Does everything rise and fall on leadership? The Apostle Paul seemed to think so. He was on one of his missionary journeys and stopped at a little island in the Mediterranean called Crete. Paul did what Paul did, and he roamed the island sharing the gospel. Those people, largely considered lazy bums by the rest of the world, and even by some of their own commentators, were seemingly ready for some good news, and pockets of folk all over the island became Jesus followers. Paul poured into them as quickly as he could to get the churches established, but as he readied to move on, he knew the job wasn’t finished. Instead, he left behind the namesake of this short little book in the New Testament—Titus—to make sure what was left undone got done.
Titus was a smart choice. We don’t know a lot about him, but we do know that Titus wasn’t Jewish. As a Gentile, he would have had a lot in common with the Cretans. We also know that Titus, while fairly young, was a mature Christian, and trusted by Paul. So, Paul gives Titus instructions and, just in case he forgot anything, follows them up with this letter we now have as part of the New Testament. And in these three short chapters, we have a treasure trove of insight on how churches are to be led, how the body is to work together, and what dangers to guard against.
Paul makes clear from the first few verses in chapter 1 that his overarching goal is to ensure these new Jesus followers know the truth about what God says and believe it. Paul gets it that people who believe what God says will end up living godly lives. So, good teaching and preaching is needed, but that alone is not sufficient. The preaching and teaching has to be accomplished by people who are living God’s truth out in such a way that they exude God’s characteristics and behaviors.
Paul tells Titus to go through the whole island and identify Christians who can be elders in each of the little churches. It’s important to note that there are to be elders—plural—in each location. No cult of personality here. At The Surge, we have four elders right now, and we’d like more. I’m the lead pastor, and I’m on the elder team, but I don’t lead that team. I do not run the show. Those of us on the pastoral team are under the umbrella of the elder team.
Second, elders are not elected; they are selected. No popularity contest here. Democracy is a pretty good system, especially given the options. As a poly sci major, I always thought a benevolent dictator would be a good deal, and, of course, I’d be happy to volunteer to be that guy. But the problem is that benevolent dictators die from time to time, and there’s no guarantee the next person will be so benevolent. So, democracy—pretty good, but it’s not perfect. We’ve all experienced candidates winning an election we didn’t think were deserving.
Paul then lays out for Titus the qualifications to look for in elders. They have to be above reproach, or, as some translations render it, be blameless. People in the church, people in society, have to view this elder candidate as a person of great character. He shouldn’t be the guy you went to a party with who ended up in a dumpster dressed as Zorro and didn’t know how he got there, ok?
An elder should be the husband of one wife. We talked about all the different interpretations of this, concluding this means that an elder candidate should be a “one woman man.” If he’s married, he should be totally devoted to his wife. If he’s single, he’s totally devoted to waiting for that one woman. He’s saving himself for her, which means he’s following Jesus’ directions on sex being reserved for a husband and wife.
An elder is supposed to have kids at home who are believers, but that’s not talking about them having to be perfect. They can be strong willed; they can be a handful. Ultimately, the issue is really whether the kids are in need of extra attention that would be denied them if the candidate takes on a leadership role. We need to give those kids every opportunity to succeed.
Paul then lists things an elder cannot be: arrogant, quick-tempered, drunk, violent, or greedy for gain. Who wants to serve under someone like that, eh? Instead, he should be hospitable—someone who makes people feel welcome, isn’t part of a clique no one can break into. And he should want the best for other people, be self-controlled, and serious about his relationship with God.
Now, up to this point, Paul has not given Titus anything other than character traits to look for. But that changes in Titus 1:9 - He must hold 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.
This really is the job description for elders. They have to know God’s word, be able to teach it to others, and correct those who are improperly interpreting it. You can see why it’s so important for an elder to have great character. If he’s a jerk or is involved in questionable activities, he’s not going to have credibility with other people he’s trying to teach or correct. Now, this does not mean an elder has to be a tremendous public speaker. Teaching could be one-on-one, in small classes, in premarital counseling, etc. He just has to be able to get someone from point A to point B using the word of God.
And the word of God has to be authoritative for an elder. This trustworthy word as taught is used to interpret everything else, including such things as the Koran, the book of Mormon, and popular culture. Why is that? Well, because God’s word is trustworthy. If we don’t use the trustworthy word as taught, an elder is going to end up landing in a place God doesn’t agree with—not a good spot to be in.
Here at The Surge, our process is that the elders will identify and vet a potential candidate. A lot of screening takes place. But once we think we’ve got a candidate worthy of the office, we will announce that person to the entire Surge congregation. And what we want to know is whether there is anything that would disqualify that person from consideration that we did not uncover earlier. So, before someone becomes an elder, everyone at The Surge is going to be involved. It’s all designed to help ensure the right call is made.
To wrap this up, let’s remember that Jesus called the church his bride—that should tell us something about the love he has for all the little congregations across the globe. And we know that Jesus is coming back to claim that bride. But, until he does, Jesus has provided elders to oversee, to nurture, to protect, to guide, and to serve that bride, his church. I know we Americans balk at, don’t trust, dislike, people in any kind of authority. We want to do what we want when we want. But God instructs Jesus followers to be in a local church, to not give up meeting together, and to be under the protection of a group of elders. We should see elders as a gift to us—they are to serve as the leading edge against false teaching and division that can absolutely cripple a local church. So, find a church with elders of character who hold to the bible as authoritative and who are servants. Love them, pray for them, encourage them, and grow, like Titus, to maturity in your faith under their loving watch over you.