the weblog of Alan Knox

“Mutual Edification” as a label

Posted by on Dec 16, 2010 in blog links, edification | 11 comments

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I found an interesting article in “The Christian Chronicle” called “Who are we?” The article was by Bobby Ross, Jr. and was published in the March 2007 issue. The topic of the short article is non-institutional churches in the Churches of Christ denomination.

The article lists three different types of non-institutional churches in this denomination: 1) Non-class churches, 2) One cup churches, and 3) Mutual edification churches.

This is the description of the “mutual edification churches”:

Mutual edification churches comprise the smallest segment of non-mainstream congregations. The directory lists 124 of these congregations, mostly in the Midwest. Like many one-cup and non-class churches, mutual edification churches believe in allowing the men of the congregation to preach and lead singing, rather than hiring exclusive “preachers.”

But unlike the non-class and one-cup brethren, the mutual edification churches believe in Sunday school and multiple cups.

“Mutual edification or ministry to us means involving the members in an active ministry,” said Barry Poyner, an elder at the Kirksville, Mo., church and author of the book One Another Christianity: Mutual Edification. “I’m persuaded we are happier when active.”

He added: “I find that many churches cannot afford a full-time preacher even if they wanted one. The book is designed to get people to think about different models. … Mutual edification is a Bible-centered practice that could free up our ‘full-time’ ministers to do the work of evangelizing – reaching lost souls.”

Just for the record, the description above is NOT what I mean when I say “mutual edification.” Although, there are certainly some good things said in the description.

It is interesting what happens when people select certain labels to describe themselves. The label takes on the description of the group, instead of the group looking like the phrase used in the label.

What do you think?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 12-16-2010

    what they are describing there is not mutual edification. they are simply describing a decentralized leadership model. mutual edification involves interaction between believers in the church, it does not describe how members are involved in ministry (evangelism, witnessing, etc..) does that sound about right?

  2. 12-16-2010




  3. 12-16-2010

    Interesting. What I come from is very similar. Church of Christ, non-class, “Mutual edification”, multiple cups.

    In that setting, multiple men participating in a service really is considered mutual edification. From my experience, seeing it for what it is, is not at all easy. I still struggle with it. Traditions are hard to break

    For me, I realized it when I went a step further, who determines who can participate? Who is not allowed to edify, and (especially) why?

  4. 12-16-2010

    The question, “Who’s not allowed to edify, and (especially) why?” is actually the question that started this whole thing for me. It got me questioning other things about the assembly. That is when I truly started seeking God’s truth.

    Thanks Alan.

  5. 12-16-2010


    I know very little about the Church of Christ “mutual edification” churches – only what was written here. Thanks for adding a personal touch to his post.


  6. 12-16-2010

    It really is a title. Mutual means “by each of two or more with respect to the other”. While “Mutual Edification” means multiple preachers.

    Doesn’t make sense, but that is what I was raised in and what I participated in for all my life. You just don’t see it.

  7. 12-17-2010


    I’m so glad that you chimed in on this. My original post was simply about using a term such as “mutual edification” as a label. Then, the description (in the article) was not about mutual edification at all. But, with your personal experience in the group, we can see even more how people tend to change the meaning of labels.

    Thank you!


  8. 1-12-2011

    I am a member of a “mutual edification” congregation. This term was picked up or applied to our groups long before my time and I agree that it is not the best term. It’s certainly not self-explanatory. Other terms like “mutual teaching”, “mutual preaching” or even “mutual pulpit preaching” are far better. Unfortunately, “mutual edification” and “mutual ministry” are the terms which have become entrenched and we’re pretty much stuck with them for the time being. We need to do a much better job at explaining what we actually mean.

    The question “Who is not allowed to edification and why?” is an excellent one. Admittedly it is one which we struggle with. Some brethren believe that all male members have the right to teach or preach to the assembly publicly. There are two issues with this. First, it’s not scriptural. The NT makes it clear that the body is not made up of all mouths and some men simply are not gifted as preachers/teachers. Second, allowing all men, especially the unqualified, to speak has brought about tremendous discord in the assemblies.

    The short answer to your question is if a man does not have the knowledge, skill, and (most importantly) love of the brethren as a teacher or preacher, then he should not address the brethren during the public assembly. Training, education, and maturity can change this situation. The full answer is much longer.

    What most brethren don’t realize is that most congregations of the Restoration Movement practiced mutual edification. It was also the practice of the first century synagogue service and, based upon numerous church historians, in strong likelihood the practice of the first century Church.

    I have rambled on far too long and I hope I have not offended since I am a guest in these matters. For those who wish to know more about this practice (history, scriptures, and application) I have a book which I can provide to you at no cost.

    In Christ, Jeremy Morris

  9. 1-13-2011


    Thanks for commenting here. It’s always good to hear from someone who is part of a church that uses that label.

