Of all the duties of elders, none is more important than the feeding of the flock, that is, the ongoing instruction of believers from the Scriptures. Both Paul and Peter give strong exhortations specifically to elders concerning this great responsibility. A quick look at several New Testament passages will show why this work is so vital to the spiritual health of any church.
In Luke 24:32 (KJV) we read that the heart of the disciples burned within them as the Lord explained the Scriptures. In John 17:17, the Lord Jesus prayed that His disciples would be sanctified through the truth which is the Word of God. In the early chapters of Acts, we see a direct correspondence between the increase of the influence of the Word, and the growth of the church. In Ro- mans 10:17 we learn that faith comes through the Word of God. Peter writes that young Christians need the milk of the Word in order to grow (I Peter 2:3). These examples could be multiplied. In the Old Testament, many passages in the Psalms and Proverbs extol the value of God’s Word for warning and com- forting His people.
Teaching in the Church
There are many different ways to present God’s Word in the life of the church; in counseling, in small groups, one on one, etc. Probably the single most important time is through the teaching service in the gathered assembly. Teaching and preaching of the Scriptures with the power and authority of the Holy Spirit builds the believers up spiritually, refutes doctrinal error, and enables the church to grow in health and vigor as well as in size. We know from Acts 2:42 that this was a priority of the earliest Christians, something in which they continued steadfastly. Therefore, assembly elders are responsible to protect this time from all that would intrude and weaken it. Let’s first consider a few dangers, and then explore some of the characteristics of ministry that edifies.
The teaching service of the church is a time to hear God speak, both to the individual and to the whole church. It is not a “share time” for private viewpoints. Under ordinary circumstances, it should not be a time for young speakers to practice; there are many opportunities in the life of the church for this. Incidentally, when we refer to Acts 2:42, we often abbreviate the list to “teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers,” but the first item is literally “apostles doctrine.” We must never forget the historical connection between Christ’s original apostles who were inspired to write God’s Word, and our own Bibles from which we receive spiritual instruction and nourishment that is both encouraging and convicting because it is authoritative (II Tim. 3:16-17).
Moreover, the teaching hour is not a time for entertainment, jokes, humorous stories of the preacher’s experiences or travels although occasional illustrations can be helpful. God’s servants are not entertainers. Nor is the ministry addressed to a “mixed multitude.” The instruction is to “feed the flock of God.” Some groups today are neglecting the Lord’s command to go into the world and preach the gospel, and are trying instead to induce the world to come into the church by using all sorts of attractive gimmicks to accomplish this. Ministry is often shallow since the unchurched “might not understand or enjoy it.” But study the opening words of every epistle, and you will discover that the apostles never addressed the church as a mixed company. Certainly unsaved people may be present in our meetings, but they are “listening in” on the most crucial function of God’s spiritual family.
Over time, the presentation of the Word should expose God’s people to the “whole counsel of God.” Consecutive, systematic, expository ministry is most helpful to accomplish this. Believers should have a basic understanding of the longer books in the Bible as well as the shorter ones; of the Old Testament as well as the New Testament. Topical studies and subjects taken from their larger context are popular, but there is nothing like the careful, patient exposition of an entire book of Scripture – verse by verse – to build up the church. Is there time during the week to discuss the message given on Sunday? There should be! Small groups meeting in homes can be very helpful here.
Bible teachers have different styles, and there is room for a wide variety of approaches to communication that edifies, but we must never forget that the power to change lives comes through the Spirit and the Word, not the dramatic efforts or emotional displays of the speaker!
Another important matter that is often overlooked is the fact that many people today have a short attention span. Consider using the first 30 or 40 minutes of the “Bible hour” to provide the best concentration. Announcements, prayer, special music, congregational singing, etc. have a place, but we are wise to ensure that adequate time is given to the preaching of the Word.
Elders should be more concerned to have men in the pulpit who bring a clear and relevant message from the Lord, than simply lining up speakers who have available dates on their calendars. Preparing nourishing food for the flock is hard work! Paul writes about the honor that should be given to those who “labor in the word and doctrine” (I Tim. 5:17).
But what profit will there be in all this care if people are not present to hear the Word, or are regularly distracted by other “good things.” Elders can do much to encourage faithful attendance. Are some leaving after the Lord’s Supper? Are some absent because they are encumbered with serving responsibilities? In some assemblies, all of the high school age young adults, along with those who teach them, are regularly absent from the teaching hour.
The Bottom Line
In all of the above, we must never forget that we have a great adversary who is utterly and eternally opposed to the Word of God! If he cannot use evil things to weaken the effectiveness of the teaching time in the church, he will use good things. No task faced by elders is more crucial than protecting the quality of the feeding time for God’s flock. But the reward for this ceaseless vigilance will be spiritual vigor in this life, and the crown of unfading glory in the next (I Peter 5:4).
In the next issue, we’ll think about some of the characteristics of ministry that edifies.