A Shepherd’s Gifting

Pastor Eugene explains the importance of an elder's spiritual gifting in teaching.

To help prepare us to recognise new elders, we have been considering what the Bible says about the roles and qualifications of an elder. Scripture reveals these truths to us so that we know what qualities and characteristics to look for. This is crucial for the health of the church, because the elders are men whom we entrust with the noble task of pastoring God’s flock. 

In this article, I want to focus on an elder’s spiritual gifting—specifically, his ability to teach (1 Tim 3:2). When we examine the lists of qualifications given in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, “able to teach” is the only spiritual gift mentioned. As we have already seen, most of the other qualifications have to do with an elder’s character. 

One conclusion we can draw is that a man’s character must come before his competence. Being godly takes priority over gifting. As Paul reminds the Corinthian church, exercising one’s gifts without the character of Christ-like love is futile (1 Cor 13:1-3). We must not confuse giftedness with godliness.  

That said, an elder must be able to teach. While it is not the only characteristic that qualifies a man to be an elder, it is a necessary one. Why is this quality so important?  

It has to do with the role of an elder. An elder is called to shepherd God’s flock. He does so by guiding them according to God’s word, which is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps 119:105). The church is to follow the elders not because of what they say per se, but because they lead us with Scripture. The authority of the eldership is derived from God and his word. Next week, we will look at the biblical teaching concerning how we are to relate to our elders.  

Following the apostolic pattern, elders are to devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4). For this reason, deacons are appointed to assist in ministry, so that the elders can focus on teaching Scripture. The elders’ calling to lead the church through teaching distinguishes them from the deacons.  

In John 21, Jesus asks Peter three times: “Do you love me?” Three times, Peter replies “yes”. And three times Jesus instructs Peter to feed his sheep. In the same way, an elder demonstrates his love for Jesus by feeding His flock. The sheep are nourished by God’s word, because the sheep will listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd (Jn 10:16).  

God’s word gives, sustains and strengthens spiritual life. Believers have been “born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Pet 1:23). So we, “like newborn infants”, ought to “long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it we may grow up into salvation” (1 Pet 2:2). By teaching God’s word, an elder enables God’s people to mature in Christ. He “equips the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph 4:12), so that every church member can faithfully obey his or her calling to speak the truth in love to one another.  

Therefore, an elder must be a responsible steward of God’s truth. He must be able to communicate God’s word accurately, clearly and faithfully. More than being a good communicator, an elder must be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and rebuke those who contradict it (Ti 1:9). He cannot merely have a superficial knowledge of the Bible, but must be immersed in the teachings of Scripture and have a solid grasp of God’s word.  

Does this mean that every elder must be able to teach or preach publically? Not necessarily. Certainly, all elders should be involved in some form of teaching. But this should not be limited to preaching at Sunday services. Teaching can take various forms, such as teaching a class, leading a Bible study in a small group, pastoral counselling or one-on-one discipling. Some elders may not preach to large groups but may have a gift to teach or disciple individually or in small groups. What this qualification emphasises is that elders should have a mature and sound understanding of Scripture, and be able to explain it to others. He can apply God’s word to his own life and others’ with clarity, coherence and fruitfulness.  

This Sunday:

  • Our new sermon series in Hosea continues, as we hear from Hosea 2 and 3. Do pray for open and humble hearts to receive God’s word. 
  • It is the second Sunday of the month, when we take up an offering for missions. We will also be hearing about how GBC supports gospel work in Pua, Thailand.