WORKING IN THE CHURCH
by Wayne S. Walker
Jesus promised to build His church (Matthew 16:18). He did this on the day of Pentecost following His death and resurrection; for beginning on that day it is said that "the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" (Acts 2:47). We know that the church is "his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all" (Ephesians 1.22-23). Christ placed the church on earth for a purpose and gave it a mission to accomplish: to be "the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15). It is not a social club but an evangelistic society. Its mission can and will be performed as each local congregation (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:2) does its own work according to its own ability and opportunity, since such is the only functioning unit [collective] of God’s people aside from the individual Christian.
God provided the local church with all the equipment it needs to do His will. "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers" (Ephesians 4:11). Another passage that mentions some of God’s provisions for the congregation says, "Paul and Timotheus…to all the saints in Christ which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons" (Philippians 1:1). The apostles and prophets completed their efforts in the first century, and we no longer have or require living ones today since their work is accomplished through the written word (Ephesians 3:4-5). But we do need evangelists, pastors or bishops, deacons, and teachers. Congregations can exist scripturally for a time without some of these. But in order for a church to operate smoothly and at its peak efficiency as God would have it, it needs men to fill these "offices" and do the tasks that God assigned each one.
Those who oversee the affairs of the congregation are commonly known as elders. In Acts 20.17-28, Paul summoned the elders of the church at Ephesus, called them overseers (bishops) over the flock, and told them to feed (shepherd or pastor) the church. The word "elder" basically refers to the qualifications of the office (found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9), indicating that one who thus serves must be a man of maturity, experience, and wisdom. The term "bishop" denotes the authority–they are to serve as managers or superintendents over the affairs of the church. And the concept of "pastor" indicates their purpose, that of tending and caring for the flock so as to build it up and perfect it.
The work of elders is plainly set forth in scripture. According to Acts 20:28, they are to take heed to themselves and to the flock–they must know those over whom they are elders, as well as their own strengths and weaknesses. Paul says they are to be overseers, i.e., they rule over us (1 Timothy 5:17)–not as lawmakers or lords over God’s heritage, but as those authorized by Him to direct the congregation in its work. And they are told to feed the flock by providing the teaching necessary for spiritual growth. They watch for the member’s souls (Hebrews 13:17), and should take the lead in exhorting, rebuking, restoring, and disciplining (Titus 1:9). In 1 Peter 5:3, Peter added that they are to be examples to the flock. They have special duties such as seeing to members who are sick (James 5:14), encouraging beginning preachers (1 Timothy 4:14), and taking charge of benevolence (Acts 11:30).
The Bible tells us that it is God’s will to have elders in every church (Acts 14:23). Because of their position and authority they are to be respected and obeyed (Hebrews 13:17). But the eldership is more than just an office to be held–it is a labor to be performed (1 Thessalonians 5:12). It is indeed a work. Many congregations in the past have drifted into apostasy, or divided over trivial matters, or just died on the vine simply because there were no elders to guide the flock or because there were men who were listed as elders but did not actually do the job of elders. Nothing can help a congregation grow any more than a good eldership. But few things can hinder it more than an ineffective or inactive one.
The word "deacon" means minister or servant. Deacons have qualifications also (1 Timothy 3:7-13), but no work for them is specified as it is for the elders. Instead, they are simply appointed to be special servants for the church under the oversight of the elders. To accomplish their own work, elders should not "leave the word of God, and serve tables" (Acts 6:2). There is so much in a congregation that deacons can do to free the elders for their work. Deacons may be responsible for supervising building cleanup and repair, taking care of property and grounds, ordering supplies and class materials, looking after the financial affairs of the congregation, asking men to serve in worship, seeing to the preachers’ house if the church owns one, providing for members who are in need, making sure the Lord’s supper is ready, etc.
