the weblog of Alan Knox

Sufficiently in Touch

Posted by on Jan 29, 2009 in blog links, elders | 8 comments

Matthew McDill is a fellow PhD student at Southeastern who is studying elders in Scripture. He occasionally shares some of his insights, such as in his post “Leadership Principles from Acts, Part 1” and “Leadership Principles from Acts, Part 2“.

Also, in a post called “Sufficiently in Touch with Ordinary People“, he recently quoted Calvin concerning the phrase that elders should be “able to teach”:

There are many who, either because of defective utterance or insufficient mental ability, or because they are not sufficiently in touch with ordinary people, keep their knowledge shut up within themselves. Such people ought, as they saying goes, to sing to themselves and the muses—and go and do something else. . . . Paul is commending wisdom in knowing how to apply Gods’ Word to the profit of His people.

Matthew comments:

Calvin observes that some may have knowledge but “because they are not sufficiently in touch with ordinary people,” they are unable to be of any benefit to others. I have met such knowledgeable people. I often emphasize with my public speaking students the importance of understanding and connecting with one’s audience. As ministers, it is critical that we listen to the people we seek to serve, that we know their thoughts and needs and meet them where they are.

What do you think? Is it enough to know teaching methodology, or must you know and be in touch with people also?


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

  1. 1-29-2009

    Matthews’s posts are most interesting and I find his comment on Acts 14:23 (“The significance of this is that Paul helped the churches appoint elders not with formal, institutional authority, but functional, spiritual authority”) especially interesting.

    Based on my observations of some of the egregious abuses of the position of elder in some local congregations (obvious fans of the British series “Rumpole of the Bailey” and Rumpole’s term for his wife as “she who must be obeyed”, who have transformed the definition of elder to “he who must be obeyed”), not all elders see their authority only or even primarily as functional, spiritual authority.

    In that respect, is it possible for those elders to meet people where they are? (I have not seen it.) If they are not in touch with people, how can they function as elders with spiritual authority? Do they not end up merely as those holding an institutional “position”, with merely formal, institutional authority? Am I missing something here with this line of thinking?

  2. 1-29-2009


    I have found it important to first listen to people. When you give an opportunity for someone to talk (believer or unbeliever) you find out a lot about their life, what their interest are, hopes and dreams. Second, I walk away asking myself how can I address what they are struggling with (their own sin or the sin of someone else that impacts them) with the Scriptures.

    This is totally different than just straight systematic teaching. Before, when I read 1 Tim 3, I came away thinking, “Oh, I got to have my systematic theology all lined up.” But in fact, you have to be able take your systematic, historical or biblical theology and make it “flesh.”

    So, I have found in my context as I understand a person’s life and bringing the Gospel, you can hit on doctrine, daily living and transformation of the individual/community. I have gone so far as to journal what I have learned from people and what their deepest concerns are. From there, I ask “How does the Gospel address this?”

    Let me add, this can be emotionally heavy. I think I see now why so many (elders) just keep at arms length people. It can wear you down to hear what people go through and then seek to bring them comfort. At the same time it brings great joy to see the Gospel work in people’s lives.


  3. 1-29-2009


    I’m a little unclear as to Matthew’s definition of “teaching”, and Calvin’s, for that matter, so my comment may be inappropriate.

    I have know brethren (male and female) who were excellent at “preaching” the Gospel and transferring Scriptural principles (making disciples)who were utterly unable to teach in any formal sense of the word. As I mentioned here the other day, “caught not taught”.

  4. 1-29-2009


    It’s definitely not enough to know teaching methodology. A teacher must be in touch with people, as well as know them.

    This is one of the major problems in institutional churches today. There are many “Pastors” who don’t have a clue where the average person lives today. They live in an ivory tower and they like it that way.

    These are usually the types who live above the people and lord it over them, as opposed to living amoung them and becoming one of them.

    But, there are many who really just don’t know what they are talking about.

  5. 1-29-2009


    Since I believe that the gift of teaching is a work of the Spirit (they may be practiced with experience) I believe it trumpcates “methodology”. Also since it is a Spiritual gift then it is of no benefit outside the context of the edifying the Body of Christ.

    However, if we talk of teaching in the generic use of the term then I believe you can have great success without ever touching lives. For example I used to listen to sermons on my Ipod for hours a day. I was taught quite well, the problem though rests here. Only a small portion made it to my heart. Why? Because the person with the teaching gift has no ability to help me apply it. Though he may give me good points within the sermon I have the ability to break it down into categories and to digest what I like and throw away what I don’t.

    I think this is much harder within the context of the Christian Community that is driven by relationships. Why? Because our teaching is demonstrated by our lives and our relationships call people into accountability and what begins to happen is I become much more uncomfortable around you because you are calling me to higher living and I break off the realtionship or your teaching begins to effect my life and change my charachter.

    So you can teach well and have no relationship the problem is, is it really teaching? Your success as a teacher should not be measured on how well you articulate facts, but how well your students learn and within the context of the Church that learning is displayed by changed lives. Since changed lives are the measurement then the only way you can monitor that is through relationships.

  6. 1-29-2009

    Thank you everyone for your comments. Here are my own views. There are two aspects to teaching:

    1) Transferring information to people – educating. This can be done with human talents and abilities and without truly knowing the people being taught.

    2) Sharing lives with people toward life transformation – discipling. This cannot be done through human talents and abilities, but is a work of the Holy Spirit through the gifts that he gives to each believer. I believe this type of “teaching” is what Scripture means by teaching, and works through relationships.


  7. 1-30-2009

    I think we need to view the church as a lab, not a lecture. When I studied biology and chemistry, eons ago, when the earth was young :), I learned the most from the labs, not the lectures.

    My husband serves as one of two elder/teachers in our elder-led (lots of experience, but no initials after anybody’s name) church. We have no “paid” leadership and no formal membership, although we’ve been meeting together for nearly 9 years. During those years, our elders met people where they were, whether it meant working together on building projects, having people actually living in our homes with us, counseling, home Bible studies, evangelism outreach, sometimes just getting together with folks in homes for a night of games.

    The more “formal” theological teaching is really a springboard for life as we know it. And life is the lab where we can see how the lecture works.

    Right now, we are dealing with an issue of immorality in the life of someone in our body of believers. Our elders have met often with the individuals involved, have taught on the subjects of discipline/ restoration, and interface regularly with other believers who are also serving as mentors/encouragers to our sister in the Lord.

    Labs are not always fun, but they are essential for reality in life. Those who teach only the theory, teach a dry, cold Christianity.

  8. 1-31-2009


    From your descriptions, your leaders are intimately involved in the lives of other people. I’m guessing this involvement (relationship) makes them good teachers.