In the midst of the 2008 global financial crisis, Warren Buffet famously observed, “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.” Buffet was reflecting on the banks and financial firms that had insufficient capital to meet their financial obligations during the steep market downturn, but his words apply to the ministry as well. Preaching and teaching God’s Word has a way of stripping ministers bare; it exposes us and puts our gifting on public display. You can’t finesse your way through preaching with polished appearance, warm people skills, or seminary credentials alone. When you stand before God’s people with Bible in hand, the tide goes out. It is in those moments of truth, when you attempt to speak on behalf of God, that all will see the veracity of your calling.
ABLE TO TEACH
The Greek phrase translated “able to teach” occurs in the New Testament only in 1 Timothy 3:2 and 2 Timothy 2:24. It simply means “able to explain God’s Word with skill.” The emphasis is not so much on the knowledge of Scripture, though that is included, but on the ability to communicate it effectively.
Teaching may take the form of preaching, but it can take other forms as well. Not all called to the ministry will preach, but all must be able to teach God’s Word. This will focus primarily on preaching, which I define simply as “teaching with passion.” Both preaching and teaching convey biblical truth, but preaching includes public proclamation—heralding the truth of Scripture to the gathered congregation. It is a difference of venues or outlets. As a wise brother once told me, preaching should never be anything less than teaching the Bible, but it should always be more than a Bible study.
It is interesting that the ability to teach is the only qualification listed that has to do with a person’s gifting or ability. The would-be pastor doesn’t have to be a skilled negotiator, competent manager, or creative genius. He doesn’t need a charismatic personality, certain IQ, or impressive academic pedigree. There is one gift, and only one gift, a pastor must possess. He must be able to teach.
Though “able to teach” is the only qualification related to gifting, it is a stiff one. Throughout Scripture, we see the gravity of being God’s spokesman. James warns us, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment” ( James 3:1). And the author of Hebrews tells us, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account” (Heb. 13:17). We dare not take up this task without a sense of gravity, seriousness, and consequence.
Since the pastor’s primary duty is to preach and teach God’s Word (Eph. 4:11–12), he who would hold the office must be equal to the task. Literally, lives are at stake. “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching,” Paul says to Timothy. “Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16 ESV). The health of the church rises or falls with the pulpit because it’s God’s Word that builds up a church (Eph. 4:11–14). The pastor’s task is a weighty, consequential one.
Preaching is God’s divinely ordained means of communicating His Word, nourishing His church, and redeeming a people for Himself. Other ministerial activities may complement preaching, but no ministerial activity should displace it. Preaching is a theme that runs through the whole Bible, consistently described and prescribed throughout both Testaments. No passage sets forth the charge quite like 2 Timothy 4:2, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.”
This charge is situated at the end of Paul’s final letter to his son in the faith, Timothy, and it encapsulates the broader biblical expectation that ministers persist in their duty to faithfully preach and teach the Word. The twelve apostles also defended the primacy of preaching, as demonstrated in Acts 6. When a complaint arose among the Hellenist believers that their widows were being neglected, the twelve gathered all the disciples together and ordered this solution:
It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. (Acts 6:2–4 ESV)
The apostles knew their priorities, and preaching the gospel was at the top of the list. Charles Spurgeon, “The Prince of Preachers,” held the same convictions: I do not look for any other means of converting men beyond the simple preaching of the gospel and the opening of men’s ears to hear it. The moment the church of God shall despise the pulpit, God will despise her. It has been through the ministry that the Lord has always been pleased to revive and bless his churches.
God only had one Son, and He made Him a preacher. Scripture tells us, “Jesus came preaching,” and then He sent His disciples out to preach (Mark 1:14; Matt. 28:16–20). From the prophets of old to Pentecost, and even to the end of the age, preaching is God’s appointed means. This is why we preach.
*This article is an excerpt from Discerning Your Call to Ministry: How to Know For Sure and What to Do About It, by Jason K. Allen. If you are considering the ministry, there are two mistakes you must avoid. The first is taking up a calling that isn’t yours. The second is neglecting one that is.*
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Editor's Note: This article originally published at JasonKAllen.com