The task of a servant of the word is based on the mission command given by Jesus. Those who believed in Jesus were given the task of bringing the gospel to all parts of the world. The congregation calls servants of the word from among its members. It is their task to preach the word of God on the basis of the Bible.
Preaching the word in the congregation of God is based on the command of the great employer, Jesus: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). The task of a preacher of the gospel was given to those who believed in the Lord Jesus, followed Him, and were in the fellowship of the Spirit which Jesus sent to His apostles. Even today, every believer is a member of the royal priesthood, whose task is to proclaim the great works of God (1 Peter 2:9).
Called by the congregation
In addition to the general priesthood, throughout all time the congregation of God has called brothers from among its members to serve as speakers. Barnabas and Saul, for example, were “separated” in this way in Antioch (Acts 13:2–3). Timothy received this grace gift and task “which was given to him by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery” (1 Tim. 4:14).
The basic principle in calling someone to the task of a servant of the word is this: “We have the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, ‘I believed, and therefore have I spoken;’ we also believe, and therefore we speak” (2 Cor. 4:13).
What kinds of brothers are put up to speak?
Paul explained extensively to Timothy the characteristics and skills a person called to be a shepherd of the congregation should have (1 Tim. 3:2–7). This description serves as a guide when calling servants of the word yet today:
“A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of money; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;
One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)
Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”
Putting someone up to speak
The practices of putting someone up to speak varied during the initial period of the Laestadian awakening. Laestadius called assistants to help him, first to do educational work and later also to preach. Later on it was customary—when it was noticed in the congregation that a brother had suitable characteristics—to ask him to “confess his faith” at services.
From the beginning it was important that the congregation who knew the brother called him to preach. The same principle is still applied today. The officeholders of the local congregation (RY in Finland) discuss the matter first among themselves and then with the person in question. Sometimes reasons may come up in the discussion on which basis the person asked to be a speaker may decline to accept the call.
The congregation calls and sends the speaker. New speakers should not be put up in a situation where there is disharmony and doctrinal differences in the congregation. A person who seeks to become a speaker should not be called to the task. It is important that the congregation is unanimous in calling someone to speak.
Preach the word
A speaker—a servant of the word—is a servant of the word of God. He should familiarize himself with the Holy Bible and adhere to it when serving the listeners. It would be good if the person being put up to speak had studied the Bible and was familiar with its content already before receiving the task. The congregation should remember that among the most important criteria of the task of the speaker are personal faith and the understanding of faith that it opens, as well as an interest in and a familiarity with the word of the Lord.
The task of the speaker is to speak the word of God. Paul’s instruction to Timothy is clear: “Preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2). He meant the word to which already the prophets adhered when “the word of the Lord was given to them.” The apostles always referred to the scriptures of the Old Testament when preaching the gospel about Christ. The Bible is the basis of Evangelical Lutheran faith and confession. It is the highest authority of faith and life. That’s why the old practice in our Christianity of explaining the text verse by verse on the basis of the Bible is still sound.
Every speaker brother has once been a new speaker and has felt timidity and fear, even impossibility, when faced with the task. It is important for other speakers and the whole congregation to encourage and bless a new speaker. It is absolutely a grace benefit if a young speaker has the support of a more experienced brother with whom he can freely exchange thoughts on how to “understand” texts. Paul advised bringing up the fact that each speaker has his own gifts.
In preparing for one’s turn to serve it is good to study the Word using not only the Bible, but also explanatory books and other material that depicts Bible history and the environment of the text. The sermon should be based on the Bible. It is worth reading the Bible also at other times, and not only when preparing for a sermon.
The preacher’s personal life of faith
A speaker does not achieve salvation by preaching. It is important for him to also be a hearer of the word. A servant of the word needs the same service that every Christian receives in the grace care of God’s congregation: hearing and reading the word, prayer, fellowship with the congregation, the Lord’s Holy Communion, and confession.
If a speaker does not take care of his conscience, it gradually becomes apparent in his preaching. In covering up a conscience that has not been taken care of a speaker may gradually become law-minded. Then the voice of the Good Shepherd can no longer be heard in his sermons; instead, the instructions of grace in God’s word become a whip with which he lashes out at unsuccessful children of grace.
Sometimes a speaker may be relieved of his task. This is decided by the congregation that called the speaker. A speaker should not unilaterally announce that he is withdrawing from the task to which he has been called. A preacher may have caused unrest and offense because of his way of life or teaching. In such a case relieving him from the task is a pastoral act toward the speaker and the congregation. Relieving a speaker should not be an act of punishment or a tool for wielding power. When the speaker corrects his matters he is considered a dear brother. However, this does not automatically mean he will be called to be a speaker again.
The hearer also has his or her own responsibilities regarding the speaker. Old Christians often taught that one should not come to hear the word with the thought: that brother sure is skillful. The hearer should listen to the speaker critically—not looking for faults but rather scrutinizing in a healthy manner whether the brother is speaking words of God.
The apostle reminds us that it is the congregation’s duty to pray in behalf of the speaker that he would be given words to speak (Eph. 6:19–20). Speakers themselves are just as sinful as the listeners. In addition to other corruption of sin, they also have temptations related to the speaker’s task, such as “text-related temptations” and the temptation to seek wrong glory.
We are served
A servant of the word is also a provider of pastoral care who listens to his neighbors’ cares and sorrows; he “rejoices with those who rejoice and weeps with those who weep.” He may also act as a confessor father. In this way he serves with the love of Christ and washes the feet of friends in faith in accordance with the example shown by our Lord (John 13:12–17).
The congregation of Christ does not base its faith on a speaker or his gifts, but instead on Jesus Christ, who is the “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). At services we often hear the announcement: “We will now be served by our brother –.” This is well said. A speaker is a servant of the word. Jesus gave us an example of this: “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).
Text: Erkki Piri
Published: SRK Yearbook 2012
Translation: Keith Kosola
Julkaistu englanninkielisessä kieliliitteessä 2/2014
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