part of my “work day” to theological reading, because I enjoy it so much. It feels like I’m playing hooky to go to the ball game or to go fishing. This leads to the issue of the fluidity of the pastor’s time. The pastor never really stops being the pastor, so if I wait until “my own time” to crack open these useful theological works, when exactly is that? What does Shedd have to say about all this? 

In order to the successful prosecution of such a course of study, and the attainment of a high intellectual discipline, the clergyman must rigorously observe hours of study. His mornings must be seasons of severe applications.By proper arrangements, the time from eight to one may be a period of uninterrupted devotion to literary toil. Of these five hours, two may be devoted to books, and three to sermonizing; or, in the outset, one hour to books and four to sermonizing. Supposing that no more than six hours are devoted to pure study in a week, even this, in the course of twenty, thirty, forty, or fifty years, would carry the clergyman over a very wide field of investigation, and carry him thoroughly. (322)

Shedd points us here to the value of study. He sees the development of the pastor’s mind through reading to be essential to his task, beneficial both for himself and his people, so it is appropriate that a portion of each day should be set aside for studying. His emphasis on reading may seem overly-heavy (two hours every morning!), but he at least reminds us of its importance. Even setting aside just thirty minutes each morning for concentrated study outside of sermons would bear much fruit. He has more to say later on about making reading a part of your schedule:

Let there be in the study no idleness, no reverie, and no reading outside of the prescribed circle. Let the mind begin to work as soon as the door is shut, and let it not cease until the clock strikes the appointed hour; then stop study, and stop composition, and devote the remainder of the day to parochial labours, the amenities of life, and the relaxation of lighter literature. (323)

I found this advice very practical for a couple of reasons. First, devoting a set period to reading keeps me from lazily reading a little here and a little there, eventually letting the day slip away without accomplishing much reading or other work. Second, this also takes the feelings of guilt out of reading. Because I know I will be attending to my other responsibilities later, “at the appointed hour,” I can give myself to the task of reading without any moral dilemma. I have already found great benefit in this scheduled reading time. 


About Eric Smith

Sinner saved by the grace of Jesus, husband of Candace, father of Coleman and Crockett, West Tennessean, pastor of Sharon Baptist Church, student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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