Studies in Titus: Exclusive Eldership (1:5-6)

titus-seriesThere are many “pastors” who really should not be in pastoral ministry. For several years I had the pleasure of serving as a church consultant with the National Society for Church Consulting. It was a joy and a challenge. Often I found myself helping churches in the aftermath of a split, or a pastoral failure of some kind. My goal was to them rebuild, reorient, and refine their church. Often that meant reiterating the truths of Titus 1 and the qualifications of a pastor. Paul draws a stark contrast in Titus 1 between a Biblically qualified leader and an unqualified pretender.

The modern church has tended towards two extremes in our philosophy of ecclesial leadership. On the one hand we tend to think if a man is a good preacher he will inevitably be a good leader. So, churches hire pastors with excellent oratory skills, but who have no concept of how to actually lead a staff, cast a vision, promote a healthy culture, or complete administrative tasks. On the other hand are churches who hire CEOs who, while possessing certain desirable leadership skills are, nonetheless, not Biblically qualified men of God. Paul outlines in Titus 1:5-16 what we should be looking for in a qualified pastor.

Establishing leaders is the precise reason he left Titus in Crete (v. 5). There are numerous reasons why it is necessary for the church to have good leaders. One of Paul’s chief reasons for this is to put to rest unsettling controversies that are stirring up trouble for the believers in the Cretan congregations (v. 9-11). The pastor serves as a shepherd and protector of the sheep, and he needs to be able to teach and lead well. But his leadership is also related to his character and so Paul warns that not just anyone can do this job. He lists the qualifications that should concern Titus:

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. (v. 6-9)

The qualifications are necessarily exclusory. Paul’s beginning phrase “If anyone is…” sets a standard. The only acceptable candidates for pastoral ministry are those who meet these criteria. The goal is not perfection. Paul is not naïve about the human sinfulness of even elders, bishops, or overseers. He knows that they are not without sin, and yet it is important that these categories can be fairly applied to an individual in pastoral ministry. If not then they are not acceptable candidates.

There are two important points to make here about Paul’s list of qualifications. On the one hand we must recognize that pastors are just people. They are no more special nor holy than anyone else. The temptation in some church cultures is to elevate the pastor above the congregation and to call him the “man of God,” or “the minister,” or “reverend” (i.e. revered one). But the Bible places all of us on equal footing before God. We are all sinners (Rom. 3:23), all called to ministry (Eph. 4:11-16), and all are saints (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2; Eph. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:2; Col. 1:26). At the same time, however, James warns us that pastors will be judged more harshly because of their role in pastoral leadership. James says:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (3:1)

Pastors will be held accountable for how the live and how they lead. There should be great discernment, then, in calling elders both for the church’s sake and for the man’s sake. The pastorate should not be opened to just anyone.

In the same vein, however, we should recognize that there is nothing in the list of qualifications that a man cannot grow into. The list represents the kinds of qualities that a church should want for all its members. To be faithful to your family, above reproach in character, and able to handle the Scriptures well are commendable characteristics for all believers. A man not qualified now can grow in his spiritual life to become qualified. The exclusivity of the eldership does not limit the office to only certain men from certain socio-economic, racial, or educational backgrounds. The qualifications can be grown into. I am thrilled that CBC is seeking to redevelop our eldership training program and to encourage more men to seek the qualification necessary for eldership. There are many godly men in our church who can serve in this capacity and that’s the way it ought to be in all congregations.

The office of an elder is necessarily exclusive. The biblical qualifications matter and they  make some born “leaders” nonetheless unqualified to serve as pastors. Yet by God’s grace and the Spirit’s empowerment many men can be equipped to grow into this office and where they desire to do so can serve. Like most things that God sets up there are boundaries and barriers, and yet His grace allows us to traverse the boundaries as He transforms us. The office of the pastor is by design limited, and yet by the means of transforming grace open.

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