Thy Words were found and I did eat them; and Thy Word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart. Jeremiah 15:16
The Standard And Variety Of Oral Ministry
Long ago Bernard Manning described oral ministry as “A manifestation of the Incarnate Word, from the Written Word, by the spoken word.” In our studies we have passed through several subjects from that of divine revelation to human communication. No man could fill a higher office than that of being called of God to communicate the revelation of God in the Bible. This is the greatest task ever assigned to any man. The individual who is conscious of having received a call to minister the doctrine of Christ to his fellowmen should assume this grave responsibility with discretion and dedication, and should pursue it with humility and resolution.
The Purpose of Ministry
A paraphrasing of Ephesians 4:11-13, may reveal the true purpose of ministry: “And Christ gave to the Church gifts: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints in order that they accomplish their ministry of edifying the Body of Christ, till we all arrive in the unity of the faith; the full knowledge of the Son of God,…unto the perfection of the One New Man (Ephesians 2:15), the full measure of the stature of Christ.”
Dr. Handley Moule translates the phrase, “For the perfecting of the saints,” as “with a view to the equipment of the saints for their work of service.” He then calls attention to the fact that the verb form of this word is used in Matthew 4:21, where in the King James Version it is translated, “mending nets;” and in Galatians 6:1, where it is translated, “restore;” and Hebrews 13:21, where it is, “make you perfect.” Obviously, as Dr. Moule says, “Christian ministry is to have its effect above all things in the fitting of the saints for active service for the common Lord.” Each Christian is, by spiritual ministry, to be fitted out, to be equipped to be a builder of the Church of the Living God; each is responsible to bring living stones in order that these become a part of that edifice that will be the eternal habitation of God.
The Standard of Ministry
The standard of ministry is set forth by Solomon in Ecclesiastes 12:8-12, where he summarizes what he as the preacher had written throughout this book of wisdom; albeit, earthly wisdom. His words, whether spoken or written were of the very best, dignified, sound and effective. In this description the art of preaching is seen at its highest.
Notice what characterized this art in Solomon’s day: First, wisdom itself, “The preacher was wise” no doubt with the wisdom that is from above which is pure, peaceable, easily entreated, full of mercy and good fruits; and without partiality and hypocrisy. Second, diligence; he gave good heed and sought out sayings and words. He was not afraid to quote the good sayings of others. Third, research; he sought out to find. He searched until he discovered what was necessary to his purpose. Fourth, organization; the preacher set his material in order, and left nothing indistinct or confused. Fifth, acceptability; the preacher sought out acceptable words (Literally, words of delight). Solomon advocated excellence of speech with depth of spiritual truths. Sixth, honesty; he wrote only what was upright and absolutely true. Seventh, conciseness: the preacher’s messages whether written or spoken are in contrast to the much writing of others; they were not verbose sayings like those of some others. Eighth, appropriateness: The words of this worthy preacher were as goads. As goads are used to direct and correct the oxen in the yoke, so the words of each Christian minister should direct the people of God and when necessary correct their ways. His words were also like nails fastened by the masters of this collection or compilation of holy books. As nails join and hold together any structure, so should the ministry of God’s Word through those fitted to teach.
Channels of Ministry
In writing to the Corinthians the Apostle Paul asserted, “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:4). There seems to be much lack of discernment in appraising properly the different gifts, and their different functions in the Church. This is especially true in regard to those basic gifts: evangelist, pastor and teacher.
Some brethren may require the exhortation of Paul to Timothy, “Stir up the gift of God which is in thee” (2 Timothy 1:6), or his admonition to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfill it” (Colossians 4:17).
When a gift becomes apparent, it should be recognized; it is an endowment from the Risen Head of the Church through the Holy Spirit. In our recognition of gifts, we must learn to differentiate the one from the other.
The employment of gifts: The wrong use of gifts may arise from a failure to understand the true character of the several gifts. Occasionally an evangelist is used when a teacher might be more correctly employed. This mistake is apparent in some annual conferences. Generally speaking, there are two different types of conferences conducted among the assemblies, one where the platform is left open, as it is called; the other where the platform is arranged. In the first, all the speakers profess to be led by the Holy Spirit in what they minister and when they minister. Frequently, such practices result in every preacher present taking his turn, irrespective of the character or degree of his gift. In the second, where a more cautious method is adopted, where the time of a speaker is arranged, and sometimes his subject, the quality and character of gift is ignored; evangelists are appointed to teach the saints and teachers to take the gospel services. There is a definite need for wisdom in these matters. Each brother who feels urged to minister publicly either in the gospel or in teaching should, in the presence of the Lord, ascertain a sense of his own abilities and his own limitations. Furthermore, elder brethren remember the principles stated for the control of the prophets at the beginning of the Church period, “Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge” (1 Corinthians 14:29). Gifts are the channels through which the Lord ministers. We must therefore recognize them and permit them to function in such a manner as God had planned; only when this is true is God fully glorified and the Church thoroughly blessed.
