Ministry of Word and Prayer
There are men in the church who claim apostolic succession. This is the idea that certain offices in the church have been maintained through the centuries since Jesus’ apostles. Typically, these claimants are gifted administrators who hold the power in the church and then pass it on to other power brokers. More than that, they are politically savvy men, who use their diplomacy skills to rise up the ladder of hierarchy their fathers established in the church. They are known by the office they hold, but when the discussion turns to the word of God and prayer, their names are never mentioned. Through rote liturgy these “traditional” settings minimize the exposition of God’s Word and their prayers are printed and brief.
There are men in the church who do not claim apostolic succession, but who have built their own little church empires. They are little popes in their own right. These men are also capable men in the world who have found their place of success in the church. Employing techniques learned in the corporation, they design their church buildings like corporate offices or factory warehouses. There is nothing about these buildings that would suggest anything spiritual going on, and this may be a true assessment. Sunday is another day in the company setting, for their success-driven attendees. They compete with other churches for the best entertainment and programs in town. The mantra for these men is, “bigger is better and more blessed.” In this second version, the ministry of the word and prayer is minimized, too. God is employed to help them get what they want.
Other forms of leadership style and worship exist but they are derivations of these two primary forms. In the marketplace of church, demotic consumers vote their preferences. In this “church gone wild” environment, just about anything goes. One might ask if there ever was “an original form of church.” The purpose for this form would be to anchor our practices in the realm of oversight and worship.
The Acts of the Apostles is the premier church history book. It tells us about the earliest operations of the earliest church fathers, especially the ministries of certain apostles. It is often stated, “Acts is narrative and informative, not prescriptive.” In other words, we should not follow the patterns found in Acts. I have found this advice a bit suspicious because of those who warn against including Acts in the regulative principle. They are the ones who are looking for license with regard to their Mass, comedy show, dramas, dancing girls, etc.
If we searched Acts of the Apostles, we would find a prescription for those who practice apostolic patterns, without the need for boasting in apostolic office succession. These are men who are gifted by the Holy Spirit and truly inspired to prioritize two certain functions. The two functions are: ministry of the word and prayer.
Our setting is Acts 6. Jesus Christ ascended into heaven and commissioned His disciples as apostles. Those who had learned from Him, personally, were now sent out with a method and a message (Acts 1). They had received the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). They began the mission of proclaiming Jesus Christ and His kingdom (Acts 2–4). They incurred resistance (Acts 3–4). They prayed. The church grew. With this new gathering of disciples, felt needs threatened the ministry of the apostles (Acts 6:1–3). A clear declaration was made for the priority of the two functions, “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4).”
This was not a severing of clergy from laity. It was not exalting a super-spiritual function above a mundane one. The apostles of Jesus Christ possessed the knowledge of Christ, and they were gifted to pass this knowledge on to others. Some of these others, who received the Word, would themselves be called and gifted to repeat the apostolic function in their generation.
God has been faithful in every generation to continue this special task, using distinct agents. They are known by their function, not their office. Not every Christian is gifted, nor called, to perform these functions as primary ministry tasks. Please do not be confused. Every Christian does pray. Every Christian possesses a certain quantity and quality of knowledge pertaining to Christ, but not every Christian is set apart for the primary purpose of preaching God’s Word in the apostolic sense.
So where are these men of God, devoted ministers of the word of truth and men of prayer? Are they in business meeting at church? Are they on the golf course? Rotary Club meeting? Are they raising funds for some cause? Are they busy planning out the church calendar of events for the coming year? Woe to the church because of these things practiced by apostolic successors.
Congregations are deprived of men of apostolic function because they have preferred a corporate manager with administration skills. Most congregations do not even know what they are missing. A few do know because they have listened to great preaching via other media. They may be resigned to the notion that a man exclusively devoted to ministry of the word and prayer will never come to their local church. Others flock to the mega entertainment churches for the better show and more articulate “communicator,” who wants to have a conversation with the mega audience. He is Johnny Carson or Jimmy Fallon with a little twist of Jesus.
