Who Is “Apt to Teach”?


One of the Biblical qualifications for those who are to be Pastors is that they must be “apt to teach.  Teach the faith, that is.  But if we are honest with ourselves, we have all experienced the work of many pastors who are anything but apt teachers, both within and outside our synod.  So in one sense, it is more of an ideal to be continually striven towards, rather than an accomplishment to be checked off a list.  Even the best of pastors are continual students in the art of apt teaching (as they are taught by the Holy Spirit in the school of experience).

To this end, assemblies of Christians across large geographical areas tend to come together and pool their resources, in order that they might collectively be able to train pastors to teach aptly, to a much higher degree of excellence and consistency than any of them could possibly achieve on their own.  As it takes a village to raise a child, so it takes a collective church body to better prepare men for the ministry.

In the LCMS, as in many denominations, we do this through education in our seminaries.  However you feel about their success in this endeavor, a cursory survey of comparative processes in other denominations will easily reveal our schools to be among the best performing in the world.  Largely, of course, because they hold to sound doctrine (unlike Roman Catholic seminaries), but also because of the rigors of their academics (unlike the Bible colleges of non-denom and independent Evangelicalism), and their historic rootedness (unlike the highly selective catholicity of Baptist institutions).

And thus, as men complete the process, prepared for their development, in our seminary system, our church body as a whole ordains them, and thereby declares on behalf of the entire denomination that these men are “apt to teach” in any of our churches, and eligible to be “regularly called.”

The Augsburg Confession says “no one should publicly teach in the Church or administer the Sacraments unless he be regularly called.”  To “regularly call” someone as a pastor necessarily declares they have been found “apt to teach.”  (Unless, of course, you’re in an emergency situation with only two people in a sinking boat.)  So the question before us, and the challenge for our synod to respond to these days is: 

Who gets to decide who is apt to teach and who is not?

The answer we have given is that this is the responsibility of our church body as a whole.  It is not the prerogative of individual members, congregations, or districts. We collectively pool our recourses for the training of pastors because we so highly value the teaching of the Word of God, and as a means of confessing this before the world, we ought to spare no expense in ensuring this is done in our churches aptly, to say the least.  Therefore, in the LCMS, a significant part of our “walking together” is done for the purposes of making this so, to an extent not possible when individuals, congregations, or districts take the matter into their own hands.

So why, then, do so many continue to do so?


When a local pastor puts laypersons in his pulpit to teach “under his authority,” he is confessing that he personally is the final adjudicator of who is or is not apt to teach and doesn’t need the assistance of the rest of his synod to either ascertain this clearly or prepare these men accordingly.

When a local district trains lay deacons in hermeneutics and homiletics, without specifying that their highest use is to function as lay readers, this confesses that what the broader synod as a whole has labored for collectively, towards the end of apt-ifying preachers, is not necessarily necessary.

When a synod allows this to continue by justifying its use for “exceptional circumstances” and then failing to oversee that such is actually the case, it confesses that convenience and economics are more important in determining who is apt to teach, while undermining the value of the diligent labors of both seminary students and professors.

Is a seminary education absolutely necessary in order to be a faithful pastor?  Obviously not!  (Insert cliche objection about the 12 apostles, as if three years OTJ with Christ himself, the giving of supernatural abilities we no longer see, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and receiving the very inspiration inspiration to pen New Testament amount to less than a graduate degree specializing in studying those same documents.)

Does it, therefore, follow that the seminary education ought only be required when it is convenient or deemed efficient (by whomever)?  Only if we believe the Gospel is a matter of convenience.

What IS absolutely necessary is that our pastors are well studied in the scriptures, and in the art of caring for souls.  The church that shortcuts this gets what she deserves.  We train our pastors extensively because we believe in the utmost importance of proclaiming the Gospel from the scriptures, for the salvation of men’s souls.  This is the most important work the church has before her, and our clergy are those called to publicly represent us in this labor.  To equivocate on this is to deny its ultimate priority. 

