Godly Leadership

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. – Titus 1:5-9 ESV

Paul had left Titus on the island of Crete with a clear set of instructions and responsibilities: He was to put what remained into order and appoint elders in every town as Paul had directed him. Paul communicated that first task using just two Greek words, epidiorthoō, and leipō, and the only time in the New Testament that they appear together in a sentence is in this verse. The first word means “to set in order or arrange.” But what was it that Titus was to set in order? The answer is found in the second word. It means “that which is lacking or left undone.” Evidently, Paul had given Titus some previous instructions regarding some unfinished business on the island of Crete, and one of those things had to do with the appointment of elders.

Paul placed a high priority on leadership within the local church and had given Titus the responsibility of finding and appointing men who met the qualifications of an elder. For Paul, the spiritual well-being of the body of Christ was dependent upon godly leadership, and he went out of his way to find men who had the right gift mixes and leadership qualifications to effectively shepherd the church of Christ.

In the grand scheme of things, God had prescribed a very specific set of roles within the local body of Christ. And they were to share a single-minded devotion to one cause: The building up of the body of Christ.

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. – Ephesians 4:11-12 NLT

Paul had a strong affinity for the role of the local elder. These men were to be home-grown and faithful members of their local congregations. And they were to meet a fairly robust set of criteria before they could be considered as possible candidates for the role of elder. And Paul told Timothy that it was a good thing for men to see the role of an elder as aspirational and motivational.

If someone aspires to be an elder, he desires an honorable position. – 1 Timothy 3:1 NLT

Yet, this role was not to be taken lightly or treated flippantly. For Paul, it required that a man meet certain non-negotiable requirements that reflected the degree of his integrity and spiritual maturity.

So an elder must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?

An elder must not be a new believer, because he might become proud, and the devil would cause him to fall. Also, people outside the church must speak well of him so that he will not be disgraced and fall into the devil’s trap. – 1 Timothy 3:2-7 NLT

And it is likely that Paul had, at some point, shared this same list of qualifications with Titus. So, the somewhat abbreviated list found in his letter to Titus was probably meant more as a reminder than as a detailed listing of qualifications. Yet, don’t miss the similarities between the Timothy and Titus lists.

An elder must live a blameless life. He must be faithful to his wife, and his children must be believers who don’t have a reputation for being wild or rebellious. A church leader is a manager of God’s household, so he must live a blameless life. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered; he must not be a heavy drinker, violent, or dishonest with money. – Titus 1:6-7 NLT

You can’t help but notice that character and integrity are essential in the life of an elder. Yet, when Paul states that an elder must live a blameless life, he is not suggesting that they be perfect or without sin. There has been only one man who could meet that qualification: Jesus Christ. But Paul is suggesting that any man who is considered for the role of an elder must be beyond reproach. In other words, there must not be anything in his life that would bring dishonor to the name of God or the cause of Christ. His reputation must be unblemished by even rumors of immoral activity or ungodly behavior.

These were men were expected to take their role seriously, pouring time and energy into the spiritual health of their local congregation.  And the churches they served were to recipocrate with provision for their physical needs.

Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching. – 1 Timothy 5:17 NLT

And Paul made it clear that godly character was not only essential for a man to be appointed an elder, but it was also critical in allowing him to remain one. Paul knew that these individuals would have the capacity to fail. After all, they were men. So, if Titus or Timothy received an accusation against a serving elder, they were to take it seriously. But they were also to require that reliable witnesses confirm any accusation that might be leveled against an elder. Hearsay was not to be accepted or tolerated. But if the accusation was proven to be true, immediate disciplinary measures were to be taken.

Do not listen to an accusation against an elder unless it is confirmed by two or three witnesses. Those who sin should be reprimanded in front of the whole church; this will serve as a strong warning to others. – 1 Timothy 5:19 NLT

Paul did not consider the moral and spiritual integrity of church leadership as something to treat lightly. And just because a man was well-liked and highly respected did not mean he was to be treated with kid gloves or could escape church discipline.

I solemnly command you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus and the highest angels to obey these instructions without taking sides or showing favoritism to anyone. – 1 Timothy 5:20 NLT

And the risk of moral failure in the life of an elder was all the more reason to approach their selection and appointment with a sense of gravity and extreme patience.

Never be in a hurry about appointing a church leader. 1 Timothy 5:21 NLT

The important thing about the list of qualifications in both of Paul’s letters is that they contain character qualities whose negative manifestations reflect the abuse of the power and authority associated with the role of an elder. A man who had authority over a local congregation could easily abuse his power and find himself acting toward his wife in unfaithfulness. Men who use their God-ordained authority to take advantage of others in order to satisfy their own sinful pleasures will be held accountable by God.

And a man who is supposed to manage the household of God, but who shows clear signs of failing to do that very thing in his own home, has not business holding a place of authority in the church. Paul’s reference to an elder having believing children seems to indicate that he expected an elder candidate to be more advanced in years with children who were old enough to hear and accept the gospel message. If a man failed to lead his own children to Christ, how could he be expected to lead a local congregation? And if his God-appointed role as the head of his own home had not produced Spirit-filled and obedient children, there was little likelihood that he would lead the people of God any better.

An arrogant man is a leader who lets his role go to his head. A quick-tempered man reveals a leader who gets angry when others don’t do things his way. A leader who is prone to drink heavily reveals a lack of self-control and an inability to manage his own passions. A violent man is not the kind of shepherd who tenderly cares for the sheep under his care. And a man who is dishonest with his money will end up being a leader who can’t be trusted to steward the body of Christ.

As far as Paul was concerned, the key to the success of any elder was their knowledge of and adherence to “the trustworthy message he was taught” (Titus 1:0 NLT) – the gospel message. If the saving, sanctifying message of the Good News did not saturate and motivate his life, he would prove to be a lousy leader of sheep. But a man whose life is steeped in and controlled by the gospel will be able to not only encourage others but, when necessary, correct them.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.s

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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