The above are activities that the elders should not have to take time from their duties of teaching, strengthening the weak, restoring the unfaithful, and correcting those in error, to attend to. To be a deacon, one must meet the qualifications of scripture. And if he can do that, he is sufficiently trustworthy for the elders to turn over to him whatever of those responsibilities they feel he is able to be assigned and to have faith in his judgment to buy our use anything he needs to do the job–within reason, of course. If they cannot do that, he ought not to be a deacon to begin with. Certainly the elders, in their responsibility as overseers, should maintain accountability to see that the work is finished and done properly. But a good deacon is a man to be trusted.
It is so easy for a congregation to fall into the wrong track. The preacher, whose primary responsibility is to preach the word, is expected to do the work of elders–visiting the members and seeing after their spiritual needs. The elders end up doing the work deacons should be doing–taking care of the building, grounds, finances, etc. And the poor deacons are left with nothing to do! Let it not be so. Let us utilize our deacons to the utmost of their ability for the advancement of the cause of Christ and the building up of the Lord’s church.
The word "evangelist" is translated from the same Greek root as the term "gospel" meaning good news, and thus means a bearer of glad tidings (Romans 10:15). To evangelize is to spread the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15-16). Other terms used to describe this function are "preacher" (1 Timothy 2:7, 2 Timothy 1:11) and "minister" (Ephesians 3:7, Colossians 1:23). While "evangelist" indicates his message, "preacher" denotes what he actually does. A preacher is a herald, proclaimer, a public announcer. And "minister" (lit. "servant") defines his purpose. He is a minister of the gospel; he serves God by applying the gospel message to the lost that they might be saved and to the saved that they might be strengthened. Biblically, the local preacher is nowhere ever referred to as "the minister," as though he were some kind of congregational workhorse or "chief cook and bottle washer" for the church. All Christians are "ministers" because we are all to serve others (Matthew 20:26). The preacher is simply a minister also; he is a servant of Christ (Romans 1:1) and not just of the church.
The work of a preacher is summed up by Paul in 2 Timothy 4:2. "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine." His basic obligation is to proclaim the truth. The importance of his work is seen in that he is to be urgent at all times and under all circumstances. The accomplishment of this requires reproving, rebuking, and exhorting (that includes a lot of "negative" preaching when necessary). And his attitude must be one of longsuffering and patience. When an evangelist does his work well several benefits will result. Brethren will be edified (1 Timothy 4:6), souls who take heed to his teaching will be saved (1 Timothy 4:16), those in error will be corrected (2 Timothy 2:22-26), and false teachers will be rebuked (Titus 1:10-12). In addition, when the preacher practices what he preaches, he will be an example to all (1 Timothy 4:12). Practically, there are many means a preacher can use to do these things: sermons from the pulpit, teaching Bible classes, a bulletin, using radio-TV-newspaper communications, holding studies inhomes of both members and non-members, etc.
But having the knowledge and ability to do this necessitates the preacher’s giving attendance to reading, developing his gifts, meditating on spiritual things, and giving himself wholly to the word (1 Timothy 4:13-15). Simply, he is going to have to spend much time in preparation by studying, researching, contemplating. However, there are many activities that are often "expected" of the preacher which, though not wrong in themselves, can take away from his study time if he is not careful. These including running to the hospital every time someone goes in, dropping in on members for social visits, taking care of all church correspondence, making sure the older folks are looked after, seeing to the physical needs of the church’s property, etc. (all because the rest of the members "work every day for a living" and the preacher appears to be "free"). Of course, a preacher has individual responsibilities as a Christian and a member of the local congregation, and most are willing to do whatever they can along this line. And no one believes that the preacher should shut himself up in the office away from society. Certainly, he needs to get out and meet people for opportunities to teach the truth. But he also needs to be adequately prepared to use those opportunities. Someone once said that there is nothing gained by a preacher doing "personal work" to get people to come to church services if he does not spend time to make sure that he has something worthwhile worked up to tell them when they come. Each preacher must be aware of his own abilities and needs, and budget his time accordingly. The congregation should require no more of him than that. A preacher can get so wrapped up in these other activities that he really does not have time to do what God actually told him to do. Remember, his primary work is to "preach the word."
