We are still looking at the requirements for an elder as listed in 1 Tim. 3 and we now come to the final word in 1 Tim. 3.2.
This word is translated “able to teach” in the KJV, but is one word in the Greek, the word didaktikos, which means skilful at teaching.
Now at first glance this is the exception in the list Paul has given Timothy – as all the other requirements are about character, this one seems to be about gifting. However, as we dig deeper we find out that this requirement is not an exception and is, like the others, about character.
You see, Paul starts this description of the requirements for eldership with the comment that he who desires to be an elder desires a noble task. That’s true – and it means anyone can be an elder. It’s not like being a prophet or pastor or other fivefold minister where you have to be called by Jesus Himself, elders are appointed by pastors and apostles. So anyone can be one. If one of the requirements was a gift, then it would be not be about anyone – it would only be for the gifted.
So how can I say that “able to teach” is a character requirement. Well, let’s look at that, reading Titus 1.9, part of a passage in which Titus as a pastor was given similar instructions to Timothy about leadership:
Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.
Titus tells us that to be able to exhort and convince the elder had to hold fast the faithful word as he has been taught. In other words, the kind of teaching that was expected of an elder was not and is not fresh-from-heaven preaching and teaching as expected from the fivefold, but in their ability to faithfully hold to and share what they have been taught.
And that is a character issue. Elders who are teaching on the Wednesday night in their house should be listening to the message on Sunday morning in church. So reliability and church attendance are keys to their teaching. That goes back to character! Elders have to be humble, and listen to what their pastors are teaching so they can reproduce it. They have to have the grace not to share their personal pet doctrines but trust that their shepherds are leading them to still waters and green pastures. That kind of humility and submission is a character issue. Elders have to hold fast to the Word in their personal life. So pastor preaches on healing, and sickness attacks them – they have to fight the sickness with the Word so that they can exhort and convince people. That is character.
Jesus Christ puts teachers in the body of Christ to teach His Word. He puts pastors in the body of Christ to feed His sheep. Pastors put elders in place to take that teaching and exhort and convince others. Their role is to take what they have been given and share it. Being an elder is like being a disciple feeding the 5000. You take the bread from Jesus and distribute it to those around you in your living church, watching everyone get fed and there is always plenty left over.
But if you go – well, that bread only came from a little boy, our pastor is not that wise, he doesn’t get this and that, he hasn’t got the life experience I have, the wisdom I have, and you replace the bread with your own dish – no matter how tasty and yummy that dish is – you are bringing something that hasn’t been blessed by Jesus. It will not feed everyone.
This is not just a character issue – this is the key character issue. When appointing elders – you have one question you must ask – can they reproduce what I am teaching as the pastor, or are they looking for a way to bring their teaching into the church and have a group to influence? When you are being appointed as an elder, can you hold on to what is taught. If you can’t, politely decline because you cannot feed people if you are not feeding them the bread blessed by Jesus. If you can’t see beyond the humanity of your pastor, see beyond the small boy’s packed lunch, and realize that every Sunday a miracle is happening that you are being invited to be part of – then don’t accept the role of elder.
Pastor – visit your groups! Speak to the people in them. Are they being fed fresh bread from heaven or cakes from the elder’s cupboard?