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.
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