    While I agree that all are not gifted to teach (i.e., all are not teachers), I think all can teach. We see something similar when Paul says that all are not prophets, but all can prophesy (see 1 Corinthians 12:29 and 1 Corinthians 14:31).

    I completely agree that love must be the motivation for all teaching – and any other exercise of gifts – along with a desire to build up the church.


  10. 4-12-2012

    Hi, Alan,

    Not sure comments are welcome on old posts, but here goes. 😉

    Until five years ago I was a member of a large Church of Christ in Memphis, Tennessee. I have attended a dozen or so congregations in several states, of all sizes. All were in the mainstream of Churches of Christ, that is, none practiced any of the non-institutional groups described in your post. There was always a “pulpit minister” (although the designation may be different in different churches), who di all or most of the preaching and was paid a salary. the larger churches hired as many as a dozen staff members, from song leaders, campus ministers, singles minsters, family life minsters, educational directors etc. On occasion other staff members wopuld preach on Sunday morning or Sunday night services, but rarely would any regular member do so.

    When the church i was a part of sold their building and moved to the suburbs a small group of us stayed in mid-town. We first met in members’ homes, then started renting a chapel at a historic cemetery for Sunday mornings only. We din’t hire a minister, as most new groups like this would (here in Memphis we might get a student at harding School of Theology, operated by the Churches of Christ, to come preach to us on Sundays).

    Instead, we just started taking turns leading a discussion on the bible and spiritual topics. Note, I am not saying the men started doing the preaching. we don’t have sermons, as a rule, although a few times the person in charge presented a “monologue” lesson. So far only the men facilitate the lesson of the day, asking different people to lead prayers and pass the trays for the Lord’s Supper (done weekly). The women participate freely in the discussions, but do not lead them (several members feel strongly that Paul’s admonitions that women do not teach or exercise authority over a man be honored).

    This has gone well for five years. All of our members have grown spiritually more doing things this way than in sitting in a pew listening to someone else preach and teach for twenty or thirty years.

    Recently, however, some members have questioned this arrangement. Some lessons are as good or better than any you would hear at any church in the city. Others by less mature brothers are not presented as well, are not as thougtful and helpful. It has been suggested that one or two of the members who are able to consistently present good lessons do a larger share of the teaching.

    This is a dilemma. Do we go back to the “normal” model of church leadership, even if the primary teacher remains an unpaid member? If we were to do so, should the “preacher” be compensate financially? (FYI, this would be me, if it happened.) Or should we hire a student from the local seminary, as many small churches would? Or maybe just disband and allow the members to attend a local church of their choice, where they would go back to listening to one or a few men do all the preaching and teaching.

    So I have been doing some searching on the Internet to find out more about this practice of mutual ministry. We were not doing it because we knew anyone else who was doing it or had read a book where it was recommended (although there is one called Radical Restoration y F. Lagard Smith that does recommend this practice). I found a site with articles by Jeremy Morris who commented on this post, and got a copy of his book take him up on his offer to send you a PDF version of it, so you can see much better what the churches he is associated with are doing and why).

    I don’t know that we are doing what you would call mutual edification (or Jeremy Morris would either). We are in the dark, but are trying to let the Spirit lead us. My wife and i may move t be near her mother. If we do, i cannot bear the thought of going back to a church that carries on business as usual, with a paid theologian a staff of professionals to do all the work of the ministry for us. It seems completely foreign to me now.

    So, no, our little group is not going to return to that model. It has been suggested that the more mature among us should help the less mature (not younger, in this case), to learn how to do better bible study and how to present lessons in a more effective way. It seems arrogant of me to offer t do that, but no one else is likely to do so. I think the men have developed their skills quite a lot over time–when we started out some of the guys would find a printed sermon or chapter in a book by someone like Max Lucado and simply read it. I admit that gets old, but almost always we would have a rousing discussion about what was read.

    As the whole grou0p has developed a more robust spiritual life the lessons become more and more interactive and uplifting. It seems right and good to me and most of our group-.

    But is it “the only right way,” as one of our members affirmed a few weeks ago? Are we “doing it right” now, or is there more we can learn? Are people worshiping God in a very different way still “right” and loved by God? Why are we so concerned about what is “right”? Maybe there is a different question we should be asking instead.

    Thanks for your blog and your openness in to new ideas and ways of doing things. I appreciate it more than you know.

    Take care and God bless.

    Don 🙂

  11. 5-23-2012


    I agree your model is the correct one in the NT, except that the local assemblies were also visited by the apostles. But since there are no apostles today, then there are no traveling “preachers” who need to tell you what to do and correct you. I believe each local assembly, no matter how larger, is independent and needs to treat each other with love and be open to study and discuss.

    Yes some men are better teachers than others and present better lessons. If you want to rotate just a few or have all then that is your choice as a local assembly but I would not want to appear to “force” each man to do so if they didn’t want to.