Men who are called and gifted for these two functions are not blind, nor ignorant of the current environment. Some give themselves fully to the consumer demands for brief storytelling or psycho-philosophy. Others tip toe through anything other than T.U.L.I.P. They recognize the financial and career dangers of being a true Gospel preacher. They are like mild salsa. They figure they can survive in the ministry of the word if they offer just a bit of zest. They occupy the offing, just far enough away from everyone who would champion their demise in the church. Jesus had a term for these men, “lukewarm (Rev 3:16).”
The dropout rate in the ministry of God’s Word has risen to seventy percent, and these men know it will require unfaithfulness to survive in the church, or faithfulness to leave the ministry to others, in order to maintain their own personal orthodoxy. In other words, some cannot endure the conviction of the Holy Spirit for diluting the word of the Cross, but they also cannot endure the church’s lust for something, anything other than the word and prayer ministry.
One reason the dearth of great preaching exists and persists in the church is because congregations do not want apostolic-style preaching. Think of how little the Word of God is spoken by anyone inside of the church, today. Thank God for the exceptions, but few Christians could be accused of loving the Word of God with their whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. You would immediately recognize someone known for this attribute. How many Christians refuse to leave your presence without praying for you? Count yourself blessed if you know even one Christian of this kind.
Because there is no demand for great preaching, there is no demand for great preachers. With no demand, there is no supply. Devoted to the study and ministry of the Word, gifted to preach the Word, and called by God to serve in this capacity in the church is our consideration. He that is spiritual will be known for only two things: Word and prayer. When someone’s name is brought up in conversation, these are the first two descriptions of the person in question. He is devoted to the Word of God. He is a man of prayer.
The death of this economy is the death of the church. No one questions the trajectory of the church in the West. We are in decline, and we have been for decades. It began with dilution alternatives.
Our mega entertainment centers have placed their trust in something other than prayer and the preached Word of God. Consider your church’s web site and weekly bulletin. If it is loaded with endless activities, then it is suspect. Is the preaching of God’s Word the most central thing in your local church, or is it part of the mix? Be honest.
Even other Word-centered ministry programs like Sunday school and small groups are a deviation from the preaching event, ordained by God, and prescribed in the Book of Acts. People enjoy the conversation, but they grimace at a sermon longer than thirty minutes. Like the Israelites, who told Moses he could deal with God himself while they stood back at a distance, so is the local church, deficient in stamina and love for God’s Word preached to them.
Why is everyone sporting their new tattoo in church, today? Why is no one ashamed of the sundry sexual sins in the church? Why are women and homosexuals leading some churches? Why are church members requesting extra large bottom seats in the new sanctuary? Why is no one asking about the dearth of great preaching? The answer to these and other questions, not being asked, is that the authority of the Word of God is little known. We are reaping what we have sown, and God is not mocked.
In summary, we have considered the prescription from Acts 6:4, and the congregation who saw the wisdom in men set apart for an exclusive apostolic word and prayer ministry (Acts 6:5). We have asked where these wise congregations are located, today. We have seen the man-made deviation of church leadership models. We have criticized the traditional administrative office holder, and the circus ring master and mega entertainer. Finally, we have observed the economy of no demand for devoted men of God and the response of no supply.
In conclusion, the church of Jesus Christ, especially in western contexts, must repent of this neglect in both supply and demand. Preachers, given to every distraction, must risk their positions, even their careers in order to be faithfully devoted to the study and ministry of the Bible (Ezra 7:10). They must be known for their ministry of prayer by all who know them, personally (Eph 1:16; Col 1:9). It must be their signature, their identity, their character, and their reputation because it must first be their sole passion.
Congregations of local churches must repent of their lust for programs, entertainment, philosophy, and psychology. Worship must have the preaching of God’s Word as the absolute primacy of all church activities. Churches must be willing to commit to the support of a true steward of the Gospel mysteries, refusing hirelings with twisted motives (Ezek 34). There must be an informed and concerted protection of this exclusive two function ministry. Very few men, today, are fully given over to these two ministries, alone; and they must be sought above those who will do anything and everything except preach the Word and pray with singular devotion.
Spokane Valley, Washington
February 4, 2021