In our previous study on this topic, we noted that in the first century God’s people put forth a great deal of effort to help stabilize, nourish, and develop strong congregations. In particular, we observed that on Paul’s first, second, and third preaching trips throughout Asia Minor and Europe, he labored to strengthen the saints.
Let us now make some practical application about strengthening local churches in modern times. At every step of the way, our mentality and methods need to be based on Bible principles. There is no special order to the matters which we will list.
Godly example – When Barnabas arrived in Antioch to work with the newly established church there, what kind of man were the brethren getting? He “was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Acts 11:24). When Titus was working to help the development of the churches on the island of Crete, what kind of an example did he need to set forth before the saints with whom he labored? God’s message was, “In all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility” (Titus 2:7).
Education by teaching – For the good of the church in Ephesus, Paul did not shun to declare “the whole counsel of God” to the brethren (Acts 20:27). If we want spiritually mature churches, then we must have spiritually mature members. It is God’s word which has the capacity to work in such a way “that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17). Teaching that word, whether it be via “regular” classes or “special” classes, is an important part of building up a congregation so it can be stable, God-fearing, grow, persevere, and eventually work to establish other local churches.
Written materials – This goes hand in hand with oral education. Paul told the overseers from Ephesus, “So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). Yes, God’s word has that built-in nutritional power to strengthen the souls of those who feed on it (1 Peter 2:2). Providing saints with sound written materials is one way of helping them to grow in knowledge (2 Peter 3:18). “I prefer to use only a Bible to study and teach others; I do not use tracts, booklets, or articles which humans have written.” That decision is not wrong. However, there is also a potential benefit in putting things in written form so that others can make use of the same materials, even in future generations. If it is acceptable to teach a Bible chapter orally, and in the process we offer some explanation or show the connection which other verses have to it, then by the same reasoning, it is appropriate to put those thoughts down on paper or publish them on the internet. We abhor the notion that we should leave our Bibles closed; but, Bible-based written materials can be helpful to a person’s spiritual development.
Special attention to new converts – Once people have obeyed the gospel, they still need to be taught (Matthew 28:18-20). Paul’s personal touch with the new disciples in Thessalonica set a high standard for others to follow. Just what did Paul do with them? He later said, “. . . we exhorted, and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children” (1 Thessalonians 2:11). Today, whether we work with them in a one-on-one setting or have a “New Converts Class,” the need is still the same: babes in the Christ need to be taught, encouraged, and guided by mature Christians. In a great number of cases, where such ongoing teaching and guidance is lacking, the newly won brothers and sisters will falter and fall. To neglect these precious babes is one of the most foolish and detrimental courses of action that a local church can take.
Training/equipping – Paul charged Timothy, “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). Timothy was to train other faithful saints, sharing with them his knowledge and know-how. He was to train them so they would be able to teach others. The same principle would apply to knowledge and know-how in other areas – matters such as leading in worship, teaching a class, and lesson prep. Yes, we must be training others to carry on His work.
Leadership development – Appointing faithful brothers as elders in every congregation is the Divine desire (Acts 14:23). Part of Titus’ role was to “set in order” the things that were lacking/left undone, including the appointment of overseers (Titus 1:5). Teaching on biblical leadership, including serious consideration of the function and God-given qualifications of pastors, is essential for any local church to develop a mindset that wants the church to be organized fully, and for it to be done completely in harmony with the Bible.
The Lord wants every lost person to obey the gospel, He wants every saint to remain faithful, and He wants every local church to be strong. May we all be ready to work diligently in each of these areas so that we can help more people prepare to go to heaven.
— Roger D. Campbell