I learned to preach in a small, rural church. I do not remember if that little church ever had anointed, or appointed, elders. But I do remember there were a number of “old” men who cared for and oversaw the church. There are two things those old men had in common. Most of them knelt when they prayed, and many of them held their hands toward heaven. The other thing I remember is that they all had Bibles with them that looked worn out.
The church where I worship is in the midst of selecting elders. This will be my third time through the process, and every time I realize that my view of elders has been shaped by those old men who prayed lots and who wore their Bibles out studying and teaching. And I am convinced that is what elders must do today to take care of their flock: pray and teach. In this article, I am going to focus on why church shepherds must know Scripture. And not just know Scripture, but they must use Scripture among their sheep.
Timothy says elders must be ready to teach, and he refers to paid elders who teach and preach. Titus points out that an elder must hold firmly to the trustworthy message. He explains why this is necessary: to encourage others by sound teaching, and to stop those who would oppose that teaching. It is clear that elders were expected to know Scripture and to teach it. It is still true today. An elder has to know the Bible.
But it is also true that many churches are unaware of how and when an elder should be teaching. Let me suggest three ways in which elders should be utilized as teachers today.
- Elders should be teaching in public. Some may preach from time to time. But many churches use elders to read Scripture, to share communion thoughts, to offer an invitation for counsel or study, or to speak a word of encouragement. Elders should be active in teaching classes. They might speak in the adult program, or share their spiritual journey with teenagers, or teach in the Children’s ministry.
- Elders and their wives should be actively engaged in small group study. That may be a life group or fellowship group. It could be part of the small group ministry. It might be a neighborhood Bible study. If elders want their flock to study the Bible, they must lead the way.
- Perhaps most important, elders must be teaching from the Word in living rooms and coffee shops. Members need spiritual pastoring, and that is the function of elders. Mutual edification and support from members is critical. But there are times when Christians need an elder to speak truth into their lives. Not just good advice, but advice that is rooted in Scripture. Advice that can be referred to over and over, that can be memorized, and that is from God.
And I guess those old men from fifty years ago did exactly that. They taught me to know Scripture and inspired me to still be speaking it today in pulpits, living rooms, and coffee shops. That is what an elder is, and that is what an elder does.
An elder is a shepherd teaching truth to his sheep.
Here are some situations where elders should be able to speak truth into the lives of their people. These are real questions from real Christians living in a real world. And elders are the ones equipped to speak truth into their lives—to know truth and teach truth.
- How can I possibly be forgiven for what I have done?
- Isn’t pornography basically harmless?
- Where was God when my loved one died?
- What if I discourage my child from being baptized and they never ask again?
- What is my real responsibility to my aging parents?
- What if my older child has not expressed interest in being a Christian?
- My child is asking about baptism. Are they old enough?
- Doesn’t God just want me to be happy?
- How can I ever forgive my spouse for what he or she has done?