Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Church's Ministry of Teaching

What do churches do? What is their raison d’être, their reason for being? If we go by what we see some doing, then we might get the idea that churches are social clubs or perhaps social service societies or maybe coffee shops or political action committees. Some churches appear to be no more than historical societies or self-appointed courts of judgmental opinion, a giant food court or perhaps simply a pitifully planned local talent show.

The Bible says that the church exists to glorify God. It glorifies God by taking the Good News to the world (Matthew 28:18-20) and building up believers in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16). The church has five ministries, all outlined in Acts 2:42-47, and these ministries give us a picture of what the church is supposed to be and do. The five ministries are teaching, fellowship, worship (“breaking of bread and prayer”), service (“they gave to anyone as he had need”), and evangelism/missions (“And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”)

1.      TEACHING
a.      The importance of teaching the Bible is demonstrated in that it is the primary activity of the early church in Acts 2:42. They devoted themselves to the Apostle’s teaching first. Teaching is one of the two components mentioned in discipling the nations in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). The spiritual gift of teaching is found in all three major lists of spiritual gifts (Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12; and Ephesians 4). It is specifically linked to the gift of pastor in Ephesians 4:11 and is one of the two gifts required of elder-pastors (1 Timothy 3:2; 5:18; Titus 1:9). 

b.      The emphasis on teaching in Acts 2:42 is on making disciples of Jesus among the nations, “teaching them to obey whatsoever things I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19). We often direct teaching to the mind alone, but the Great Commission commands us to “teach them to obey.” Here we find profound weaknesses in our churches.  We must teach toward life transformation (Romans 12:1-2) and not just for information.

c.       The context of teaching in the church is from large group to one-on-one. Teaching, or making disciples, begins with pastoral ministry, but it doesn’t end there. No one can be adequately disciple by sitting in an auditorium listening to a 30-40 minute sermon once a week. There must be individual and group discipleship and training, new member classes, strong Sunday Schools, insightful Bible Studies, and life-giving small groups. Teaching should even take place in the midst of the conversations of believers (Colossians 3:16). Here is another weakness in our churches. We are often haphazard in our approach to teaching. There are classes and courses, all with different topics, everyone choosing what they want, even some fads, with little oversight or design to move people toward maturity in Christ in both knowledge and skills. Even Lifeway curriculum is weak here. Only one (the least popular) takes a ‘whole Bible’ approach to the Scripture, teaching both the easy and hard passages, but its goal is simply a survey of the material, not life transformation.

d.      The content of teaching in Acts 2:42 is the Apostle’s teaching, viz., the Apostle’s understanding (hermeneutic) of the Bible. We study God’s Word because it is His inerrant Word. Specifically, the very early church had only the Old Testament as their Bible, but when New Testament books began to be written, they were immediately recognized as canon and incorporated into the teaching of the churches. The Apostle’s teaching was what Jesus had taught them. Their writings in the New Testament teach us the way the Apostles read and interpreted the Old Testament based on the revelation of Jesus.

I am indebted for much of this material to John Hammett at Southeastern Seminary.