Churches continue to look to their pastors to be CEOs and administrators, as if somehow our local churches need to operate like businesses. The temptation has been, “If secular businesses are experiencing growth, then perhaps we need to adopt their ‘secret’ to success.”
But this is a big mistake. When we look to the world to learn how our churches should function, we are essentially setting aside the authority and sufficiency of Scripture on the matter of effective Christian ministry. Rather than looking to the world, we need to look at how the Lord began to his church.
Looking to the Early Church
I believe Acts 6:1-7 is a great place to look for the priorities of ministry in the local church. The church had been established a few years now in Jerusalem. It was a megachurch. Members were coming from all over. In fact, because of this influx of new members, the priorities of ministry were being threatened, which eventually caused the apostles to say,
“It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.” (Acts 6:2 NASB)
And as leaders of the church in Jerusalem, the Twelve were required to provide good leadership—to keep the main thing the main thing—while resolving church conflicts. So they instructed the church select a group of qualified men to handle the secondary matter of “to serve tables,” which was threatening the primary matter of the church—devotion “to prayer and to the service of the word” (v. 4).
1. To Prayer
As noted above, prayer was consider primary in the ministry of the local church. Prayer was foundational (Acts 2:42; 3:1; 4:31; 12:5). In fact, the Greek tense of the participle translated “devoted themselves” in Acts 2:42 is present, signifying an ongoing activity, which the church was marked by.
As an apostle and leader in the early church, we find Paul challenging the churches in his writings to be devoted to prayer, even using the same Greek term translated “devoted themselves” as in Acts 2:42 (see Rom. 12:12 and Col. 4:2).
To build and maintain a healthy ministry, prayer must be central. There can be no effective ministry without devotion to prayer.
2. To the Ministry of the Word
If in prayer we are expressing our dependence on God because of the strength and guidance he provides, then in devotion to the ministry of the Word we are expressing our confidence in the authority and sufficiency of the God’s Word.
Along with prayer, the Word was foundational to the effectiveness of the early church. There can be no effective ministry without it either (see Acts 2:42; 5:25-29; 6:7; 8:4; 11:19; 12:24).
Even when their lives were threatened with imprisonment and death, the early preachers couldn’t remain silent.
Because of this devotion to prayer and to the ministry of the Word, Luke tells us, “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).
Yes, when we prioritize prayer and the ministry of the Word, the Lord of the church honors and blesses our work.