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 nine good reasons why Christian leaders and preachers should work hard at one-to-one ministry.
- In conversation with people, we can find out whether or not they have actually understood what they heard in our sermons and our other teaching. The standard sermon is very efficient at teaching a large number of people all at once, and we must continue to do this. However, when we also speak to people at an individual level, it’s only a matter of moments until we are able to see whether or not they have actually grasped our meaning. If we haven’t been clear, 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, we can simply go over the basics again.
- As we talk to people individually, our personal relationship with them becomes stronger, and our communication with them becomes more effective. If people like and respect us, they will be more likely to pay attention to what we say, and give our words due weight as an explanation and application of God’s word.
While we often hear about 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 which confirms the truth of the gospel and lends weight to his words (e.g. 2 Tim 3:10, cf. Phil 2:22; 1 Cor 4:15-17).
- Personal contact with people also improves our public preaching. It enables us to pray for our hearers more specifically, and apply our public sermons more carefully, thoughtfully and thoroughly.
- As we talk to individuals about spiritual matters, we ourselves will be more open to being challenged by God’s word in our conversations and prayers. If we are dealing with someone about their lying or their gluttony, for example, we will read Scripture and hold conversations in which we ourselves are exposed to rebuke (and encouragement) in our areas of weakness.
When we are in a personal conversation, there is far more opportunity for specific spiritual application to both ourselves and others. Many ministers know firsthand the joy of going to visit a member of their congregation, only to discover that they come away more strengthened by the conversation than possibly even the person they were speaking to!
- We will be better able to minister to people during times of crisis. They will be more willing to seek us out, and we will be better able to help them, if we have a pre-existing strong relationship with them.
- Getting to know people personally, reading the Bible and praying with them, sets an example that they will be able to repeat with others. When people see and benefit from effective personal ministry first-hand, they are more likely to both do it themselves, and support and encourage others in doing it. 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.
- People are more likely to support the work of ministry that they themselves have benefited from, and one-to-one ministry has an obvious, immediate and direct benefit.
- 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 encouraging them further in ministry and leadership.
- Personal ministry reduces the opportunity for laziness and complacency on the minister’s part— particularly 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 3:23), 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 ministering 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 live out what we teach “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 will have more theological significance to us than others. Whatever the case, for us, the net result ought to be that we make this type of ministry a significant and regular part of our teaching in church, as well as encouraging others in our congregations to do likewise.