AS Paul the aged looked back over thirty years of ecclesial development, and looked forward to expanding fields of evangelism after he had passed on the baton to younger brothers like Timothy and Titus, he wrote what might be called the ‘pastoral’ epistles. These are letters that he wrote to give them the principles of ‘eldership’ within the ecclesias. They instruct on how to lead. They list things that should be avoided. They describe exactly how an ecclesia, and the brotherhood as a whole, should be run in the bodily absence of its head, the Lord Jesus. Our ecclesial leaders today could not have a more practical, potent and spiritual handbook for their guidance than these letters. Let us concentrate on the letter to Titus.
HOW was Titus to demonstrate his leadership qualities to the various parties within the ecclesia? Simple: he was to lead the ecclesia by example. “Speak thou the things which become sound doctrine.”1 Only by doing and saying the things that exemplify the principles of the truth could Titus lead with any true authority. If he was seen to be doing things which he had told others not to do, then they would have cause to despise him.2
WAS Titus told to shout louder and louder or to rant and rave until they started doing as he said? No. Was he told to come down hard on them for disobedience? No. He was told to “put them in mind,”3 and gently lead them.
AN elder to Paul was not necessarily an old man but any brother with maturity in the things of the truth. Titus and Timothy were not old men, but they had the apostle’s confidence as mature ‘elders.’ To both men Paul gives a list of qualifications that are required by ‘elders.’ You will see that just holding ecclesial authority for a very long time, and refusing to let it go, or taking offence if it is challenged, is not one of them.
ONE qualification is ‘blamelessness.’4 As we see from Job, this does not mean perfect or sinless. It simply means having in general a good reputation. We must never appoint an elder who is widely known for some blameworthy feature of character. Another is ‘husband of one wife.’4 This was to set a good example in an island that historians tell us was “degenerate, avaricious and self-interested.” Accordingly, when compared to those around them, the ecclesial elders would really stand out. Yet another qualification was “having faithful children.”4 At the present day, this principle surely must be maintained. It is not at all fitting that an ecclesial elder should be seen by the public or the rest of the ecclesia to have rebellious children who have rejected the truth.
A bishop simply means an overseer in the sense of one who cares for people, as a shepherd does his flock. It certainly did not have its present meaning of giving orders from a palace. God deliberately trained his greatest leaders as shepherds so they could apply to the care of His people the hard and humbling lessons they had learned with their flocks in the harsh semi-arid pastures of the Middle East. The Good Shepherd told Peter to feed and care for his sheep and especially the lambs.5
WHAT about the things to be avoided?6“Not self willed” means what it says, “not acting in one’s own interest,” not using the eldership position to acquire status or personal gain. “Not soon angry” should surely be self-explanatory, but I think you will agree that quick and persistent anger is an all too common failing among our elders today. “No striker” is a bit old fashioned. But as well as being lazy, the Cretans were reputed to be quarrelsome and argumentative, which is the idea behind ‘striker.’ The apostle insists that elders must not chase worldly gain. Even in the first century, materialism led far more saints astray than false doctrine or carnality.7 The instruction to “speak evil of no man” does not go down well with us in today’s world of free speech. You will probably tell me that it is the worst fault of our ecclesial leaders today. Let us take serious heed to the apostolic word.
THESE are the qualifications that we need in any and every elder: to be a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, holding fast the faithful word. I know ecclesial elders who have never had another brother or sister, far less a stranger, cross their threshold. They are unworthy of their position. An elder should “be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort, and to convince the gainsayers [adversaries of the truth].”8
FOLLOW Paul, not the Cretans. Titus’ Cretans and Timothy’s Ephesians are not much different from our societies today. But surely the qualifications for leadership do not change.
Andrew Payne, Bournville, UK
1. For Titus 2:1.
2. Titus 2:15.
3. Titus 3:1.
4. Titus 1:6, I Timothy 3:2.
5. John 21:15-17.
6. Titus 1:7.
7. I Timothy 6:10.
8. Titus 1:9.