Preach it!   Can they minister the word? Are they good preachers? Can they bring it?  They have got to be able to preach!!!!”

When evaluating leadership and “ministry gifts” in our contemporary church culture, preaching/teaching always seems to rise to the top of the qualifications list.

Our contemporary understanding of the ministry of God’s word is too narrow.

The Bible speaks much about the importance of leaders and the word of God.  In the early church, the first big challenge they faced was over the apostle’s primary call to “prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4).  This is why they” appointed others to administrate the serving of food” to the church (Acts 6:1-3), so they could give themselves to  God’s word.

In contemporary church leadership, when one thinks about the ministry of God’s word, the immediate association is with an anointed hour-long sermon preached from a platform or teaching a class.  It is a one-way communication that is more of a monologue in which the gifted speaker expounds the word.

The Biblical perspective reveals a much broader idea.  If we define it too narrowly, we miss some of the richness and diversity of what the Bible reveals about expounding and receiving God’s word.  Because of this, many have a shallow foundation in the word that will not hold up under pressure. Let us consider some of the examples from the New Testament.

When Paul later met with the Ephesian elders for the final time, he reminded them of the importance he placed on receiving God’s word while he was with them.  When you consider the variety of Greek words (and their definitions) he used in association with the ministry of God’s word, you see that it was much more than a fiery one-hour monologue from behind the pulpit, or a hour long teaching in a class.

  • Acts 20:17-38 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church.  (18)  And when they had come to him, he said to them, “You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time…  (20)  how I did not shrink from declaring (G312 anaggellō “to announce, make known, rehearse”)   to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you (G1321 didaskō “to hold a discourse with others in order to instruct them”) publicly and from house to house…(25)  “And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the Kingdom (G2784 kērussō “to proclaim openly”), will no longer see my face… (31)  “Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish (G3560 noutheteo “to caution, warn, exhort gently” used 8 times in the NT) each one with tears.  (32)  “And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified…

Much of Paul’s ministry of the word was in synagogues, homes, and elsewhere and seems not to have been simply an hour-long monologue or class in which he spoke, and people listened. Often it was more of a back-and-forth expounding and dialogue.

Can you preach a sermon for 20 hours?

Consider the earlier part of the passage in Acts 20 while Paul was in Troas.  He ministered the word for several hours “until midnight.”  Then a young man fell asleep, fell out of a window, and died.  You can imagine the disruption, but after prayer and healing, Paul continued the ministry of the word the rest of the night “until daybreak” (a total of about 16-20 hours). How could he “preach” that long, and hold other’s attention?  You won’t be able to comprehend this unless you realize the ministry of the word wasn’t always a monologue where others simply sat and listened.  Consider again the Greek words and definitions used in this passage.

  • Acts 20:7-8  On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them (G1256 Dialegomia “to discuss, reason, dispute”), intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message (G3056 Logos, “word”) until midnight.  (8)  There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered together. (9)  And there was a young man named Eutychus sitting on the window sill, sinking into a deep sleep; and as Paul kept on talking (G1256 Dialegomia “discuss, reason, dispute”), he was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor and was picked up dead.  (10)  But Paul went down and fell upon him, and after embracing him, he said, “Do not be troubled, for his life is in him.”  (11)  When he had gone back up and had broken the bread and eaten, he talked (G3656 Homileo “to converse”) with them a long while until daybreak, and then left.

The Greek words expressing Paul’s ministry of the word in this passage referred more to instruction, dialogue, and reasoning. They are used 17 times in the NT surrounding the ministry of the word.  We see examples from Paul’s ministry (Acts 17:2; 17:11; 17:17; 18:4; 18:19; 18:19; 19:8; 20:7; 20:9; 24:12; 24:25).

This type of ministry in God’s word is what was referred to in Paul’s instruction to Timothy about the importance of proclaiming God’s word to both help ground God’s people and refute false teachings.

  • 2 Timothy 4:1-4  I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus…(2)  preach (G2784 kērussō “to proclaim openly”) the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove (G1651 elegchō “to convict, refute, confute”), rebuke (G2008 ep-ee-tee-mah’-o “to censure or admonish”), exhort (G3870 parakaleō “to call to one’s side, speak to with exhortation and instruction”), with great patience and instruction (G1322 didachē “the act of teaching and instructing”) (3)  For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, (4)  and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. 

In the middle of using the words “preach” and  “instruction,” Paul adds “reprove, rebuke, exhort,” with the additional idea “with great patience.”  This type of ministry in God’s word includes time and patient attention.

At the end of Paul’s ministry, we find people coming to him where he was living, and he was “explaining, solemnly testifying, and persuading people about Jesus…preaching the Kingdom and teaching about the Lord Jesus.”  Again, it was more than a one-hour preach/monologue or a class; it was a way of life in their interactions.  Again, consider the Greek words and definitions.

  • Acts 28:30-31  And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him,  (31)  Preaching (G2784 kērussō “to proclaim openly”) the kingdom of God, and teaching (G1321 didaskō “to hold a discourse with others in order to instruct them”) those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.

Peter gives similar instruction

We see a similar idea regarding the ministry of the word with Peter as he gives instructions about employing our unique giftings, including speaking God’s word.  Consider the Greek words and definitions.

  • 1 Peter 4:10-11  As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.  (11)  Whoever speaks (Gk G2980 Laleo, used 295 times in the NT which means “to talk, to tell, to utter”) is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances (Gk G3051 Logion “the brief utterance, oracle, of a divine revelation in response to a question”) of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. 

Again, this includes interactive ministry of the word, causing an amplifying of thought, responding to questions, and explaining the word more thoroughly to people.

This is how Jesus did it.

This is how Jesus did it when He walked on earth with the disciples.  He used different settings, circumstances, and types of communication to expound God’s word.  It was not just a monologue in a “preaching” setting but a way of life expounding and applying God’s truth in a variety of applications as they walked together.

Three reasons why is it essential for leaders to expand the ideas of the “ministry of the word” to include these types of approaches?  

1. These interactions cause a deeper/fuller understanding and application of God’s word.   In these types of engagements, Christians gain broader insights, learn from others, and resolve many questions/problems in understanding and applying His word.

2. We get to experience “We have the mind of Christ” 1 Corinthians 2:16, in which we gain a fuller revelation of God and His truth.  Why? Because by ourselves, we only see His word through our own eyes, experiences, and mental processes.  The benefit of others’ perspectives and experiences helps us gain a broader perspective of God.

3. It fosters unity, allows people to gain greater perspectives, answers many questions, and dispels false ideas.    As people share their questions, views, struggles, and triumphs, they are sharpened in their own understanding and there comes a greater breadth of the application of His word.  It tends to have the effect of Spiritually “scratching the itch” of each person to develop a deeper understanding of and application of God’s word.

May God’s people explore the Biblical variety of learning and applying His word.  May leaders incorporate a broader approach of expounding His word. As we do, more of our inner questions will be answered, errors will be dispelled, and we will become better “equipped” (Ephesians 4:11)  to understand and put God’s word into practice in our everyday lives.