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Able to Teach

I found myself embroiled in a heated discussion recently about the role of elders in the local church. My friend was adamant: “Elders must be able to preach from the pulpit on Sunday morning. It’s a biblical qualification for elders, pastors, and overseers!” If he had had a pulpit in front of him, I’m sure he would have been pounding it with force!

Paul tells Timothy that elders must be “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2). He tells Titus that elders “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” (Titus 1:9).

Sam Emadi (PhD, SBTS) is senior pastor at Hunsinger Lane Baptist Church in Louisville, KY and senior editor at 9Marks. He writes, “The only particular gifting pastors (and elders) must demonstrate is the ability to teach. But what exactly does this mean? Must pastors be able to captivate an audience? Must they have a good stage-presence? Are pastors just faithful Christians . . . with a few extra doses of charm and charisma? What does “able to teach” mean?”

It’s easy to assume “able to teach” must have something to do with preaching. Simply put, if you want to be an elder, you must be able to preach. But equating “able to teach” with preaching is an over-reading of this qualification, says Emadi. After all, Paul doesn’t mention preaching in this passage and neither he nor any other New Testament writer assumes that preaching is the only context in which teaching occurs. In fact, elsewhere in his writings Paul clearly refers to “teaching” that occurs in the church outside the preaching ministry (Rom. 15:14; Titus 2:3). Further, Paul also recognizes that, even though every elder should be able to teach, only certain elders within the church will have any significant, consistent public teaching ministries (1 Tim. 5:17).

So if “able to teach” doesn’t necessarily mean an elder or pastor “preaches great sermons,” then what does it mean?

Looking at the same qualification in Titus 1, we find Paul further explaining that being “able to teach” looks like “holding firm the trustworthy word,” instructing in “sound doctrine,” and rebuking unbiblical ideas (Tit. 1:9). This focus on sound doctrine continues throughout the pastoral epistles. The elder must not teach “different doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:3) but should model and teach doctrine with the power to save his hearers (1 Tim. 4:16). He must rightly handle the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15), avoiding “irreverent babble” that “will lead people into more and more ungodliness” (2 Tim 2:16). His teaching should produce in his listeners “repentance” and “a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25).

Emadi says, “Paul focuses more on the content and result of teaching than with its execution. ‘Able to teach’ isn’t simply the ‘gift of gab.’ You may be able to captivate a crowd, but if your teaching isn’t true or isn’t producing holiness, you’re not able to teach.”

Should Sunday morning preaching be a requirement for all the elders in a local church? No. But they must have an aptitude to teach the Scriptures, instruct in sound doctrine, and rebuke unbiblical ideas. That could happen just as easily in a small group or life group, disciple-making sessions, new believers’ Bible class, or one-on-one with another believer drinking coffee at Starbucks.

Let’s not force elders to do or be something that the Scriptures do not.


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