One of the most important reasons for having a denomination is that we might co-labor in the preparation of our pastors.  If individuals or groups wish to take these matters into their own hands, they are not “walking together” with us in this.  The congregation that rejects our cooperative efforts to ensure ALL our preachers are apt to teach ought seriously consider if they value the Gospel enough to seriously invest in its full and bold proclamation, and if not, whether they really belong in a tradition which, at least historically, does.

It IS, after all, a matter of efficiency.  But efficiency of what?  We can choose either the efficiency of filling pulpits at minimal cost, seeking quantity over quality, or, we can choose the efficiency of cooperation, in order to devote to this calling all the investment, resources, and prioritization that it deserves.  

For the love of Christ, let us not undermine the quality of our preaching for the sake of the first efficiency.  What do we have that is more important than the preaching of the Gospel?  Do we want it outsourced to China to be stamped out of plastic for five cents a unit?  Or, shall we adorn our most priceless treasure with all the riches we possess, sell all that we own to acquire it, while continuing to confess that we are unworthy servants and our efforts aren’t nearly worthy of the Savior it proclaims to the world?

About Miguel Ruiz

Miguel Ruiz is a post-Evangelical adult convert to confessional Lutheranism and a vocational church musician. He is a commissioned Minister of Religion in the LCMS, serving Our Savior Lutheran Church and School in Centereach, New York, as the director of parish music and music teacher. His journey down the Wittenberg trail began when he was roused from his dogmatic slumber by the writings of Michael Spencer and Robbert Webber. After a period of Cartesian doubt seeking a confessional identity, he finally found his home in the Lutheran church. When he isn’t busy running upwards of 12 rehearsals a week, he loves writing as a way to interact with other perspectives and to pontificate on his doxological agenda. He enjoys exploring the treasury of 2000 years of sacred music, and has found his life’s calling as a cantor, with a mission to “put the Gospel on the lips of the people of God through song, that the Word might dwell in their hearts through faith.”


Who Is “Apt to Teach”? — 23 Comments

  1. Great article! A focus in this article ended up being the use of laypersons preaching. Of course, this is a concern for us these days.

    But I’m even more interested in another aspect of this “apt to teach” question: ordained pastors in our churches who might not apt to teach.

    In the intro to the Large Catechism, Luther complains about lazy clergy who read the catechism once and think they’ve mastered it. I think we’d agree that men who show such arrogance to learning are not “apt to teach”.

    Yet, the evaluation of pastors happens only once, before ordination. Convince profs in seminary that you are apt to teach, and then you’ve got free reign. Just don’t say anything outlandishly heretical, and you’re set for decades in our synod.

    What do we do about such pastors? How do we, as a synod, ensure that our pastors are always apt to teach? What do we do with the ordained men who are not apt to teach?

  2. @Lutheran Skeptic #1

    Some pastors are offended when it’s implied that they need some help with preaching or teaching. Most, however, realize that preaching and teaching are skills which are never perfected, and that there’s always room for improvement.

    This is a topic which is occasionally addressed at District conferences, and presenters offer suggestions for improvement. This should be done more often. While attendance at District conferences, however, is generally “required”; in practice attendance is pretty spotty. This varies from District to District. Some have better attendance patterns than others.

    Unfortunately, the people who need the most help may be the very people who think they don’t need to attend a presentation on improving their teaching or preaching. So, we look to the Circuit Visitor who should be regularly visiting the congregations in his Circuit and evaluating the preaching and teaching there, and encouraging improvement when there’s an obvious need.

  3. @Lutheran Skeptic #1

    Actually examination happens all of the time for parish pastors. First, the Board of Elders in most congregations (and indeed every member of the congregation) has the duty to examine the pastor’s teaching. Secondly, pastoral conferences (circuit meetings) present opportunities for discussion, study, and review. Third, every triennium each parish and pastor is supposed to have a visitation by either the District President or his representative (Vice President, Circuit Visitor).

    The problem isn’t that that aren’t opportunities for examination after ordination, it is that certain folks don’t use those opportunities as they are supposed to. This is why Synod has been renewing its efforts for visitation over the past 6 years. If I remember right though, there are those in Synod who do not to be evaluated for what doctrine they believe and cast visitation in the worst light of “inquisitions” (memory of the 2013 convention discussion of this matter).

