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Missions 101

Elders Must Be Able to Pass Essay Exams, Not Just Multiple Choice Tests

May. 8, 2014By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

One of the primary tasks of being an elder is to protect the church from false teaching (1 Tim 4:12-16; Acts 20:25-32). Without men who can protect a church, false teachers will come from within and without and destroy a church. It is one of Satan’s primary attacks. So how do you know whether a man can handle issues of doctrine and therefore partially qualified (saying nothing of character here) to be an elder?

One way to think about it is in terms of learning comprehension. There are two primary ways of testing for understanding. The first is a multiple choice exam. These tests are primarily about content. Generally speaking, they don’t test comprehension as much as whether there is a foundation of knowledge. Bible tests could include questions on where Paul got his haircut, the definition of justification from a certain perspective, where a particular passage is in scripture, etc. You get the idea. The point of the test is to see whether the student knows the data, which often is memorized information. Elders should be able to pass these type of tests, but it is not enough.

Essay exams test comprehension. They ask you to interact with ideas and defend your own. A multiple choice exam asks: “What is John Piper’s definition of justification?” The essay question asks: “Interacting with John Piper and NT Wright, discuss their understanding of justification and argue for the position you believe is correct.” See the difference?

As an elder, your job is not to information dump. There may be some instances where you are teaching someone a basic understanding of the BIble, maybe helping them with historical facts. But error is not that simple. Being familiar with the Bible might not help you in dealing with false teaching. You can’t just memorize the talking points, because they don’t show you have owned what they are saying for yourself. There must be more than just information in the elder’s head and heart. There must be comprehension.

Can your elders pass an essay exam on your statement of faith? It would be a good place to start.

Darren Carlson is the Founder and President of Training Leaders International.  As President, Darren oversees the general direction of the ministry and serves as an advocate for pastors with little access to formal training and thoughtful cross-cultural theological engagement. You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter

Tags:  church polity, elder
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