Photo Description: Dr. Peter Lillback of Westminster Theological Seminary addresses attendees to the 2023 GRN National Conference at Sovereign Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The following post is part of our ‘The Work of the PCA Elder’ series. For the first post in the series, please click here.
It has been forty years since I overheard a conversation in my seminary bookstore. A senior was waxing eloquently before a group of first year students on the importance of the pastor becoming a jack-of-all-trades. The pastor needs, he urged, to be aware of the latest cultural trends, be able to address the political issues, provide excellent administrative oversight of the entire ministry of the church, stay on top of social and media opportunities, etc.
As he held these young students spell-bound, a seasoned pastor from Great Britain overheard the conversation and simply offered this sage advice, “Preach the Word…preach the Word.” He then calmly walked away, leaving the students to ponder his words. It was a Paul-Timothy moment for those standing there. Having pastored for years, this man had discovered the power of the ministry of the Word of God and the pastor’s role in preaching and teaching that Word.
In his second letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul penned, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (II Timothy 4:1, 2). Earlier, Paul exhorted young Timothy, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (I Timothy 4:13). As we consider Paul’s exhortation for the pastor-teacher to devote himself to the ministry of the Word, let us consider briefly three areas in which we must do so: public, private, and personal.
The teaching elder is called to the public ministry of the Word through reading, preaching and teaching the Scriptures. This ministry takes place as God’s people gather together for worship on the Lord’s Day as well as during other appropriate opportunities throughout the week. God’s Word is the primary means of grace for converting the lost, establishing the church, growing the saints in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, and equipping them for works of service.
Prior to the call to preach the Word, Paul reminded Timothy of the nature of Holy Scripture and its effect on the listener, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:16, 17). Therefore, we must preach and teach the Scriptures in the power of the Holy Spirit if we are to see effective ministry in the lives of others.
John Calvin was certainly one who took seriously this call to be devoted to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. For much of Calvin’s ministry during his time in Geneva, he was devoted to preaching lectio continua on average ten times every two weeks; preaching twice on Sundays and every day of the week on alternate weeks. While the typical pastor may not have either opportunity or capacity to preach and teach that often, nevertheless, the public ministry of the Word must remain the vocational priority for faithful ministers today. Morning and evening Lord’s Day services are a worthy goal and a good place to begin.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism also reminds us of the importance and priority of the public ministry of the Word in Question 89: How is the Word made effectual to salvation? Answer: The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.
Luke records for us yet another aspect of the ministry of the Word among the early apostles. “And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus” (Acts 5:42). This proclamation of the Scriptures may have involved smaller group settings as well as personal counsel, instruction, and exhortation.
In the early days of the church, in addition to meeting in the temple courts and synagogues, the people gathered together in their homes for additional time in the Word and worship (Acts 2:42ff). When Paul was no longer able to preach in the synagogues in Ephesus because of persecution, he gathered his disciples in Tyrannus Hall for further teaching in the Scriptures (Acts 19:8-10). The seventeenth century Puritan minister Richard Baxter (1615-1691) sought to instruct his congregation in the Word by combining home visitation with biblical and catechetical instruction as an overall shepherding strategy for the flock under his care.
Whether through home visitations, small group settings, personal counsel, or one-to-one discipleship, the primary means of grace remains the Word of God.
Paul also exhorted Timothy in preparation for his gospel ministry of the Word, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15). The man of God’s response to God’s call to be devoted to the public ministry of the Word begins with personal devotion to the ministry of the Word. Much time and many years in prayerful study of God’s Word with a dependence upon the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit (John 17:17) is essential for personal growth in grace and godliness, as well as for effective ministry of the Word in the lives of others.
Our desire in the study of the Scriptures ought not merely be to gain a firm grip upon God’s Word, but also for God’s Word to gain a firm grip upon us. Charles Spurgeon said of John Bunyan, “If you cut him, he’d bleed Scripture.” He went on to say, “Prick him anywhere – his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him… his very soul is full of the Word of God.”
In his book, Discovering God’s Will, Sinclair Ferguson writes, “The chief need we have, therefore, is that of increased familiarity with and sensitivity to the wisdom of His Word” (p. 31). What is true of knowing and discovering God’s will is equally true for ministering the Word to His people. May we teaching elders grow in increased familiarity with and sensitivity to the wisdom of the Word as we devote ourselves to the personal, prayerful study of the Holy Scriptures.
Today the pastor will feel the pressure to become a jack-of-all-trades, however, he must remain devoted to the ministry of the Word: public, private, and personal. The preaching of the Word of God and the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ must remain the pastor’s priority. “Preach the Word… preach the Word!”