Leadership, Spiritual Gifts, Teaching

Who Should Teach?: Thoughts on Teaching and Leadership in the Church

pastor preaching from the Bible in church

The one thing the church and this world needs above all else is qualified, capable, godly leaders who understand God’s Word, who know how to apply it in their own lives, and who are able to help others do the same. God gives the increase; man can’t do that (1 Cor. 3.6-7). And yet, in a mystery of mysteries, one of God’s near-inviolable laws of spiritual growth is that, by default, Christians will simply not grow under poor teaching. So, given the current condition of American Christianity, we may reasonably conclude that capable, qualified leaders are what the church lacks probably above all else.

The Bible is clear that teaching the Bible is a serious responsibility. Not only does the Bible teacher represent God in a highly-visible and unique way, but as we’ve implied above, all Christian growth, both individual and corporate, starts and ends with the public ministry of the Word of God.

And yet, even in spite of the fact that good Bible teachers are so incredibly rare and needful, it is precisely because Bible teaching is so important that the New Testament actually places such serious limitations on who should teach the Bible (1 Tim. 2.12, 3.1-7, 5.22, Tit. 1.5-9, Jas. 3.1, 2 Jn. 9-10).

Teachers Wanted…But Pump the Brakes

As of this writing, I have been at Firm Foundation Bible Church for just under two and a half years, and since that time we have seen a significant amount of growth. While this has been tremendously encouraging, it has also been a challenge. With more people come more needs, particularly the need for capable, godly, qualified leaders. Yet, we understand that God’s way is ‘not to be hasty in the laying on of hands,’ but to entrust leadership responsibility to those who have demonstrated a biblical pattern of faithfulness, character, and the ability to understand God’s Word and put it into practice.

For elders, we require that a man be a member in good standing at FFBC for at least 18 months and meet the biblical qualifications (see the above-referenced passages). When it comes to who may teach publicly at FFBC—be it a woman (over other women or young ones) or a man—we have no formal requirements except that he or she be a member in good standing.

However, before anyone becomes a teacher as their regular ministry or service at Firm Foundation, there are five things in particular that our elders looking for. We are not suggesting that these five are all of the guidelines or the only guidelines for who should be permitted to teach in the church, but they are a good, biblical starting point.

Five Biblical Guidelines for Identifying Those Who Should Teach

1. Is he or she a member?

As we’ve said above, only men and women who are members may teach publicly at Firm Foundation. We do not believe at all that our approach to church membership is biblically-mandated or that it’s the only right way, but we do believe it is a legitimate, wise, and biblical way of formalizing the kind of commitment that the Bible calls Christians to have to the church. We are also persuaded that those who are wise, humble, and reasonable and who have a biblical commitment and attitude toward the church—both its members (Eph. 4.1-6) and its leaders (Heb. 13.17)—will see that and joyfully submit to that process. And it is those kinds of people and only those kinds of people God wants leading his people.

For this reason, when we at Firm Foundation are looking for people to teach publicly within our church, we start by looking exclusively at those who are members.

2. Is he or she a person of character?

While obviously no one will ever reach perfection in this life, a person of character is someone who demonstrates a consistent pattern of faithfulness, humility, wisdom, integrity, uprightness, others-centeredness, and purity of life, speech, and conduct. They’re not only someone who doesn’t have any major, glaring sin issues in their life, but they’re someone who is doing most of the small things right most of the time and keeping short accounts with God and man when they don’t, and they’re doing that over the long haul.

Character has to do with a person’s overall pattern of life, not instances or even seasons of conduct. And while there is no definite time limit on how long it takes to see a person’s character, you only really know someone when you have sufficient time to get to know them.

All of this is simply to say that, when we are looking for teachers at Firm Foundation Bible Church, we are looking for those whom we have known long enough to say of them, “Yes, I know what he or she is about, and they’re the real deal.”

3. Is he or she willing to serve wherever there’s a need?

This one is extremely important for us, because teachers are servants, and true servants are those who are willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of others in order to see them built up in Christ-likness (2 Cor. 12.15, Php. 2.19-22). By contrast, those who are only looking for a platform are not in it for the Lord or for others, but for themselves (3 Jn. 9, Ac. 20.30).

As with any church, there are needs at Firm Foundation that are not visible or glamorous, and that don’t come with applause or accolades. They are sometimes anonymous or inconvenient—like putting the parking flags out long before anyone even arrives at church on a Sunday morning—and sometimes even unpleasant—like changing diapers in the nursery, or teaching a Sunday school class full of rambunctious kids. But servants are willing to serve others for the Lord’s sake because there’s a need, not because there’s a platform.