  4. One area that pastors need to examine is their desire to teach adult Bible classes
    on Sunday morning and during the week. This is a great opportunity to strengthen
    the congregation spiritually.

  5. When elders were called in the scriptures, they are generally called from a pool of men already present in a local congregation.

    Would the church be better served if we followed a similar process of calling pastors today?

    The men could be examined, first by the local congregation, then by the denominational body. If they were theologically sound and morally upright, they would receive a call and would begin to be trained. Training would be conducted through online courses and mentoring from either the congregation’s existing pastor, or from a district pastor.

    To me, it seems like this would be a better process for training pastors, than insisting they go off to get a degree before getting any hands-on experience. The mentoring aspect would also identify weaknesses in man’s ability to teach, and the mentoring pastor would be able to help address those weaknesses.

  6. @Ken Miller #5

    I was a teacher; I wouldn’t have wanted to learn to teach from “on line courses” but as I did, from competent teachers, lay and clerical, demonstrating how to teach by doing it.

    A Pastor should take every opportunity to teach: in confirmation, remembering that he is shaping the next generation; in adult Bible class (Sunday and mid week) building up the present members; with the Elders, digging deeper into Scripture and the BoC so that they realize their responsibilities to the Pastor and to the membership.
    Christ said, “As you go, baptize and teach.” Any man who considers teaching an unimportant use of his time probably should find another vocation before he considers the pastorate.

  7. Dear BJS bloggers,

    Great article by Miguel! Resolution 6-03 at the 2016 convention (p. 168 in Proceedings) urged members of the LC-MS to encourage potential candidates to use the M.Div. program—so I will…

    There are many good reasons NOT to leave the training of candidates entirely in the hands of their home pastors.

    First, where the family of the candidate is also members there, undue pressure can be (and will be) placed on the supervising pastor to ensure certification of “our dear Johnny.” That is not even to mention the perennial problems of nepotism and cronyism which, e.g., the popes used to good personal advantage.

    Second, the gifts of the Spirit are never found all in one person (except Jesus), but are distributed to many as the Spirit wills. Thus a faculty of professors, each with complimentary gifts, is much more able to teach and model the many facets of teaching the Word and ministry.

    Third, the “hands-on” practical experience is provided through field education in 1st and 2nd years, and most importantly on vicarage.

    Fourth, you need to ask a potential candidate why he refuses to take the M.Div. route. 2016 Resolution 6-06 provides for exceptions in challenging and immigrant situations, but outside of those cases, no one should refuse to go M.Div. route.

    Why do some refuse? It is not the training but the hardships that go with it. To go to seminary means to leave behind, in many cases: a good paying job and benefits; a wife’s good paying job and benefits; parents and in-laws; brothers and sisters; nieces and nephews; life-time friends; a nice house; nice cars; nice climate; a nice neighborhood with shopping malls, Starbucks, etc; seminary education expenses; AND—you might get assigned to Zap, ND or Minot, ND (“why not Minot?”); or you might get assigned to a church filled with old folks and no one your age; or [fill in the blanks]

    This is not even to mention the hardships of our missionary and chaplain families!!!!

    I think our Lord said something about those who refuse because of the hardships. He said “they are not fit” (Luke 9:62). Who are we to say that they are fit for the ministry if our Lord says they are not fit?

    Hardship is unavoidable in ministry, as it is also common in the military and other vocations. Those who want an easy life or easy job had best apply elsewhere.

    Yours in Christ,
    Martin R. Noland

  8. Our synod has in many ways given up the goal of preaching pure doctrine from each and every pulpit. There is little doctrinal discipline. Therefore, it should be no surprise that there are many in the LCMS that hold the position of pastor but are not “able to teach”.

  9. I know this is going to be way too long, but please forgive my length.

    Miguel states: “When a local pastor puts laypersons in his pulpit to teach “under his authority,” he is confessing that he personally is the final adjudicator of who is or is not apt to teach and doesn’t need the assistance of the rest of his synod to either ascertain this clearly or prepare these men accordingly.”

