Along with church growth come problems. The early church increased in numbers so rapidly that many of its neediest members, namely widows, were being neglected in the distribution of food. This problem created other areas of neglect in the church, so the twelve apostles gathered the whole body together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:2–4).
The ministry of the word refers to preaching and teaching God’s message and being witnesses for Christ on the earth. The twelve disciples, commissioned by Jesus Himself (Acts 1:8), understood the ministry of the Word to be their foremost calling and highest priority.
In Acts 6:2–4, the Greek word diakonia appears three times, twice translated as “ministry,” but also rendered “wait on.” The apostles indicate no superiority of the ministry of the Word over the ministry of serving people’s physical needs. They don’t belittle or negatively distinguish practical ministry from spiritual ministry in the church but instead designate tasks according to calling and equipping.
Ministry, or service, is the God-appointed responsibility of every believer. But God calls different people to different types of ministries based on their individual gifts and qualifications (Romans 12:4–8; 1 Corinthians 7:17).
The apostles were tasked with preaching and teaching God’s Word and refused to be sidetracked from that priority. Today’s Christian leaders would do well to follow their example for the sake of their churches’ health and growth. It’s not that the apostles were too busy for practical ministry. No, they were concerned that the spiritual well-being of the body would suffer if they let themselves get bogged down in areas of ministry that are wrong for them.
When pastors and elders guard themselves against the distractions of church administration and devote themselves entirely to the ministry of the Word and prayer, the church can flourish and grow into spiritual maturity. Likewise, this proper alignment ensures that every member has the chance to discover his or her gifts and develop unique ministries to serve and build up the body of Christ to the glory of God (1 Peter 4:10–11; Ephesians 4:1, 7–8, 11–16).
In one sense, every Christian is charged with the ministry of the Word. All believers must profess their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord (Romans 10:10) and “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks . . . the reason for the hope” that is in them (1 Peter 3:15). We are each called to “the ministry of reconciliation”—to help others become reconciled to God by sharing the “message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18–19). We are to take every opportunity to share the message of truth with our families and unsaved loved ones and encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ with the Scriptures (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16).
Yet there is a unique ministry of the Word for those called and equipped by God to preach and teach His message (Ephesians 4:11; 1 Corinthians 12:28; Romans 12:7; 1 Peter 4:11). The importance of God’s Word gives its teaching prominence among ministry gifts. Our lives depend on the Word of God (Matthew 4:4). The apostle Paul urged His protégé Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Those entrusted with the ministry of the Word must take time to devote themselves to the study of Scripture (Ezra 7:9–10).
The apostles coupled prayer with the ministry of the Word since their ministry was not likely to bear fruit without prayer. Prayer was essential to Christ’s ministry (Luke 5:16; 6:12; 9:18, 28; 11:1; 22:41). As an ambassador of God’s message, Paul requested prayer for his ministry: “And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike. I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should” (Ephesians 6:19–20, NLT; see also Colossians 4:3–4; 2 Thessalonians 3:1). Without the Holy Spirit empowering and blessing in response to prayer, human efforts remain weak and ineffective (Acts 4:31).
Jesus Himself is the Word made flesh (John 1:1–4, 14). His ministry of the Word was both public and private. He taught large crowds (Mark 4:1–9) and intimate gatherings (Mark 4:10). Those who are entrusted with the ministry of the Word must follow Christ’s example, preaching and teaching faithfully to their congregations, to the lost in the world, and individually counseling those who are confused and struggling with the truth (Mark 4:33–34; John 2:23—3:21; 2 Timothy 4:2).