The ministry of Jesus Christ on earth was primarily preaching, teaching, and healing. In many churches today we get lots of preaching; small doses of teaching, and sometimes none; and far too little physical healing (but that’s a topic for another day). Jesus is our perfect Role Model, and He understood the people’s need both to hear the gospel preached and to hear God’s word taught.
Teaching reflects the heart of the Jesus the Chief Shepherd. He “saw a large crowd [and] had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things” (Mark 6:34). Interesting. Jesus saw a large crowd seeking after Him and milling around like sheep without a shepherd. This touched His heart (“he had compassion on them”). And what was His shepherdly response? He “began teaching them many things.”
I once did a detailed study in the New Testament of all forms of the words “preach” and “teach.” In most cases, the Gospel was “preached” to the lost, and the word of God was “taught” to believers. Yet in too many of today’s churches, the systematic teaching of the Scriptures is scarce or even absent.
Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Great Commission emphasized Christ’s desire that His Church not just bring people to Him in saving faith, but also help them grow to Christian maturity. Notice some of Jesus’ commands: “go and…make disciples … baptizing … teaching them to obey everything” that Christ has commanded. People are saved through hearing the Gospel of Christ preached. Then they are brought to Christian maturity through additional things, including broad-based, systematic teaching of God’s word. And Jesus expects this pattern to go on “to the very end of the age.”
On that first great New Testament Day of Pentecost, 120 of Jesus’ close followers were baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5; 2:1-4) and gave evidence of this by speaking in other tongues that they had not learned. A crowd gathered, and Peter rose up and spoke a powerful sermon that led to 3,000 being saved and baptized in water (vs. 41).
But it didn’t stop there. The apostles helped these new converts to “devote themselves” to some important things: fellowship … breaking bread together … prayer … and “the apostle’s teaching.” Getting saved was (and is) just the beginning. Every believer needs to be immersed in ongoing, systematic teaching of God’s holy word revealed in the Scriptures of the bible. The Jerusalem apostles got the new converts immediately involved in that.
That sounds like today! At the beginning (above), I mentioned the widespread hunger of our church people for the teaching of the Scriptures. That was the 1970s and the 1980s. I didn’t mention that I planted another church, in Oregon, in 1989 and pastored it until 2006. To my amazement, I found that the hunger for systematic teaching of the topics and books of the bible had seriously declined in more recent years. Recalling our exciting experiences in Alaska and in New York, I began a one-evening-a-week bible school. One night our total attendance was we two teachers, the audio-visual man, and three adults. Three.
What was different? Well, for one thing, the apostle Paul’s prophecy was coming to pass. People all across America were beginning to “not endure sound teaching.” I must add here that I am very thankful for the church my wife and I currently attend — New Song Christian Fellowship in Springfield, Oregon. The lead pastor brings across the pulpit an excellent mix of topical preaching and expository, line-upon-line teaching of books of the bible. Unfortunately, this healthy balance is not common in thousands of North American churches today. In its place one often hears lots of “self-help” sermons and messages intended to uplift the people “where they are at,” rather than to present the timeless truths of Scripture in ways that draw people away from unscriptural lifestyles and towards a God- and Christ-centered worldview.
The Antioch church was one of the great churches of the first century. And note that “in the church” there were Ephesians 4:11 “prophets and teachers.” A good, healthy, growing, maturing church may have bible teachers (plural). In our earlier-mentioned Anchorage church, with its church-based bible school, there were times when we were blessed to have as many as five or six Ephesians 4:11 teachers on staff and expounding God’s word in the bible school. I repeat my earlier lament: Where have all the bible teachers gone? In the early Church the teacher was a common ministry in the local churches. The apostle Paul spoke of the three main ministries God had given him: “I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle … [and] a teacher…” (1 Timothy 2:7, KJV). Along with being a Gospel preacher and a church-planting apostle, Paul was a systematic teacher of the word of God:
It takes all five to bring believers to maturity. Pastors alone cannot do it. Jesus knows this, and since His ascension back to heaven (4:8), He has been giving the full fivefold ministry of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers to His Church. Why? To equip God’s people for the work of the ministry and to bring us to unity in the faith, to a greater knowledge of the Son of God, and to lead us into Christian maturity. The teacher of God’s word is a vital and necessary part of this noble cause.
Our primary tool in teaching is the Scriptures. Our own thoughts must remain secondary to, and totally dependent upon, the written word of God, the bible. The Scriptures, said Paul, are for teaching, as well as for rebuking, correcting, and training us in righteousness, with the goal of thoroughly equipping us for the Lord’s work. An absence of Scripture teaching prevents God’s people from being properly equipped to fulfill God’s callings. The teaching of the Holy Scriptures is the Ephesians 4:11 bible teacher’s primary work.
Effective bible teaching is a God-given “gift.” I had an interesting personal experience with this truth 45 years ago. I was a young, single adult who had been recently saved (1969). Somehow I got in my mind the thought that I should go out and be a traveling evangelist. Let me add quickly: this would have been a disaster! While I have won souls to the Lord, the extent of my “evangelist” gift is, admittedly, very limited. My heart was in the right place. But my perception of the Lord’s call and His giftedness in my life was way off!
Then in 1971 I was giving my testimony in Anchorage on my pastor’s live TV show, Life in the Son of God. As Pastor Dick Benjamin was closing the show, he asked me (unrehearsed and live on camera), “Has the Lord been speaking to you about your calling in the Lord’s work?” I replied that, yes, He had been speaking to me about teaching His word. Pastor Dick replied, “That’s amazing, because as you were sharing your testimony, the Lord was speaking to me the word 'Teacher' about you.”
That impromptu conversation on live TV led to 34 extremely happy and fulfilling years of ministry for me personally — teaching God’s word in detail and at length for 12 years in bible school and 22 more years while pastoring local churches. I can attest to the truth of Romans 12:6-8. It is very important, and very fulfilling, that we Christians discover and function in the grace-gift(s) that the Lord has specifically intended for us.
So once more: Where are the bible teachers? They are there—in the churches, in the congregation, often sitting right there among the body of believers. Jesus has not stopped giving bible teachers (Ephesians 4:11). Wise pastors will, as my pastor did 45 years ago, seek out among their church’s people those who are called to the Ephesians 4:11 teaching ministry. And, again as my pastor did for many years after that, they will give those bible teachers opportunities within the church to function in their grace-gift and help the saints come to the maturity that Jesus desires for each one of us.
I think back to the 1970s as the “decade of the teacher” in the body of Christ. It seemed that there was a superabundance of anointed, gifted bible teachers in the churches. And their teaching gifts were being called upon by multitudes of God’s people seeking to build their lives upon a fuller knowledge of the Scriptures. May God-called bible teachers arise once again in our day and add their needed ministry gifts to Christ’s work of bringing His people to full Christian maturity.
Postscript: If this message has stirred your heart to consider whether perhaps God has called you to be a bible teacher, I invite you to click the link and read a more in-depth article I have written at “Fivefold Ministry: The Bible Teacher.”
©2016, 2018, James H. Feeney.
Pentecostal Sermons and Bible Studies
by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.