the weblog of Alan Knox

Elders (Part 4) – Teaching

Posted by on Sep 19, 2007 in elders, office | 14 comments

Elders should be able to teach. That is simple enough. In 1 Timothy 3:2, in the midst of a list of character traits, Paul states that those who are recognized as elders should be able to teach. This indicates that the person has demonstrated his ability to teach. He has taught previously, and others have learned from his teaching. This idea is included in Paul’s instructions in Titus 1:9 also. But in the Titus passage, Paul indicates that the elder should be teachable as well as able to teach. Notice that in this verse the person recognized as an elder should hold to (follow) teachings as well as encourage others with his teaching.

Interestingly, this is all that is said in Scripture concerning elders and teaching. Many other instructions concerning teaching are often associated with elders, but the association does not come from the context. For example, elders are not mentioned in the context of 2 Timothy 4:2 when Paul instructs Timothy to “Preach the word”. Should elders “Preach the word”? Certainly, but it is not within the context of this passage to limit this command to elders.

However, Scripture does have much more to say about teaching. In fact, many passages instruct all believers to teach (Matthew 28:19-20; Colossians 3:16; and perhaps Hebrews 5:12, among others). There are some who are supernaturally gifted (either for a short time or for an extended time) to teach. However, some are supernaturally gifted to serve (Romans 12:7), while all are responsible to serve. Some are supernaturally gifted to give (Romans 12:8), while all are responsible for giving. Some are supernaturally gifted to encourage (Romans 12:8), while all are responsible for encouraging. Similarly, Scripture also indicates that while some are supernaturally gifted to teach, all are still responsible to teach.

It is interesting and, perhaps not coincidental, that the warnings against false teachers in Titus 1:10-16 falls between instructions for choosing elders who teach (Titus 1:9) and instructions for all believers to teach (Titus 2). Thus protection from heresy (teaching contrary to the gospel) is the responsibility of all believers as they teach according to the gospel.

Teaching in Scripture seems to be more than sharing information – although it is not less than sharing information. However, the goal of teaching is not to get someone to know something. Teaching includes information, but it also includes living examples. Thus, the goal of teaching is knowledge, but it is also life transformation. Teachers are living examples only by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. And, life transformation occurs only by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Teachers must be humble enough to admit that their words and actions are at most catalysts that the Holy Spirit uses to do his work. The work of the teacher is obedience to the Holy Spirit. The work of the one being taught is obedience to the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the necessary ingredient for both teaching and learning is the presence of the Holy Spirit. (I’ve discussed the importance of discipleship as sharing a living example instead of transfer of information in a series that begins with a post called “Disciple making 1: The command“. Also, see my post called “Discipleship takes time“.)

If we forget this, then we may begin to think that our education or our talent or our ability to communicate effectively are necessary ingredients for teaching or learning. They are not necessary, and at times they can get in the way of the work of the Holy Spirit. We can also begin to think that those with less (or no) education, less (or no) talent, and less (or no) ability to communicate effectively are lesser teachers. For this reason, the Spirit often uses the words and actions of those without education, talent, or ability to communicate effectively. Thus anyone who is indwelled by the Holy Spirit has the ability to teach, just as any believer has the ability to prophesy (1 Corinthians 14:31). Those who are following Jesus do well to learn from all believers – even elders can learn from those who may seem less able to teach, if they are given opportunities to teach.

Finally, Scripture does not designate elders as primary teachers. These are man-made designations. Should elders teach? Yes, absolutely! But, every follower of Jesus Christ is responsible for teaching. Just as the elders should be examples in character and leadership (service), elders should also serve as examples by teaching. Elders should teach. But, if only elders teach, then they are denying others from exercising their God-given responsibilities. So, while elders should serve as examples by teaching, they should also serve as examples by listening to and learning from other believers as they teach.

Similarly, Scripture does not designate elders as the only ones who should teach when the church gathers together (i.e., Sunday morning). Certainly elders should be examples in congregational teaching; but this does not mean that this function should be unique to elders. If we have designed a system of teaching that precludes those without education or talent or communication ability from teaching, then the problem lies within our man-made system, not with a command of Scripture. The Holy Spirit teaches his children as he desires, according to his will, and through whom he chooses.

