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The second set of characteristics required of elders is that they must be “able to teach” (didaktikon). The church is led by its teachers. This is their calling from the Lord. Paul enlarges on this in his discussion with Titus 1:9. “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (ESV). From these two passages we see four aspects to the elder’s calling as a teacher.
1. The elder must know the Bible, or as Paul calls it in the Pastorals, the “teaching” (didaskalia). This does not mean that the elder must have a Ph.D. or that he be able to teach the minutia of scholarship. But it does mean that the elder must know how to read the Bible intelligently, lead Bible studies, and I believe know the church’s statement of faith.
2. The elder must be emotionally committed to the Bible, holding “firm to the trustworthy word” as he has been taught. It is not enough to know it; he must be fully committed to it in all aspects of his life. It is somewhat like Paul’s admonition that deacons “must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience” (1 Tim 3:9).
3. The elder must be able to teach. This does not mean he must be able to stand in front of large crowds and teach for hours, but it does mean he has to have the basic skills of putting a talk together for a Bible study or perhaps a new member’s class in church.
4. Like Jude, he must be willing to fight for the faith, to rebuke those who contradict the teaching of Scripture. This means the elder must have some awareness of what is being taught in secular society, what are the current attacks on the Bible and the faith, and how to respond.
The translation “able to teach” leaves the door open for someone to be able to teach but not actually teaching. This same idea may be reflected in 1 Tim 5:17, which may hold out the possibility of non-teaching elders. “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching” (NIV). Elders currently involved in teaching should have double honor, both the respect of the church and also a stipend, but those not teaching should not be paid. This may reflect the practical exigencies of a working class where there are times when elders do not have the time to teach. However, “especially” (malista) can be translated, “that is.” In other words, elders are those who labor in preaching and teaching. In this case, all elders teach. Given the structure of the first century church — house churches with perhaps 20 people per house — it seems doubtful that a person qualified to elder would not be teaching.
As mentioned above, the vast majority of a typical seminary’s education is to fulfill this requirement, and yet it is significant that the vast majority of Paul’s instruction has to do with character, not calling. The difference in proportion is significant. I am personally thankful for my seminary education; I doubt there was ever a sermon I preached that did not in some way come out of those years in school. And yet much of the challenges in the modern American church has to do with character, the same issue raised by Paul.
The practical question of how do you raise up qualified elders is indeed a daunting task, especially when it comes to being able to teach. My personal recommendation is that the lead pastor prioritize his life to first and foremost love God, then love his spouse and children, commit himself to sermon preparation, and fourthly to raise up the next generation of leaders. He should view the elders as his small group. Of course, this leaves little time for visitation and all the other tasks that so often improperly fall on pastors like mowing and cleaning. But the cure to this problem is to adopt a biblical ecclesiology, which is a different topic.
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