    This topic is an area that has concerned me for some time. I am a lay teacher in my LCMS church. Note, I do NOT preach, I am a Bible class teacher on both Sunday morning and weekdays. I have taught for a number years under different called and ordained ministers. I am always concerned that a) I am teaching appropriate materials and accurately teaching the Bible and b) that I am not usurping the Pastor’s authority. I have now reached the age that I am older than most of the Pastors that are called to our congregation but I try to acknowledge to him that I am under his supervision and authority. I try to provide my materials to the Pastor, but rarely get any feedback from him other than “looks great.”

    Question, when is the use of lay teachers (not preachers) appropriate? What should be the role for lay men in teaching within the local church? Does our ministry “model” require Pastors to teach ALL adult classes?

    And a related question which has been touched on in other comments, what if teaching (I do not mean preaching in this context) is not a skill that the Pastor is given? Yes they may have the appropriate knowledge, but they have neither the inclination nor the ability to teach. What then for the local church? Especially churches that have only one Pastor?

  10. @Pastor Joshua Scheer #3

    Our circuit visitor, in the first visitation our congregation had in decades, showed up at an evening church council meeting, gave us a survey to fill out, didn’t talk to anyone about anything, didn’t attend our Divine Service, then we never heard from him again.

  11. @TimS #11

    Your circuit counselor should be seeing your Pastor regularly at meetings of the circuit or “winkel”. (But he should be visiting the congregation once in a while, too.)

  12. @helen #12

    Yes, they have their monthly circuit winkels, but I would not go so far as to call these pastor conferences “meetings of the circuit” though. Their winkel is a meal and a Divine Service for the pastors. No time for casuistry or circuit business, so they tell me. Our circuit has never had any of the circuit convocations and/or non-election circuit forums that the Synod suggests in the bylaws, which is troubling considering the current Synod administration claims that the Koinonia Project will be conducted at the circuit level.

  13. @TimS #13

    “No time for casuistry…” Just as well, that word has some less than desirable meanings.

    But if they “have time” to go at all, they could make time for circuit business. And maybe a little continuing education; some circuits do that.

    Sorry about the ‘brush-off’ you are getting, (as I interpret it).

  14. @TimS #13

    I have worked a few winkles as a cantor. In our area, the pastors have a divine service, a meal, casuistry, a study of the confessions, and time for business. It takes the better part of the day, though not nearly all of it. I believe this really fosters a healthy theological climate, and both our pastors and congregations benefit from it.

  15. @Tim Givan #10
    “Question, when is the use of lay teachers (not preachers) appropriate? What should be the role for lay men in teaching within the local church? Does our ministry “model” require Pastors to teach ALL adult classes?”

    I would like to second Tim’s questions about Laymen teaching classes. While I’ve seen much about the laity and the pulpit, the question of teaching outside the pulpit, yet still publicly in the church, has received much less attention – although it is much more common in my experience. I would love to see more on this subject.

    I’ve heard some wonky things taught in classes given by lay people.

  16. To TimS #17. Thank you for the link to the Small Groups Paper. I had not seen this paper. Gives me much to think about and will show it to my pastor.

    Question: In Ephesians 4:11, is the office of teacher and the office of shepherd one office? Or is it a separate office? I could read the English either way. I think there could be an appropriate place for the office of teacher in the church but they have to be under the authority of the pastor and need to be well grounded in proper theology.

    To adam #16: I am a lawyer by education. My Christian background is that I grew up in an evangelical church, became Lutheran by marriage and joined the Lutheran church 25 years ago. I have studied Biblical books and themes, the Lutheran Confessions, Walther and Luther/Melanchthon. I listen to Lutheran speakers on podcasts and especially like Joel Biermann at Concordia St. Louis on iTunes. I prefer to use CPH materials when teaching, but sometimes will teach through a book of the Bible without a guidebook. Then I use commentaries, primarily those published by CPH.

    I started teaching out of frustration for lack of educational opportunities in my local church. The pastors in each of the LCMS churches I have been a part of did not have any interest in teaching outside of Sunday mornings. Some were gifted teachers, others not so much. I would love to sit at the feet of a Pastor and learn the scriptures from him, but I rarely see it being offered. When Pastor’s teach Sunday School is rarely with much depth of teaching.

