Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. - Acts 15:24-26, ESV
What's the Benefit of Personal, Face-to-Face Ministry?
We live is a time when more ministry is being done on a mass scale or remotely through technology. It is more common for Christians to have no personal relationship with a pastor. They attend a mega-church, if they attend church at all. More people get their favorite Bible teaching through the Internet or through books. I have nothing against using the Internet for ministry. After all, this is a blog post and many people reading this don't know me personally. But we are risking the danger of thinking we don't need face-to-face ministry.
So, perhaps we need to ask ourselves, "What is the value of face-to-face ministry?" Thankfully, today's passage gives us a good example of the value of personal ministry. After the Jerusalem Council had ruled on the issues plaguing the church, they determined that it was best to send out Judas Barsabbas and Silas "with our beloved Paul and Barnabas" to inform the churches of their ruling in person.
Why did the council need to send out this group of trusted men? Why not just send the letter they had carefully drafted by messenger? Because they knew that "some persons had gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds." In other words, because false teachers had gone out from Jerusalem in person and had misled and upset several churches, the leaders in Jerusalem knew they needed to send out faithful men in person to teach the truth.
Personal ministry is needed when people are confused and troubled. When you have to explain something difficult, especially something controversial, it is best to do that face-to-face. Letters and messengers can be rejected, misunderstood or even manipulated by false teachers. Competent, faithful teachers can take the time to patiently teach God's word, answer questions, comfort the distressed and clarify things for the confused. They can do so much more effective ministry than can ever be accomplished by letter (or e-mail or book or blog post).
Notice that the Jerusalem Council sent out a group of four men. Why not just send one of two? Well, sending four men of good reputation helps to avoid the accusation that those who come only represent a certain party and not the whole church leadership. It avoids a cult of personality or a party spirit. It also provides a high level of accountability, to ensure that the teaching is communicated accurately. Finally, four men can also reach more people more effectively, being able to explain the truth well in different ways.
Heavenly Father, thank You for giving us wise, competent and faithful leadership in Your church. We know our leaders are only human and are very capable of error, so we ask that You would safeguard them from error and keep us from being misled. Give us each a faithful local church fellowship where we can engage in personal ministry. Let us not neglect the value of face-to-face ministry. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Prayer Based on Proverbs 18:17-24:
The one who states his case first seems right,
until the other comes and examines him.
The lot puts an end to quarrels
and decides between powerful contenders.
A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city,
and quarreling is like the bars of a castle.
Father, our sin and selfishness causes so many quarrels and disputes,
and we need You to give us peace, wisdom and justice
as we struggle to discern Your will in disagreements.
From the fruit of a man's mouth his stomach is satisfied;
he is satisfied by the yield of his lips.
Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
and those who love it will eat its fruits.
Lord, again You remind us in Proverbs of the value of our words,
so please give us wisdom by Your Spirit to speak well.
He who finds a wife finds a good thing
and obtains favor from the Lord.
Lord, thank You for my wonderful wife,
who is my greatest earthly blessing!
The poor use entreaties,
but the rich answer roughly.
A man of many companions may come to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
Father, let us be kind and compassionate to the poor,
remembering always Your kindness and faithfulness to us.
Thank You for never leaving us,
for surrounding us with Your love always.
In Jesus' name, Amen.