In 1 Corinthians 14:26, Paul said that whenever the Corinthian believers gathered together, each one came with a hymn, an instruction, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Apparently, Paul did not indicate that this was wrong. Instead, he said that everything must be done for the mutual edification of those who gather together. It would seem that teaching, like prophecy, edifies the body when two or three people bring a teaching, one at a time. In following Paul’s instructions for mutual edification, we also find ourselves following his instructions for decency and order – mutual edification as Paul describes it in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 is not contrary to “decency and order”, but instead Paul’s description of mutual edification is his example of “decency and order”. Since people learn in different ways, having two or three teachings would also be beneficial in helping the entire body grow toward maturity in Christ. It is the responsibility of each believer to prepare and deliver a teaching as the Spirit directs. Elders also have this responsibility. As examples, the elders should also listen and learn from others who teach when the church gathers.

Therefore, just as Scripture does not hold elders to a higher standard of character or leadership, Scripture also does not place a higher standard of teaching on elders. Elders are responsible for teaching because all believers are responsible for teaching.

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Series on Elders
1. Elders (Part 1) – Introduction
2. Elders (Part 2) – Character
3. Elders (Part 3) – Leadership
4. Elders (Part 4) – Teaching
5. Elders (Part 5) – Shepherding
6. Elders (Part 6) – Overseeing
7. Elders (Part 7) – Conclusion


14 Comments

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

  1. 9-19-2007

    Again, Hermano Alan, you need to give some serious consideration to putting these things into some kind of book form that can be more widely distributed. The “Elders” series is a good example. Have you ever checked into some of the online publishing companies?

  2. 9-19-2007

    Alan,

    I suppose I have a question regarding the teachability of Elders. What does this really mean? For example, pastor Joe goes to a seminar and learns all about why Mal. 3:10 (bring your tithe to the storehouse) applies to us today… (i.e. we should bring our tithe to the church buildling). He learns this, or perhaps better put, he is taught this. Does pastor Joe have at teachable spirit?

    What if low-life Lew comes to pastor Joe and tells him that he believes that is taken out of context, and gives him at least as good of a defense, but pastor Joe refuses it because low-life Lew is really just a low-life. Perhaps, low-life Lew does not have the teachable spirit because he is not convinced of pastor Joe’s arguments.

    I guess my questions is, do you think that that teachability simply means that you are able to be taught SOMETHING/ANYTHING? Or does it mean that you are able to be taught the TRUTH?

    God’s Glory,
    Lew

    The Pursuit Online Store

  3. 9-19-2007

    Guy,

    Thank you for the encouragement again. I have not looked into online publishing. I don’t plan to publish anything except this blog and the occasional paper or book review until I finish my disertation. Hopefully, I’ll be able to publish both on the academic and the popular level – God willing.

    Lew,

    I think you bring up a good point. I think being teachable would mean to recognize the truth (which we all fail at occasionally) but also have a gentle and humble spirit, willing to listen to anyone – even low-life Lew.

    -Alan

  4. 9-20-2007

    I can’t find in the Word where all Christians have the gift of teaching. In fact, in the list of what John Owen calls the extraordinary gifts in 1 Cor 12, it is implied in verse 29 that all do not have that gift. In Romans 12 , in what he calls the ordinary gifts it seems to imply that not all have the gift of teaching. I guess in a general sense we all have a responsibility to teach the gospel message in our witness and service. But not all have the gift of teaching.. I think it was Pastor Al Martin who said in his series on the call to the ministry that the 1Tim 3 / Titus 1 qualifications could be seen this way: all Christians should have these traits. The elders MUST have them. Thanks for opening up discussion on this vital issue. By His grace alone, Cap Pooser

  5. 9-20-2007

    Cap Pooser,

    Thank you for your comment. I agree: Every Christian does not have the spiritual gift of teaching. That’s why I did not make a statement like that in this post. I tried to be very clear about this. See the paragraph that begins with this statement: “However, Scripture does have much more to say about teaching.”

    I believe that the Spirit supernaturally gifts some people for teaching, just as he gifts some people for serving, helping, giving, encouraging, etc. However, I still maintain that Scripture is clear that all believers are responsible for teaching, just as all believers are responsible for serving, helping, giving, encouraging, etc.

