Excellence in Church Leadership, Titus 1:6—9

In these 4 verses, we have Paul’s “ecclesiastical theology,” and the basis of “the ideal church.”  Titus 1:6—9 outlines the apostle’s qualifications for those who would serve as elders in the local church.  By way of a very brief introduction, Paul writes this to Titus—

The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.  (Titus 1:5)

If there is a single verse that shows the importance of elders, this must surely be it.  Paul writes that he “left” Titus behind on Crete to carry out a very specific job.  The word translated “left” is a Greek word, apelipon, which suggests a deliberate action; as a young pastor, this was one of the very first tasks Titus had to perform to, as Paul put it, “straighten out what was left unfinished.”  The verb “straighten out,” epidiorthose, means “putting things in order” and is in the middle voice, suggesting that Titus must be personally involved in choosing and appointing elders.  Finally, these fledgling congregations on Crete had some serious problems that both Titus and elders needed to address:

  • Lack of organization (1:5)
  • Unchecked false teachers (1:10, 11; 3:10, 11)
  • A need for the teaching of sound doctrine and proper conduct (2:1—10; 3:1, 2)

Obviously, Paul had begun to correct these defects, and Titus was his partner, but now it was up to Titus to complete the task by himself, with the help of elders he would appoint in every town there was a church.  Since there was no way Titus could personally know all the candidates for the positions of elder, it is likely that each group of believers chose the men who would become elders with the encouragement of Titus, who had the duty of formally appointing to the office.

So from this one verse, we may conclude that the biggest problem confronting the various groups of believers on Crete was a lack of elders who could provide the necessary godly leadership to transform these disparate groups of Christians into strong, organized churches.

1.  Qualifications, verses 6—9

An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gainRather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

Paul’s list of qualifications can be divided into three groups:

  1. A candidate for the position of elder must be a man who has a good reputation and if married must be a responsible, faithful family man (verse 6).
  2. The candidate must not be the kind of person who always tries to please himself at the expense of caring for others and he must have an even temper (verse 7).
  3. All his actions must give evidence of the fact that both in deed and in doctrine he wishes to be a blessing to others (see verses 8, 9).

This section of Titus follows closely what Paul told Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:1—7.

(1)  Verse 6

At the outset, I would make the following observations.  First, it is clear that an elder should be a man.  Second, he should be a mature man, both in chronological age and in his overall demeanor.

The first qualification is what we might call the “foundational character trait,” because all the other qualifications flow from the candidate being “blameless.”  The word “blameless” means having “unimpeachable character.”  An elder must not only avoid evil but must avoid the appearance of evil; in every aspect of an elder’s life, he must live in such a way as to stifle any criticism of his character.

So sterling must his character be, that his family’s character should mirror it.  He should have only one wife, as opposed to many.  While this may cause us to smile, we must remember that the Cretans were considered morally reprobate, and new converts, young in the faith, needed to be taught solid Christian values not only by word in a sermon but also in fact; being led by men with the kind of lifestyle these new believers should seek to emulate.  This is in keeping with Paul’s strategy—

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.  (1 Corinthians 11:1)

Here Paul is referring to multiple wives, not necessarily second marriages as the result of divorce.

That these men should be mature is suggested by the fact the IF they are married, and IF they have children, then their children should share their father’s faith.   The original Greek, tekna pista, may mean “faithful children,” but the NIV’s translation is probably suitable.  The idea Paul seems to be putting forth is that IF a prospective elder has a family, it must be a Christian family.  If his children are old enough to make a decision, they should have decided to be Christians.  If these older children remain pagans, it would throw into question the father’s ability to lead others to the faith.  Naturally, no parent can control or determine the spiritual decisions and conditions of older children.  Like all human beings, older children have a free will and sometimes in their freedom will break their parent’s hearts and live in a way contrary to the parent’s best wishes.  But, as Glenn Gould so eloquently wrote, “Nothing does more to commend the sincerity and devotion of a godly minister than the fact that his children are following him as he follows Christ.”

Finally, not only must his children be believers, they must be well-behaved believers.  Edmund Heibert observes:

An elder’s inability to train and govern his children would place in question his ability to train and govern the church.