From Acts 13:1 and Ephesians 4:11, we learn that there was a special class of people in the early church known as teachers. Now, there is a sense in which every Christian is to be a teacher, sharing the gospel with others as his abilities and opportunities allow. But the word is used in the afore-mentioned passages in the sense of a "public" (i.e. oral) instructor. There are several ways in which we can use both men and women who are able to teach: Sunday morning and Wednesday evening Bible classes (for adults and children), vacation Bible schools, ladies’ classes (Titus 2:3-4), classes in members’ homes, and other special weekly classes. The latter is one area in which we are sorely lacking. Many churches feel that they can provide all the spiritual instruction that the members need in the three regular assemblies. But the church in Jerusalem met daily for the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42, 46). We could well benefit from having more classes during the week to meet the needs of specific groups–new converts, young people, those looking for advanced Bible knowledge, men who want to serve better in public worship or develop preaching abilities, improving our singing, etc.
To be a teacher, one must meet certain qualifications. To teach necessarily requires that one know what he is teaching, and hopefully more about it than those who are being taught (1 Timothy 1:7). The Hebrew writer lamented to some that, "When for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again" (Hebrews 5:12). A new Christian cannot be expected to become a proficient teacher right away. He needs time to "desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby" (1 Peter 2:2). But as he grows in grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18), the time should come that he has developed sufficiently to be able to teach others in some fashion or another. Each develops on his own level and has his own abilities, but if that time does not eventually come, something is wrong. A teacher must also practice what he teaches. "Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?" (Romans 2:19-21). It is a grievous mistake for a church to use in its public teaching program those whose lives do not measure up to the standard revealed in God’s word. In addition, a teacher must have a general knowledge of people, be able to communicate intelligently, exhibit a winsome personality, and seek to develop a rapport with his students. And most importantly, he must teach truth (1 Timothy 1:3, 2 Timothy 4:3, 2 Peter 2:1).
The prime work of teachers is, obviously, to teach (2 Timothy 2:2). Yet, this is not always the case in many Bible classes. The "teacher" may be nothing more than a moderator to call on people to answer the questions in a workbook or a "traffic director" to control the discussion and see that it does not get out of hand. But teaching involves more than that. Certainly workbooks can be helpful and asking/answering questions is a valid method of teaching. Open discussion is good from time to time and even necessary for the teacher to receive feedback from the class. Teachers should always be willing to listen to the students and learn from them. And using the lecture method exclusively can be boring. But let us remember what a class is–a teacher/learner situation–and let the teacher do what he is supposed to do, namely, teach. Teaching is an awesome responsibility. "Be not many of you teachers, my brethren, knowing we shall receive heavier judgment" (James 3:1). But a job well-done deserves great reward.
Men have a tendency to organize, disorganize, and then reorganize. This is true of all human institutions and often finds its way into the church. Denominations for centuries have had their inter-congregational organizations (councils, synods, conferences, associations, etc.) as well as their intro-church groups (elected boards, standing committees, ladies’ aid societies, etc.), each with its various officials. Even among churches of Christ which have gone along with modern unsound institutional practices, this penchant for overorganizing is becoming increasingly popular. No longer is one just a preacher; he may be a "pulpit minister" or "a minister of visitation" or " a minister of music" or "a youth minister." Others can choose to be a Bible class superintendent, bus director, ladies’ activity coordinator, or some such title. And all of this is done in an attempt to increase the working ability of the church! But why do men continually pursue the mistaken notion that they can improve on God’s simple yet successful organization of the local church?
Let the elders oversee the congregation and feed the flock in accordance with the instructions of the apostles and prophets contained in God’s word. Let the deacons be assigned those taks they are capable of performing so as to allow the elders to give themselves to watching for souls. Let the evangelists preach the truth unhindered by men’s concept of the "pastor system." Let the teacher use his abilities, opportunities, and whatever materials are available to instruct the brethren inwhat they need to know that they might grow and the church be strengthened. And let each member look around, see what needs to be done, and do it faithfully. In this way, the Lord’s church "may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh the increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love" (Ephesians 4:15-16).
(—taken from Faith and Facts; Apr., 1980; Vol. 8, No. 2; pp. 53-59)