    Notice that 1 Cor 12:29 also implies that all are not prophets. But, Paul also says in just a few more sentences that “you can all prophesy”. I would suggest that this is true of any of the spiritual gifts, especially teaching, since Scripture specifically instructs all believers to teach.

    -Alan

  6. 9-20-2007

    I am with you for the most part. But elders do have an implicit responsibility, in accordance with the outworking of their character and leadership outlined in the previous two posts, to oversee the teaching that takes place. Their leadership is confirmed by both the Holy Spirit and the gathering; otherwise, they would not be set apart as elders.

    Note: I am not arguing anything like “pastoral authority”. I am saying that those who know the scriptures well, who have devoted their lives to the study thereof, who have lived out the faith and whose lives demonstrate the character described in Titus and Timothy are the ones who should gently correct the person who gets up in front of the Sunday School class and says, “The Holy Spirit revealed to me that God’s forgiveness is so great that it will even extend to Satan at the end of time.”

    True story.

    James tells us that not many should be teachers, because of the stricter judgment applied to teachers.

  7. 9-20-2007

    This is a great series Alan. I have really enjoyed reading it. I’m going to post a link to it on my blog.

  8. 9-20-2007

    David,

    You said: “elders do have an implicit responsibility…” I would suggest that elders have an explicit responsibility to teach, correct, and rebuke in gentleness and love. They do not have this responsibility because they are elders, but because they are children of God and followers of Jesus Christ. Thus, all believers have explicit responsibilities to teach, correct, and rebuke in gentleness in love. I would hope that a Sunday School teacher (or a teacher in any context) who teaches contrary to the gospel would be gently corrected by any follower of Christ who heard the false teaching.

    James does say that not many should be teachers… I wonder why he doesn’t use the term elders as he does later in his letter. Perhaps he is making a distinction between those with the spiritual gift to teach and everyone else who still has responsibility to teach?

    Gordon,

    Thank you for the encouragement and the link. I appreciate it very much!

    -Alan

  9. 9-20-2007

    So you’re saying elders are like everybody else, except more so, or maybe not even more so.

    The way I see it, eldership is a description of recognized and affirmed maturity in the faith.

    Every Christian should strive to have those qualities. Not every Christian has those qualities. The ones who don’t have those qualities have the responsibility to learn, not teach.

  10. 9-20-2007

    David,

    If you understand me saying that elders are just like everyone else, then I’m not communicating very well. If elders are just like everyone else, then there would be no reason for elders. No, I’m not saying this.

    What I am saying is that elders are not different from others in the standards of character and function to which Scripture holds them. All believers are responsible for having a Christ-like character and for the same functions as other believers. We should recognize those believers who are actually living the way we should all live, and Scripture calls these people “elders”.

    I’ll talk about the implications of this a little more in my conclusion.

    -Alan

  11. 9-20-2007

    I think that’s what I was saying.

    Elder is a descriptive word, not a prescriptive word.

    However, when one is then described as an elder, there is by nature of the recognition more responsibility in the church. “Faithful servant, you’ve done great with five talents, now here’s ten.” That’s not a different standard, but it is an increased responsibility.

    I await your conclusion.

  12. 9-20-2007

    David,

    I appreciate the continued discussion, because it helps me to continue to refine and explain my views. For me, in the Scripture that you quoted, Jesus says that a faithful servant will be given more service opportunities. I’m not sure how this relates specifically to elders, except that it would apply to faithful servants of Jesus who also happen to be recognized as elders.

    When someone is recognized as an elder, that person should be reconized because they are already being faithful to carry out the responsibilities that God has called all believers to carry out. I’m not sure what the “more responsibility” that you mentioned would be.

    -Alan

  13. 6-4-2008

    So far, I am enjoying the series Alan. I think you are right about NT teaching not being just the sharing of doctrine.

    I have long thought that Paul’s instruction that a woman should not “teach” a man is often abused because we do not understand the nature of NT teaching. What do you think?

  14. 6-4-2008

    J.R.,

    I think you might be right about women and teaching. I haven’t given much thought to the connection, but since we don’t generally “teach” in the same manner that we see teaching in the NT, I would say that our understanind of women and teaching is probably skewed.

    -Alan

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