As the early church began to grow exponentially, it quickly became essential to delineate roles and responsibilities in the church. So in Acts 6, deacons were selected to assist the elders so that the elders could carry out their primary responsibilities of “prayer and the ministry of the Word” (v. 4).
Now it might seem that this phrase simply means “praying and preaching.” But “ministry of the Word” means more than just the pastor’s weekly sermonic proclamation.
The word “minister” in its basic sense means, “to serve,” and denotes one who carries out that function in an intermediary capacity — he is “on assignment” with an obligation to another. Generally the word is used of providing some kind of specific aid (often in relation to charitable giving), bringing a gift to another, providing assistance in an administrative function, or making preparations for some social event (like a meal). However, the word is also used in the context of the church to refer to the work done by those who have been equipped by elders (Eph. 4:12) and is even used to refer to one of the spiritual gifts (Rom. 12:7).
So when this “ministry” is used in relation to Scripture, it means that the one who ministers that Word is on an assignment (from God!) with the mission and purpose of giving a full account of that Word. He is obligated to give the Scriptures as a service to them. And given that the elders were being liberated to give their full attention to that task, it also clearly implies that to minister the Word is to teach it with all of the fullness of its implications.
So the one who ministers the Word does more than offer a summary listing of numbers of passages on a topic, but he explains verses and passages within their historical, grammatical, and literary context and offers a relevant application of its truths to those whom he teaches. It is neither superficial nor generic, but is detailed and specific. This ministry might be done either privately (e.g., one-on-one, in small groups, or in homes) or publicly (e.g., preaching in a worship service).
So the ministry of the Word is more than simply preaching — it is the study and meditation of Scripture so that the teacher is himself transformed and so that he understands the implications of a passage relevant to his students or audience.
The ministry of the Word is not an impromptu discussion done without thought or analysis, but is an intelligent, reasoned, gracious, pointed use of the Scriptures to instruct, encourage, and exhort the body of Christ. [Today’s post at Cripplegate, “Impromptu Prompting: The Spirit’s help in persecution,” addresses this topic particularly well.]
And this is the task not only of the pastor each time he teaches or preaches in any setting, but this is also the task of every believer any time he administers and teaches the Word of God. He is purposed by God to provide the full meaning of the passage so that God’s truth is revealed as fully as possible.