The Biblical eldership arises from the family structure. Elders in the Old Testament were the heads of tribes, clans and father's houses. For example, the selection of "seventy of the elders of Israel" reflects the number of tribes plus the clans (Ex 24:1,9; Num 11:16,24,25). This does not mean that the eldership was limited to the heads of the tribes and clans since a larger number of elders is mentioned. Certainly the elder brother or firstborn sons who inherited the leadership of their fathers' would be considered an elder.
In God's covenants the head of a family spoke in behalf of, represented, his household. However, elders also might be selected to represent other elders and their families. We see that in situations in which there was a large number of elders a representative group might be selected, as with the seventy-seven elders of Succoth (Jdg 8:14,16).
Elders in the Old Testament would exercise their teaching office primarily in their families (Gen 18:19; 31:1-16; 48-49; Ex 13:11-16; Dt 4:9-10; 6:20; 11:18-21; Ps 78:1-8; Pr 4:1-4). It was the responsibility of the priests to teach the law when Israel gathered as a congregation at the feasts, especially Tabernacles when the law was read. However, at the feast of Passover men also taught in their families (Ex 12:26-27).
The spiritual leadership of the male family head continues in the New Testament. The husband was to model the love of Christ in washing his wife "by the word" (Eph 5:26). So, too, the fathers were commanded to "bring up your children in the training and admonition of the Lord" (Eph 6:4).
In the New Testament period the passing away of the clans and tribes left only the eldership of family heads. However as in ancient Israel a congregation might choose a representative body of elders, called overseers in the New Testament. These would be the elders of the congregation. The qualification for overseers included evidence of spiritual leadership in their families. It also is stated that an overseer must be able to teach (1 Tim 3:12). This must refer to his experience teaching in the home since no other teaching experience for ordinary men was known to the New Testament church.
As in the New Testament the men who are qualified to serve as overseers in the church today will develop their ability to teach the Bible primarily from the exercise of spiritual leadership with their wives and children. The overseer who labors in the Word and presides in the congregation also should help the men as they encounter difficulties in teaching the Bible in the home. This is one reason why the elder who labors in the Word should well trained in the original languages and other fields of knowledge necessary for explaining and applying the Scriptures in congregational worship and instruction.
Those overseers who desire to give their time to laboring in the Word and presiding in the congregation will need opportunities to adapt their ability to teach in the home to the congregation. This should be under the tutelage of one who already labors in the Word.
In my view the best setting for learning how to "preach" to the congregation would be an additional time of congregational instruction. For example, we always have instruction in a text related to the Lord's Supper or Baptism when either sacrament is observed. In the case of the Lord's Supper the teaching is every Lord's Day. I recommended to one young man interested in testing his abilities that he assume this teaching. We have a cycle of about 89 texts used for this purpose and therefore the congregation has already heard me expound each of them twice.
Another good setting for developing the teaching ability of an elder would be a second sermon on the Lord's Day. This should be part of congregational worship and instruction, not an optional class. Historically many Presbyterian churches would meet in the morning on Sunday, break for a congregational meal, and then regather in the afternoon. I know of congregations today that have returned to that practice. Our congregation meets for lunch and informal discussion afterwards. With the approval of the congregation we could add a sermon after lunch. If the congregation was willing we even could gather again later in the evening. However, we are opposed to an additional service on the Lord's Day that would be viewed as optional. In our view, separate optional gatherings create divisions in the church.
However, if a group in the congregation actually is the core of a new work, it would be acceptable for them to begin to meet separately for a class before beginning their own congregational worship and instruction. The elder being prepared to labor in the word and preside in the congregation could teach such a class.
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