With the help of The Reformed Pastor (written by Richard Baxter) and the Bible (written by God); and in no particular order, I have thought of ten good reasons why preachers should work hard at one-to-one ministry.
First, in conversation with people, we can find out whether or not they actually understand what they are hearing in our sermons and in our other teaching.
If we were interested in depressing or confusing ourselves with statistics, there would be any number of studies that demonstrated how the average hearer retained very little of what was said from the average sermon.
Amongst the many possible responses to this is the obvious observation that, scripturally speaking, the models of ministry that we have in the New Testament rely on all sorts of ways of speaking the gospel, not just pulpiteering. When we speak to people one-to-one, it’s a matter of moments to see whether or not our meaning is clear. If we haven’t been clear, then we can take all the time we want to explain further any of the basic questions that need to be worked on. If the person is not as sharp or as quick to pick up ideas as others, then we can simply go over the basics again.
Second, as we talk to people individually our personal relationship with them will become stronger, and our communication with them will become more effective. If people like and respect us, they will be more likely to pay attention to what we say and give it due weight as an explanation and application of God’s word.
While we can often hear of how hypocrisy in churches turns people away from the gospel, we are less likely to hear the corresponding truth: that as people see and hear the good example of their minister, they are more likely to respond with trust and obedience in their heavenly Father. More than once the apostle Paul points people to his own example and those of other Christian leaders as something that confirms the truth of the gospel and lends weight to his words (eg 2 Tim 3:10, cf Phil 2:22; 1 Cor 4:15-17).
Third, personal contact with people will also improve our public preaching. We will be able to pray for our hearers more specifically, and we will be able to apply our public sermons more carefully, thoughtfully and thoroughly.
Fourth, as we talk about individuals about spiritual matters, we will ourselves be more open to being challenged by God’s word and by our conversation and prayers. If we are dealing with someone about their lying or their gluttony, for example, we will be reading Scripture and holding conversations where we ourselves are exposed to rebuke (and encouragement) in our areas of weakness.
When we are in conversation, there is far more opportunity for specific spiritual application both to ourselves and others. Many ministers know first hand the joy of going to visit a member of their congregation, only to discover that they come away more strengthened by the conversation possibly even than the person they were speaking to.
Fifth, we will be better able to minister to people at times of crisis. They will be more willing to seek us out, and we will be better able to help them, if there is a pre-existing strong relationship.
Sixth, getting to know people personally, reading the Bible and praying with them sets an example that they will be able to repeat with others, especially members of their own families. This can be particularly significant in men’s ministry, since the role of the man within a marriage is to work to help his wife and children to grow in godliness. The husband is to “love [his wife] as Christ loved the church” (Eph 5:25), which means doing whatever he can to help her grow in godliness. Likewise, the father has a responsibility not to provoke his children to anger, “but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4).
Seventh, people are more likely to support the work of ministry that they themselves have benefited from; and one-to-one ministry has obvious, immediate and direct benefit.
Eighth, when people see and benefit from effective personal ministry first-hand, they are more likely both to do it themselves and support and encourage others in doing it.
Ninth, personal ministry gives us the opportunity to assess more carefully and closely the state of someone’s spiritual life, and so work out whether we should be further encouraging them in ministry and in leadership.
Tenth, personal ministry reduces the opportunity for laziness and complacency on our part, in a job that can tempt us into both sins by the fact that we are not observed at work by many people for most of the week. Of course, we should always “work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Col 3:22)—but our regular contact with others who share our desire to see the gospel go out has great potential to help us in this area.
No doubt there are plenty of other reasons, both practical and theological, for considering how to minister the gospel to others in this one-to-one way. Some of them are related to our concern for God’s glory. Some of them are related to obeying the command to love our neighbours as ourselves. Some of them have to do with a right concern and fear for our own spiritual state, that we might be living out what we are teaching, “lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Cor 9:27). Some reasons will be more persuasive to us than others, and some have more theological significance than others. Whatever the case, the net result ought to be for us that we make this type of ministry a large and regular part of our teaching in a church, and encourage others in our congregations to do likewise.
Can anyone think of more?