    With the permission of the pastor I have started several Bible studies. I tell them what I am teaching but often do not get any response (good or bad) and they seem to ignore what I am doing. So far none of the small groups I have been involved in have created division in the church nor has there been any “wonky” theology coming up. Normally several of the other lay people who are interested in these classes are fairly Bible literate which helps keep me and the group on an even keel. When I have a question I do ask the Pastor for help. I enjoy teaching and feel I am effective.

    Does this answer your question, Adam?


  17. @Tim Givan #18

    Actually Tim, that gets to the heart of my question but is not yet an answer.
    It sounds as though you and I have a very similar theological self-education, so I can understand feeling knowledgable enough to give instruction. But who has certified that you or I do indeed have a sufficiently firm grasp on Christian Doctrine? Further, even if someone has a fully functional knowledge of such a thing, that does not immediately grant them the authority to teach in the church. There is a difference between capable and qualified.
    One may have the knowledge and prerequisite abilities to teach, and yet have no call to do so. For example, you’re a lawyer by education, but that does not qualify you to stand before the Supreme Court. That requires a separate qualification. On the other hand, your pastors have a call to teach the Word of God, but (outside of Sunday mornings) have no desire to do so. But you have a desire to teach and ability to teach, but where does
    your call come from?

    I wonder why this has been so often left out of the discussion. This past summer’s convention heard much about
    laymen preaching, but left out almost entirely from the discussion (as far as I know) was the question of laity
    teaching Sunday School classes and other similiar situations. I have a hard time distinguishing public teaching in the pulpit from public teaching in a classroom. As I understand, they used to be a single thing and were only relatively recently seperated. So why do we pay so much less attention to who may teach our classes?
    I get rather confused on this subject, especially when the man who wrote that no one should teach without being ritely called was himself a preparer of pastors while without a call to the OHM. I would love to see some clarification on this subject.

    Also, I don’t intend to imply that you are not well learned or that you personally are teaching false or “wonky” things. I mean this in a general sense. However, I’ve sat in classes led by people who, for one reason or another, felt compelled to answer the call for volunteers to teach Sunday School classes (for adults and children). They may have been engaging teachers, but still say things such as, “the Church is temporary,” “God doesn’t give you faith, He gives you the ability to have faith,” “angels are un-created beings.” They may have had a right desire to teach the things of God, but where did their qualification come from and have they been properly prepared to teach? I’ve even had some small group leaders from my church tell me that they prefer not to have a pastor in their group, so that there isn’t someone there who has prepared answers and that they can then have a group discussion on whatever passage is before them.

    I’ve also seen pastors that I’ve known to be rather faithful to our confessions having laymen teach classes and it makes me wonder, as you said, what the role is for the laity in teaching in the church.

  18. @adam #19

    Sunday school has only been around for around a hundred years, or even less in the LCMS which had its own school system. It probably falls under the head of household vocation, not Pastor.

  19. @TimS #20

    Yes, I can understand that to an extent and it’s what I’ve normally heard, but I still don’t understand why it’s not considered publicly teaching.

    How is it that something can be established by the local congregation as a whole, provided a space and time by the same, intended for anyone and everyone that might come, actively promoted as something for everyone and anyone to attend, and yet not be considered public?

    If the church says, “This is a class on the Psalms at St. Exemplar’s Lutheran Church is open to everybody in town and will be taught by Mr./Ms. Such-and-So,” how is that person not considered to be teaching publicly in the name of the church?

  20. @adam #21

    The Confessional Pastors I’ve known teach the Adult Bible classes, usually Sunday plus one evening in the week.

    The first one I had also taught the SS teachers one evening a week with the understanding that that was the lesson for the following Sunday for everyone. But that was some years ago…

  21. @helen #22

    Helen, Sunday school is not in the Book of Concord, so what’s with your use of the capitalized “Confessional” qualifier there? Is a hundred-year-old Methodist social justice practice now a Lutheran state of confession?

    The Lutheran practice is catechesis “as taught by the head of household”, not “as taught by the Pastor”.

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