The Variety of Ministry
In a simple manner we may classify ministry according to the purpose for which it is intended. One rule that should not be ignored is each message, as far as the minister of the Word is concerned, should be relevant to the audience. It is a difficult task to preach the gospel message to a congregation entirely of Christians, and very improper to deliver a hortatory sermon to an audience mostly of children or unconverted persons.
Let us consider several different types of sermons.
First, the evangelistic sermon: It should be remembered that evangelistic ministry is not a lecture for it does not inform; it is not a speech for it is not an entertainment. The gospel message is a proclamation to be delivered by a herald of the King. It is to be obeyed and therefore must be delivered with accuracy and authority. It is intended to move the will through the emotions.
Second, the expository sermon: This type of ministry is informative. It purports to expound the content of a passage of Scripture. It should appeal to the heart but through the intellect.
Third, the doctrinal sermon: A doctrinal discourse is an orderly and logical presentation of the major teachings of the Lord Jesus and His apostles. It should appeal to the heart through the intellect.
Fourth, the hortatory sermon: A sermon of this kind should be inspirational. It is exhortative in character and is intended to stir the individual to spiritual action.
Fifth, the devotional sermon: This ministry, generally speaking, is a presentation of Christ in any particular aspect of His person and work in order that love to Him might be stimulated in the believer’s heart, and that love expressed in the performance of duties and activities.
Sixth, the prophetical sermon: This is usually a lecture in eschatology and deals with future events.
Well might the Apostle Peter write, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11).
Preparation for Ministry
Much might be said in regard to the preparation necessary for ministry. Let us confine ourselves to the three spheres: spiritual, moral and mechanical.
Spiritual preparation: It should ever be remembered that the Lord instructed His disciples to await the descent of the Holy Spirit before beginning their ministry, their witnessing for Christ (Acts 1:8). As they were dependent upon Him for power, how much more are we!
It is the Unction from the Holy One that preserves us from error (1 John 2:18-20). The Holy One, of course, is the Lord Jesus through whom the Holy Spirit is the anointing oil, so to speak, and since we have been thus anointed, we have been initiated into knowledge; we, therefore, know all things necessary for our good.
Furthermore this same Anointing teaches us (1 John 2:26-27). Notice, first, His presence with us is permanent; He abides with us; second, His teaching requires no corroboration by man for it is complete and perfect in itself.
Surely, we must rely upon the Holy Spirit for through Him alone we have power, knowledge and instruction, and through Him we are preserved from errors.
Throughout the early years of the Church God made use of men who were filled with the Holy Spirit: men like Peter and John, Stephen, Philip and Barnabas, and many others. May we not be drunk with wine, but may we be filled with the Spirit. This we can do only as we empty ourselves and condition ourselves for the divine infilling (Ephesians 5:18).
Moral preparation: No matter how systematic our studies may be, or how well organized our material, success greatly depends upon our spiritual and moral preparation. In regard to ministry, the Apostle Peter asserts, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11). First, notice what Peter does not say; he does not say, Let him speak the oracles of God. That, every minister of Christ ought to do. Second, notice what he does say, “Let him speak as the oracles of God.” The man himself is to be an oracle, his character and conduct should be a message that agrees perfectly with the message that he speaks. What a man is, even so is his message.
It may not occur to all that certain moral qualities should characterize those who participate publicly in assembly functions.
The humorous story is told of a brother who did not usually give his testimony, but who on one occasion did, prefacing his remarks by saying, “I am not a public man; I do not know how to speak, but I feel encouraged to say something because on one occasion the Lord spoke through an ass to Balaam.”
The people were embarrassed by his ignorance and hesitance of speech. He was altogether out of place.
After the service one of the elders said to him, “True, Brother, God did speak through an ass once, but He did not say that He would do that again.”
While it would be impossible to list the moral qualifications according to any order of importance, these should become apparent.
It would be nice to assume that only the spiritual take part publicly in church gatherings, but we know that such is not the case.
Let us consider some of the qualities that ought to be part of the personality or every one who assumes to minister the Word of God publicly.
Personality is the sum-total of all that a man is; it is the integration of the components of character: ability, appearance, vigour, attitude, voice, etc., etc. In the Christian worker we look for another, namely, spirituality.
A simple can opener has several parts: a frame, a cutting knife, a pressure gear, and a handle with which to turn the gear. These all fitted together produce a can opener. Even so with personality: character, ability, appearance, vigour, attitude, etc. are all blended properly together to give one whole.