Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Finding Reliable Men: Able to Teach

Have you ever thought of how central an activity teaching is in the New Testament? I know pastors think of the centrality of teaching all the time, but usually as it relates to their own duties and the gathered church. But teaching appears necessary to every aspect of the Christian life. We call ourselves disciples and we practice spiritual disciplines, ideas with their root in the clasroom, in teaching and learning. Teaching is central to how we train younger generations (Titus 2). It's central to serving others in the church and living out the faith in a worthy manner (Eph. 4). Teaching is unmistakably central to the proclamation of the gospel and making disciples (Mt. 28:19-20). If we're going to pray, we must be taught (Luke 11:1). Even singing is connected with teaching (Eph. 4:19; Col. 3:16)--we speak to one another and admonish in song, if we're singing correctly we're teaching in the process.

We could go on. Teaching and the necessity of teaching is everywhere on the pages of the New Testament. And even in the old, when God's people were revived and strengthened and made faithful it was through the agency of teaching the word of God.

So, it's completely understandable that the apostle Paul should include in his list of qualifications for church leadership "able to teach." As many have noted, of all the qualifications listed 1 Timothy 3 this ability to teach is the only qualification we would not necessarily expect of every Christian. All the others should be true of every growing and maturing Christian. Able to teach is the gift or characteristic in the list peculiarly required of those Christian men who would hold the office of elder or pastor. A man should not hold the office if he can not teach. And the reason is simple: the primary task of the elder is to teach. Other things are necessary in a church (administration, mutual care, etc). But one thing is necessarily done by the elders: teaching.

So, we're not to overlook this qualification when assessing a candidate for pastoral/elder leadership. Can he teach?

Well, what is meant by the "ability to teach"? Simply, teaching is the ability to communicate and apply the truth of Scripture with clarity, coherence, and fruitfulness. Those who have this ability handle the Scripture with fidelity, and others are edified when they do so. This ability isn't limited to public teaching from the pulpit. Men with the ability may be gifted public teachers or they may have stronger gifts one-on-one or in small groups. There are men who are teaching all the time as they counsel from the Scripture in small settings, but who would not be exceptional public speakers.

Because the entire Christian faith and life requires solid teaching, it's imperative that in considering men for leadership their ability to teach be assessed.

Some Observations and Questions (please comment on how you do this in your setting)

1. One thing that pastors have to figure out is how to give men opportunity to teach in order to assess giftedness and ability. Men who have an interest in teaching and who are perhaps otherwise qualified for the office of elder should be given opportunity to teach in appropriate settings. Some churches use their Sunday evening services to this end. Men from the congregation regularly prepare and deliver messages in that setting and it becomes an opportunity to observe how they handle Scripture and their teaching effectiveness. Other churches use Sunday school opportunities or Wednesday nights for this same purpose. Whatever the local situation, creating this opportunity for the the current pastors and the congregation to observe and affirm giftedness is critical.

2. Assuming the opportunities are in place, what is the honest assessment of ability? Pastors might grant a man several opportunities to grow and learn as a teacher. His ability need not be judged on a maiden voyage. But over time or several opportunities, does the man demonstrate skill in interpreting a text, outlining a sermon, communicating biblical ideas clearly, applying the Scripture appropriately, and anticipating objections, questions, and pastoral needs in the body? Because teaching is central, those making the assessment should not "fear man" or be too hasty. It may be that a man will develop this ability, but the ability needs to be present before a man is recognized as an elder. So, clear and honest appraisal is necessary.

3. Does the man show pastoral sensibility in his teaching? We're looking for pastors, overseers, not merely academics or polemicists. We want men who know the body and are able to apply God's word to His people. Does the prospective elder show discretion in this regard? Is he able to speak to hurts, pains, joys, needs, history, and hopes of your congregation? Does he tend to beat the sheep or feed the sheep? If he knows the people, it should show up in how he nurtures them in the teaching.

4. Is the prospective elder committed to exposition (or the church's preaching philosophy)? Does he agree with the current elder(s) on what preaching is and should be? Is he supportive of the teaching philosophy and approach of the church? Does he think that teaching is central to the work of the church or does he believe something else should hold the pole position? Enshrining widely divergent views of this essential task on the eldership is unwise.

5. Are others edified by his teaching? Will the congregation, if asked, affirm that this man has teaching ability and that they spiritually benefit from his teaching? Ask around to see how others received and used a prospective elder's teaching. We can sometimes rule out that a public ability is not developed or present by hearing the assessment of others.

6. Does the man disciple others? Because not all (perhaps most?) teaching is not public but private, we should look to those smaller, less public areas as well. Does the prospective elder demonstrate an ability to help others grow in Christ in more private settings like small groups or one-on-one discipleship? Is he faithful to help others work through difficulties or questions? Do others come to him for advice and counsel? And is his counsel consistently and thoroughly biblical? A man may do a great deal of pastoral work in the hallways or parking lot after church or over a cup of coffee during the week. Who are those men who teach in this way?

7. Is the man theologically mature and supportive of the church's theological distinctives? A man may have a gift, but the gift must be informed and filled with appropriate content. There are many who are skilled at "moving the crowd" but who couldn't explain the most basic doctrines of the faith. So, assessing a man's theological maturity and knowledge are important. When considering a prospective elder, we should discuss the church's statement of faith in detail. Are there any points with which he disagrees? Can he sign the statement in its entirety with good conscience? His teaching would be expected to uphold that statement. And does he understand and support certain theological distinctives of the church, like the church's view of the ordinances, gender roles in the home and church, and so on. A man with teaching authority should be able to fully champion these distinctives for the unity of the church.

8. Is the man himself teachable? Will he be a model to the congregation of someone who humbly and joyfully receives the word with profit? Modeling that attitude is also a critical part of teaching. If a pastor isn't given to learning and submitting to the teaching of fellow elders, he'll create hardness in the sheep. Or worse, he may be less the teacher and more the dictator in his interaction with the sheep.


We're to find reliable men and entrust to them the things we've learned from faithful men. If the transmission of the truth is going to happen well, the men we appoint to leadership must be able to teach in various settings and ways. Calling a man without the ability to teach to serve as a pastor is essentially to channel the pure, sparkling water of the gospel through rusty corroded pipes. It's still water, hopefully, but for how long... and who wants to drink from a rusty pipe?
(By the way, that fella in the picture is a pretty good teacher!)


Jake said...

I like the nonverbal shoutout to DT. An apt teacher if ever there was one.

Doing Church in Canberra said...

Love the thoughts.

4 Life,


LifeCity Church Canberra