If you put a gun to his head . . .
It’s a telling scenario to play out—hypothetically, of course—when considering a man for the office of pastor-elder in the local church. Run the simulation on a candidate: Would the most natural commendation, relative this particular man, be the more minimalist statement, “He’s able to teach—if you put a gun to his head?” Or would it be the more maximalist assertion: “He’s the kind of man who will hardly stop teaching—even if you put a gun to his head.”
It’s the latter we want in the office, on the team, in the pulpit, writing the church-wide letter, giving the welcome and announcements, leading congregational meetings, and giving pastoral counsel. “Able to teach” in the ESV (one word in the Greek, didaktikos) is, we might say, the most central of the elder qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 (listed eighth of the fifteen) and also the most distinctive. The single qualification that most plainly sets the pastor-elders apart from the deacons is “able to teach”—or perhaps even better, “apt or prone to teach.”
Such teaching bent and ability in pastors is not to be minimal, but maximal. We want the kind of man who will hardly stop teaching, even if you put a gun to his head. As he learns, he wants to teach. As he studies, he thinks about teaching. He breathes teaching. We might say he’s a teacher at heart. He loves to teach, with all the planning and discipline and patience and energy and exposure to criticism that good teaching requires.
GIVEN TO TEACHING
A pastor who is didaktikos, “able to teach,” is not just “able to teach if necessary,” but rather “eager to teach when possible.” He’s bent to teach—not only able in terms of skill but also eager in terms of proclivity. In English, we have the word didactic, built on the Greek didachē for teaching. But we don’t have an easy equivalent for the Greek adjective didaktikos. Maybe we need something like didactive or teachative. If talkative refers to someone who is “fond of or given to talking,” teachative would mean someone “fond of or given to teaching.”
The point is that New Testament leaders—the pastor-elders—are teachers. Christianity is a teaching movement. Jesus was the consummate teacher. He chose and discipled his men to be teachers who discipled others also (Matt. 28:19; 2 Tim. 2:2). After his ascension, the apostles spoke on Christ’s behalf and led the early church through teaching, and when their living voices died, their writings became the church’s ongoing polestar, with Old Testament Scripture, for teaching the churches. And so, fitting with the very nature of the Christian faith, Christ appoints men who are teachative, didaktikos, which entails at least three important realities we would be wise to keep in mind today: we look for men who are equipped to teach, effective at teaching, and eager to teach.
EQUIPPED TO TEACH
First of all, a man may be off-the-charts teachative, and be little more than a liability if he has not been sufficiently equipped in sound doctrine. The miracle of new birth does not imply any instantaneous miracles of equipping for leadership. Now, we might grant a kind of miracle status to any sinner coming, in time, to have genuinely sound theology, but this would be a long-range miracle worked out through diligent training over time, not the endowment of a mere moment.
As Leroy Eims wrote a generation ago, disciples are made, not born. Jesus spoke about a righteous scribe being “trained for the kingdom of heaven . . . [he] brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matt. 13:52). “A disciple is not above his teacher,” he says, “but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). To become a Christian requires no training, just faith: “to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Rom. 4:5). But one does not become a teacher (nor practically holy) by faith alone. Rather, grace trains us in sanctification “to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions” (Titus 2:12), and in those whom Christ gives his church as pastor-teachers, he sees to their being “trained in the words of the faith” (1 Tim. 4:6).
Training is necessary for maturity (Heb. 5:14), and training requires the discipline of persisting in momentary discomfort, even pain, for the reward set before us (Heb. 12:11). So when we emphasize, in pastors, the necessity of proclivity and ability to teach, we do not overlook a critical component of Christian teachers: training. Pastors must be equipped in sound doctrine to teach sound doctrine. It doesn’t happen magically.
EFFECTIVE AT TEACHING
Second, the pastors of the church must also be effective teachers. That is, they must be skilled. It’s not enough if they want to teach, and they have been trained in sound doctrine, but they’re not any good at teaching. Then the church becomes a sitting duck or unprotected flock. If the pastors aren’t effective teachers, it’s only a matter of time until wolves carry the day and feast on the lambs.
And so Paul says, as his culminating qualification in the Titus 1 list, the pastor-elder “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). That is, he must know “the trustworthy word,” and be trained in it, and genuinely “hold firm” to it. But then commences the work of teaching in its twofold sense: feeding the flock (“give instruction in sound doctrine”) and defending the flock (“rebuke those who contradict it”). And if the pastors are poor or ineffective teachers, the sheep go hungry or get eaten.
So pastors must be effective teachers—that is, effective in the context of the particular local church where they are called. They need not compete with the world’s best orators on popular podcasts or television. But they must be effective teachers of their people, in their context. When push comes to shove, the pastors-teachers must get the job done, or the wolves take the sheep.
EAGER TO TEACH
Finally, we come back to where we started and the heart of the teaching qualification, that is, the heart of a teacher. We need men who are eager to teach. Not just men willing to have their arm bent once in a while to fill a slot. But men who are teachers. The pastor-teachers. “Remember your leaders,” says Hebrews 13:7, “those who spoke to you the word of God.” Hebrews could assume that their leaders = those who spoke God’s word. Christianity is a word-critical, teaching-critical faith. The leaders teach. And good teachers, in time and with sufficient maturation, come to lead. The pastor-elders, then, are not only called to lead or govern, but first and foremost to labor in word and teaching. And if the work, at its heart, is the work of teaching, then we want men who want to teach. They are eager to do it.
Such didactive men think like teachers, not judges. Their orientation toward the church is not mainly as those rendering verdicts but envisioning possibilities, providing fresh perspective and information, faithfully teaching the Scriptures, making persuasive arguments, patiently reviewing, and praying for God’s miraculous work in life-change.
TEACHERS WHO GOVERN
We do indeed have more to say. Pastors are not only teachers. As overseers, they “watch over” the flock. As elders, they counsel and guide the people. As shepherds, they muster the collective forethought to envision where to go next for green pastures and still waters and lead the sheep in that direction and wield the “comfort” of their rod and staff to crack the skulls of wolves to protect the sheep.
So, not only does Christ gift his church with leaders who have such a proclivity, being teachative, but he also—strange as it may seem to us—puts these teachers in charge as the church’s lead officers. The elders feed and lead. Teaching and oversight are paired in 1 Thessalonians 5:12 and 1 Timothy 5:17, and 1 Timothy 2:12 provides that particularly memorable coupling of the elders’ teaching with their exercising authority in the local church.
Amazingly, the risen Christ, in building his church on his terms, not the world’s, is so audacious as to appoint teachers to lead, which is both surprising (because teachers, as a group, can be so idealistic and inefficient) and fitting (because Christianity is a teaching movement). That Christ made teachers to be pastors (and pastors, teachers) confirms what a few sharp souls might have suspected all along: that Jesus is more interested in the church’s effectiveness than its efficiency.
So, pastors teach. They are, at heart, teachers. The plurality of elders is, in an important sense, a team of teachers. The call to pastoral ministry is not for specialized administrators of large church departments. Nor is it a call for brawlers and pugilists, more apt to quarrel than to teach. Pastors teach, and are the kind of men who will graciously hardly cease. Even if you put a gun to their heads.
Editor’s note: This article is taken from Workers For Your Joy: The Call of Christ on Christian Leaders by David Mathis, ©2022. Used by permission of Crossway.