“Servants are willing to serve others for the Lord’s sake because there’s a need, not because there’s a platform.”

For this very reason, we would be hesitant to give someone regular teaching responsibilities when they have expressed a desire to teach but have not shown a willingness to invest in God’s people by serving in other areas. There are many who want to teach but who are unwilling to serve in other ways. This often can go under the guise of, ‘That’s not my burden, my spiritual gift, or what I’m passionate about.’ And there is certainly an element of legitimacy to that; we never want to twist someone’s arm or force them into a task for which they are simply not suited, especially long-term. But genuine love for the Lord and his people shows up in a willingness to sacrifice self for the benefit of others (1 Jn. 3.14-18), and true teachers are servant-minded and others-oriented.

So when we are looking for teachers, we are not looking for those who say they have a desire to teach, but for those who have been serving and willing to meet needs.

4. Is he or she involved in body life beyond Sunday mornings?

God has given teaching gifts to the church for the building up of his people (Eph. 4.11-13), but he’s also given fellowship to the church for that same purpose (Eph. 4.15). Those who are genuinely interested in Christian growth in themselves and in others are committed to the community of the people of God beyond that one-hour window on Sunday mornings.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of a person’s willingness to see our growth in Christ and to participate in that edification. Those who are consistently involved in the lives of other believers through the church’s other ministries—Bible studies, small groups, fellowship times, etc.—are demonstrably showing (besides humility) that they have that willingness.

There are many who are not interested in Bible studies unless they are leading them, or who are not interested in teaching unless it is on their topic and their terms. But God is interested in those who love his people and who desire above all else to see them grow in Christ-likeness. Consider the well-known words of Paul:

“Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” (Col. 1.28-29)

“They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them… my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” (Gal. 4.17-19)

Those who are committed to body life because they are committed to the growth of the brothers and sisters around them are exactly the kinds of people we are looking for to help lead God’s people.

5. Is he or she able to teach?

Last of all, it goes without saying that when we are looking for those who can teach publicly, we are looking for those who are able to teach.

As we said above, God has reserved pastoral roles and responsibilities—which includes public instruction of the church—exclusively for men (1 Tim. 2.12), but that does not mean that there is not a place in the church for women who are gifted teachers. There certainly is, for instance, in women’s Bible studies and discipleship (Tit. 2.4-5), or, of course, in children’s ministries.

Nevertheless, if a person is going to be a teacher, they need to be able to teach.

Ability to teach is not the same thing as liking to talk or having a lot to say. There are many who are long-winded and who like to talk about what they know, but that does not mean that they are able to clearly understand and explain the truth of God and effectively apply it (cf. Eccl. 5.1-2). Ability to teach is also not the same as wanting to teach. As we said above, there is no shortage of people who want a platform, but having a desire to teach is by no means the proof that God has called or equipped a person to teach (cf. 1 Tim. 3.1-7, esp. vv.1-2a).

The New Testament is clear that God’s purpose in the giving of spiritual gifts is the building up of his people into greater degrees of Christ-likeness (Eph. 4.7-12). It is also clear that the gift of teaching consists in the ability to clearly and accurately understand, communicate, apply, and defend the truth of God (Tit. 1.9). So, taking these things together, we know someone is able to teach when they open their mouth and God’s people learn.

More than that, because of what God’s people have heard and now understand, their lives are made better as a result. They become more holy, upright, humble, and consistent; better husbands, fathers, wives, and mothers; better in the workplace, better in the community, and better in the church; they learn how overcome sins; they become more prayerful, thankful, wise, and discerning.

In other words, when gifted teachers talk, things ‘click’ in the minds of God’s people and they ‘grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ’ (2 Pet. 3.18). God’s people become more like Christ when a gifted teacher teaches, because that is what God accomplishes through the spiritual gifts he has given to his people.

At Firm Foundation, when we are looking for teachers, we are looking for those who are able to teach.

“God’s people become more like Christ when a gifted teacher teaches, because that is what God accomplishes through the gifts he has given to his people.”

Abundant Grain, Insufficient Laborers

We do not have to look farther than our own mirrors to see the abysmal spiritual condition of American Christianity, so it is obvious that there is no shortage of need for godly, capable teachers. The shortage is in the teachers themselves. “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” (Mt. 9.37).

O Lord of the harvest, raise up laborers even from among us who can help lead us upward in every respect into Christ-likeness, and do that until your church is built and the earth is filled with your glory. Amen.

church leaders Pastor Tony

About the Author

Tony de la Riva is an elder and pastor at Firm Foundation Bible Church and is earning an MDiv at The Master’s Seminary. He is originally from Fresno County, CA, and he and his wife Beki have been married since 2007 and have four children. More from Tony ⟶

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