(2)  Verses 7, 8

With verse 7, Paul introduces a different word:  “overseer.”  Presbyteros, “elder,” suggests maturity and dignity of the man, while episkopos, “bishop” or “overseer,” indicates his work as shepherd of the flock under his care.   For these men, Paul lists five vices an elder must avoid.  He must not be:

  • Overbearing.  This means an elder should not be arrogant or self-willed, opinionated or stubborn.
  • Quick-tempered.  A man like this is hot-tempered, vindictive and lacking patience.
  • Addicted to wine.  Obviously, a church does not want an alcoholic in a leadership position!  Paul does not say an elder should be a teetotaler, only that he should not be “addicted” to wine.
  • A man of violence.  An elder should not be a bully or operate in a high-handed manner.
  • A man who pursues dishonest gain.  In other words, an elder must be honest in all his business dealings.

After these negative character traits, Paul lists six virtues to be cultivated by church leaders.  The word “rather” introduces the list of things an elder must be:

  • Hospitable.  Paul mentioned this in 1 Timothy 3:2, and he repeats it here.  Paul knew how important hospitality was because he was the frequent recipient of it during his travels.
  • One who loves what is good.  What constitutes things that are good?  For a good list, see Philippians 4:8.  To practice this instruction is to be a lover of goodness.
  • Self-controlled.  Another good way to translate this characteristic is “prudent.”  An elder should always be in control of his faculties and his emotions.
  • Upright.  An elder conducts himself as one with high morals; he is polite and never crude in speech or action.
  • Holy.  Some versions of Scripture use the word “devout,” but “holy” may be a better word.  It suggests the highest form of goodness that is only reached by one who has a loving, personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
  • Disciplined.  This suggests an inner strength that enables him to keep his desires and passions in check, and is one ingredient of the Fruit of the Spirit as listed by Paul in Galatians 5:23.

(3)  Verse 9

With this verse we may have an inkling of another problem with the congregations on Crete.  With no leadership, or with leadership below the standards set by God, false teachers and false teachings may have started to take root.  One of the most important tasks that face an elder is the protection of his flock from false teaching; he functions as a “gatekeeper,” ever vigilant against the deceptions that accompany those who push false and destructive teachings onto an unsuspecting congregation.

An elder must be fit, doctrinally speaking.  Though most often applied to pastors, the “head elder in charge,” verse 9 also applies to those who make up the “elder board.”  For the pastor, it is his business to “offer men Christ” (Charles Wesley), but this must be done in a truthful manner; the preacher must know the Word of God and must be able to declare the truth about Him.  This was a major concern of Paul’s;  all elders, not just the pastor, are responsible to not only know the truth, but know how to apply the truth, and be able to proclaim the truth when necessary.

The elder must also be able to confront false teaching when he sees it.  He must be able to “refute” it clearly and decisively.  Of course, this means that an elder must be well-versed in Biblical doctrine.

2.  Contemporary applications

(1)  Multiple local leadership

As we study the Titus (and this is borne out in all the Pastorals) it becomes clear that the ideal local church is not a “lone ranger” operation.  In Pauline theology, the ideal church is lead by a number of godly men, not the “senior pastor” or “head elder.”  It is equally clear that according to 1 Timothy 5:17—18 some local church leaders in Paul’s day were what we call “full time ministers,” fully supported by their congregation.  To say that the New Testament church did not have full time, paid professional ministers is not correct; some did, and having one is certainly an asset to a congregation.

The ideal church is not structured like a pyramid, with the senior pastor at the top.  In fact, what Paul describes in the Pastorals is not a pyramid but a team, with the Pastor and elders working together.  The pastor is the paid professional, but he works with the elders, leading them and encouraging them and teaching them.  In a sense, when a pastor is called to pastor a church, his first job is to pastor the board of elders, remembering that they are the leaders of the church.  Sometimes, that is an easy task, sometimes not.  But when a pastor leaves his church to move on to his next one, he should leave behind a fully functional board of elders that is able to carry on all the ministries of that church as they prayerfully search for a new “head elder in charge.”

Multiple leadership in the local church is imperative for several reasons, according to Larry O. Richards.

