What is the most effective way of teaching God’s people?
In seeking to answer this question I assume that it relates to the teaching meetings convened for the whole assembly, and not teaching that can be given on a more personal, or informal basis. In addition, there are two other factors that need to be borne in mind. Firstly, God’s people need exhortation as well as doctrine, but the following paragraphs deal with the issue of teaching, for that is what is mentioned by the questioner. Secondly, the vast majority of believers in the early church would not have had direct access to any written portions of the word of God; they would have been dependent on someone publicly reading the scriptures to them. An example of this is seen in Colossians chapter 4 verse 16, and in 1 Timothy chapter 4 verse 13.
Within the UK, and probably in many other places, there have been two primary forms of teaching meetings. One is usually referred to as ‘the Bible reading’, a slightly misleading term to describe a conversational Bible study, and the other is generally called ‘the ministry meeting’, at which there may be one or more brethren participating in turn. This response will focus on these two meetings.
An examination of the New Testament supplies very limited evidence of a ‘Bible reading’, something caused in part by the limited availability of the written word. In Acts chapter 20, we read, ‘And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow’, v. 7. The word translated ‘preached’ means ‘to discourse’, or ‘to reason’, and would indicate that the meeting was not a monologue but conversational. This incident in Troas is the only example I can find of an assembly-based conversational Bible study, but it gives us at least one very helpful principle. Although there may have been a number of brethren participating in the discussion, it was the apostle Paul, the Bible teacher, who took the primary lead.
For a ‘Bible reading’ to supply edifying teaching, this principle needs to be followed today; it needs to be led by those who have been endowed with the ability to teach. If every brother had that ability there would have been no need for the Spirit of God, or the ascended Lord, to have selected a limited number of men to have this gift. Whilst the meeting would be open to any brother to make contribution, and share with the assembly things they have particularly enjoyed, it should be the responsibility of the Bible teachers to ensure that the passage is seen in its context. I believe that any questions that may arise should initially be directed to such men, and they would also need to move the discussion through the verses in an orderly manner to preserve it from becoming side-tracked or entrenched on a specific point.
We now need to think about the ‘ministry meeting’, and there is no doubt that far more emphasis is given in the Epistles and Acts to this meeting’ and the role of the teacher, than is true of the ‘Bible reading’. In the early days of the church the gift of prophecy was vital as the New Testament had not been written, but, with the completed the word of God, Col. 1. 25, the work of the prophets became redundant, and they were superseded by the teachers. God’s intention is that an assembly should be a place of spiritual ‘education’, or teaching, as it is designed to be the ‘the pillar and ground of the truth’, 1 Tim. 3. 15. Paul spent a year teaching at Antioch, eighteen months in Corinth, and three years at Ephesus. Clearly this preserved those assemblies from piecemeal ministry, and resulted in them receiving systematic teaching on ‘the whole counsel of God’, Acts 20. 27. If we want to be spiritually healthy as believers, and not carried about with every wind of doctrine, it is essential that we are the recipients of ‘sound doctrine’, delivered by men who have been raised up by the Lord for the edifying of the body of Christ.