The Bible is God’s life-transforming message for the church; therefore, we are exhorted to declare “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). We read early in the book of Acts that the believers, “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). Paul counsels Timothy, “Preach the Word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2). The Word of God taught in the power of the Holy Spirit is an indispensable discipline for the local church.
Preaching, the Church, and a High View of Scripture
Those who minister the word of God must have a high view of Scripture. There are some who preach the Word of God without authority and conviction. God reveals Himself through the pages of the Bible, and that written revelation must be held up as the believer’s final authority.
Many Christians are vague about doctrine. Very few ministers of the Word of God explain great Bible truths about God, life, death, heaven, hell, man, sin, Christ, angels, the Holy Spirit, the position of the believer, the flesh, or the world. We need truths that will root us and ground us in the faith. A minister of the Word needs to read a text, find out what it means, draw out a divine truth, and then drive that truth home in the minds and hearts of his hearers by preaching it.
Providing a Balanced Spiritual Diet
Therefore, it is the responsibility of the elders of a local New Testament church to provide a balanced spiritual diet in the ministry of the Word. Unfortunately, in many New Testament churches the spiritual diet is a barren, uninspired, and unorganized presentation of the Word of God. Believers are hungering for all the Scriptures to be taught with power, conviction, and with sound biblical understanding. Well-known missionary Jim Elliot (1927-1956) once wrote about his own preaching: “I was terribly depressed after preaching tonight. Felt as though I had no preparation, no liberty, no power. I felt compelled to stop during the sermon and tell the people I didn’t have a message from God…I never want to preach that way again. How sadly and slowly I am learning that loud preaching and long preaching are no substitutes for inspired preaching.” 1 His exhortation that “…loud preaching and long preaching are no substitutes for inspired preaching” needs a greater re-application today.
Improving Spiritual Diet in the Local Church
How can a local church improve the quality of the teaching and preaching of the Word of God?
1. Ministry Guidelines
Not infrequently, the ministry of the Word is handled by men who either are not gifted, or are gifted but very busy; or it is taken by a capable brother from the outside who may just be filling a date on his calendar. First of all, the goal should be that the majority (80-85%) of the teaching of the Word of God should come from within the local assembly. The elders should carry a greater load in teaching than the others in the assembly. Through their teaching, they deliver quality, focused ministry; gain spiritual authority among the believers; and provide a godly example of gifted ministry. We read about the New Testament assembly at Antioch: “Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers, as Barnabas, and Simeon, who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen…and Saul” (Acts 13:1).
If there are only a few gifted men, they should faithfully carry the preaching load until the Lord brings in other gifted men. Elders should exercise a discerning eye on new ones and younger men who can minister the Word effectively. Men who are not gifted in the ministry of the Word should be gently directed to other areas of service in which they are gifted. Outside speakers should be used on an average of one Sunday per five or six weeks. An assembly that does not seek, train, and use gift within will become spiritually weak and eventually close its doors.
2. Content Guidelines
The subject matter of the ministry should build up, challenge, and exhort to godly living. It should be doctrinal, practical, and applicable to the lives of the believers. The teaching should not be aimed at the youngest believer or the most mature believer, but toward the believers in the middle who are growing and eager learners. Often the ministry of the Word is so basic and fundamental that it doesn’t challenge even the youngest believer. On the other hand, it can be so academic and technical that it doesn’t reach and edify the hearts of most believers. The ministry of the Word should be organized, spiritual, and doctrinally balanced. It should be superintended by godly leadership within the assembly. Sound, doctrinal preaching produces sound, mature Christians.
a. Doctrinal Content – Important topics should include messages on the doctrine of the Church, great words of salvation (ie. justification, etc.), the nation of Israel, basics of dispensational theology; end-times biblical prophecy, life of Christ (miracles, parables), and verse-by-verse exposition of books of the Bible such as Romans, Hebrews, and Ephesians. Messages on key passages of worship (Ps. 130, Isa. 53, Gen. 22), the doctrine of Satan, angels, and demons, doctrine of the Bible (inspiration, inerrancy, canon, etc.), and spiritual gifts are all needed in the church today.
b. Majesty and Reverence of God – Teaching on the person of Christ, attributes of God, and great works of God are desperately needed in our pulpits today. The Scriptures exhort us that “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.” It is essential for believers young and old to be gripped by the holiness and majesty of God. Reverence for God anchors the servant in the holy privilege of preaching. Respected writer A. W. Tozer exhorts: “I believe there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God.”2
c. Practical Content – Messages on “How to Study the Bible”, improving Christian marriages, the Christian family, participation at the Lord Supper, “How to Lead a Child to Christ”, and practical methods in the preparation of Bible messages (especially for young men) are all important in fostering growth in the Christian life.
d. Practical Disciplines – Messages on “spiritual vision”, humility, prayer, faith, holiness, discipleship, abiding in Christ (John 15), obedience, witnessing to the unsaved, and the exchanged life (Romans 6-8) should be included in a healthy diet of ministry.
e. Missions Emphasis – Also important are messages on Paul’s missionary strategy in Acts, or topics such as “What of Those Who Never Hear the Gospel?” Use the mid-week service once a quarter for “Missions Night” to pray and learn about missions. Be aware of missionaries who are passing through your area and invite them to minister on a Sunday morning or Wednesday evening. In our mission emphasis, a special effort needs to be made to remember the persecuted church. “Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them…” (Hebrews 13:3). Resources from Open Doors Ministries and Voice of the Martyrs (www.persecution.com) are very helpful.
The preaching of a balanced doctrinal diet will raise up strong and effective believers in Christ. Spiritual leaders in the local church are commanded to feed the flock of God. In order to feed the flock, ministers of the Word must be students of the Word. When the Word of God is taught with passion and clarity, believers will know God more deeply, serve Christ more fervently, and worship Him more earnestly.
1. Elisabeth Elliot, edited, The Journals of Jim Elliot, (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1978), p. 353
2. A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, (Harper, New York, 1971), p. 8