  • No pastor can have all the spiritual gifts needed to adequately oversee an entire congregation.  A wise pastor looks at his elders, recognizes their individual gifts, and allows them and encourages them to exercise those gifts.
  • No pastor can know his congregation as well as elders from that congregation.  The main duty of a pastor is the preaching and teaching of the Word of God; he needs elders to keep him informed of what is going on the lives of his congregation and to “pick up the slack” from time to time.
  • All human beings, even the pastor, are fallible human beings.  Team leadership allows for discipline, correction and instruction of leaders by leaders.
  • Leaders give leadership by example.  An outstanding pastor gives a great example of individual qualities, but no individual can model a functioning body.  A leadership team can be an example of the loving, caring community that the whole church is called to become.

(2)  Why men and not women?

It is clear that in the ideal church, elders are to be men, not women.  Matt Slick, founder and president and founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, offers some succinct comments:

[W]omen are under-appreciated and under-utilized in the church. There are many gifted women who might very well do a better job at preaching and teaching than many men. However, it isn’t gifting that is the issue, but God’s order and calling. What does the Bible say? We cannot come to God’s Word with a social agenda and make it fit our wants. Instead, we must change and adapt to what it says.

The church is to glorify God; it is meant to praise and to glorify Jesus Christ as its eternal Head.  It is also meant to build up and to encourage its members, and this is best done by respecting God’s order.  In the context of the church, there is a divinely established order:  women are to be under the authority of men, just as Jesus Christ is under the authority of God the Father. Does this make Jesus Christ a “second class god?”  Does Jesus being in submission to God the Father mean that Jesus is somehow less divine than the Father?  Of course not!; each member of the Trinity is equal in nature, yet  within the Trinity there is a clear delineation of order:  Father, Son, Holy Spirit.  So it is within the church.  It must be noted, though, that this divine order does not apply to the world.   For example, we see in the Old Testament that one of the Judges of Israel was a woman named Deborah.  So, Paul’s teaching concerning women and the authority of men is restricted to the church, it does not extend to the world of politics and business, for example.

First, we should establish that far from restricting women in ministry, Paul actually set them free to minister; in Paul’s culture, women were considered true second class citizens, worth less than nothing. However, in the church, though barred from being elders, consider the following points:

  • Some of the earliest followers of Christ were women, and they worked together, alongside, with the men in ministry (see Acts 1:14);
  • Many of Paul’s converts were women, and many of those were noted as being wealthy, influential, women of means.  Obviously Paul had no problem associating with and working with strong women.  At least one was a professional business woman, Lydia by name.
  • Paul ended his letter to the Romans with a list of notes to special friends in the church there; fully one third was women!
  • There are women Paul referred to as “fellow workers” who “contended” at his side for the sake of the Gospel (see Phil. 4:3).  “Fellow worker” is no light term; it was used to describe men like:  Timothy, Demas, and Luke, and it is used of Priscilla, Euodia, and Syntyche (see Rom. 16:3; Phil. 4:3).
  • Phoebe was a deaconess (Rom. 16:2).
  • In this age of the Holy Spirit, even the gift of prophecy is for daughters as well as sons (Acts 2:18; 1 Corinthians 11:5).  Many consider “prophecy” to include the preaching of the Word.

What does all this mean?  In the church of Jesus Christ, all members have spiritual gifts and all members are considered to be “priests,” and using their spiritual gifts for the betterment of the Body of Christ is their sacred obligation, whether they are male or female.  It is not Biblical to enforce artificial distinctions between the sexes where none exist.  Both men and women, young and old alike, as members of the Body of Christ and as part of a local church, are free to find fulfillment as a “minister” for Jesus Christ.  Paul made it very clear that God does not differentiate between the sexes in regard to salvation (Galatians 2:28).

Second, while all people within the church are free to use all their gifts, they are to be used while respecting God’s ordained order, which places a man or men in authority.   So, while women may indeed prophesy (if they have that gift, for example), they must do so under the authority of a man, meaning they may not be an elder nor may they be the pastor, but they may be speak or teach or minister.

We may be tempted to disregard the Bible’s teaching in this matter in deference to our culture today.  However, the divine order is not a matter of culture; it is divine directive that must be respected, regardless of our culture or personal feelings.  Only when we honor God’s directive regarding men and women, will we become His ideal church.

You may find the chart below helpful in understanding what God expects from each sex.  Many thanks to Larry O. Richards for his outstanding contributions to this discussion.  There are invaluable.

Roles of Men and Women


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