In the previous article “Teaching in the Church,” we considered the importance of quality Bible teaching, especially the church’s primary teaching meeting, as well as some of the obstacles and hindrances to effective use of this time; problems about which elders must ever be watchful. In this article, I want to suggest some of the factors that can produce a truly edifying ministry of the Scriptures in the church.
First we must understand the word “edify.” It is linked to the idea of a building (or edifice) that is under construction. Since buildings go “up” with progress, the expression when applied to people is often rendered “build up,” as when good ministry builds up the local assembly. The old saying is true; ‘The Word of God builds the church.’
But since the church is really a collection of individuals, it follows that the church is built up when the individuals in it are build up or edified. Anyone wishing to explore this subject should certainly make a study of the book of Ephesians, especially chapter 4, where Paul links the work of gifted servants to a) the equipping of the saints and the upbuilding of the church in verse 12, b) the growing up of the individual believer into a closer relationship with Christ in verse 15, and c) the increase of the body which results from these in verse 16.
Before we look at some things that encourage edifying ministry, let’s think briefly about the mechanism by which a healthy spiritual diet produces growth in the believer. Actually, in referring to the Christian as a “believer,” we have just discovered the answer! In Colossians 2:6 (KJV) we read: “As ye have, therefore, received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him.” How did we first receive the Lord? By faith in the One revealed to us in the message of the gospel. Only as we understood the message were we able to put faith in its object. In the same way, all other truth must come to believers in such a way that they can understand and believe, not with a mere mental assent, but with a life changing transformation of the mind. The first key, then, is in understanding. The message must be truthful and clear to be used by the Holy Spirit. The second key is believing, that is, receiving for ourselves what has been made plain.
Furthermore, as we think about those who explain God’s message to us, we must describe such ministry, not in terms of law, as in rules and lists of do’s and don’t’s, but of grace, knowing that God can use any honest effort. But since both nature and Scripture teach us that there is a clear link between sowing and reaping, we ought to embrace Paul’s statement in I Cor. 14:12 as something of a theme for the whole subject: “seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.” Here are some areas in which excellence must be constantly pursued.
Suggestions for those who line up speakers
The ideal is for elders to feed their own flock personally. But others will likely be needed to help with the teaching load. Seek to engage speakers whose teachings are both faithful and relevant: faithful to the text, and relevant to the needs of the people. It will not be so helpful if doctrine is sound but application is cloudy or lacking. Also, there should be a good balance of topical studies and consecutive exposition of the Word. Some men find it difficult to work through a passage verse by verse. Seek over time to provide ministry that covers the “whole counsel of God,” not just the themes that are popular. Christians should desire some grasp of every book in the Bible. Wise shepherds know the needs of the flock, and must be more concerned for those needs than the wants of the flock. Elders and teachers must make time to “labor in the Word and doctrine” (I Tim. 5:17). Elders need to think in terms of “Who can teach and challenge us in this area of need?” rather than “Who has this date open on their calendar?”
Suggestions regarding local speakers beside the elders:
Every assembly should be training its own men. Spiritual gifts must be discovered and developed. Consider asking young speakers to bring a short message in a home study group or at the prison or rest home ministry. Ask them to record a message on a cassette tape for the elders to listen to. There are many ways to get practice and nothing substitutes for it. Also, elders should ponder carefully the implications of Eph. 4:11,12. Are gifted evangelists, pastors, and teachers really “equipping the saints?” Too often men with these valuable gifts come and go, and the saints are no better equipped to shepherd others or teach the Word or witness to the lost than before the meetings were held.
Suggestions to hearers:
Since understanding is crucial, those who hear the Word should have some time during the week to ask questions and interact with what they have heard. This is one major benefit of small groups meeting in homes. One assembly with which I am familiar has a lunch for all who can stay every Sunday so that the speaker can meet people and interact with them. In regard to younger speakers, elders must encourage the congregation to accept ministry from younger men. If illustrious speakers are constantly imported, how will the younger men be trained? Encourage people to bring their own Bibles. Pew Bibles or overuse of PowerPoint can inadvertently encourage laziness! Don’t get sidetracked on the question of Bible versions.
Thoughts for elders regarding the assembly as a good environment for the Word:
Is the seating and lighting arrangement a help or a hindrance? If a PA system is needed, is it easy to use and giving a clear sound? Have some brothers prayed with the speaker before the message? Are all parts of the service geared to enhance the message as the very Word of God to the people? Are messages consistent with the goals set forth in the Scriptures and valued by the elders for the health and growth of the sheep?
Suggestions for speakers:
Every teacher should seek to excel in edifying the church! You are not an entertainer, but a channel of truth to hungry hearts. Seek to be honest and sincere. Nourishing food is Christ-centered and glorifying to the Lord. It may bring conviction, but a critical, negative ministry cannot refresh hearts. Do not impose on the text what is not there. The platform is not a place to air personal gripes. I encourage young speakers to obtain a tape of a message they have given and listen as if hearing it for the first time. This can shed light on ways to improve. A simple outline of major and minor points can help bring order, and keep you accountable to the material to be covered. Resist the temptation to divide the audience into “saved” and “lost.” Only God knows the heart. There is power in the Word to meet every need present! The Holy Spirit is able to work mightily through the truth, even when we are unaware of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
An assembly in which the elders take the preaching and teaching of the Word seriously is fortunate indeed. This good work will even include judging themselves when there are problems. Thinking back on the building analogy, if the carpenters are having good fellowship and enjoying their tools but the building is not going up, something is wrong. God will give wisdom if we lack it and ask. It is an unspeakable privilege “to feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood.” Acts 20:28.