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Gospel-Centered Leadership | Titus 1:5-16

Introduction

With all of that, I wanted to do something today a bit different. I wanted to look at Titus chapter 1 to see the biblical model for church leadership. We haven’t talked about this for a while, and I think it’s crucial to cover this, so that you are aware that Raintree Community Church will not suddenly suspend all direction and leadership and go into a status of “transition” just because you will be without a Lead Pastor for a short time. That is not what happens in a church like Raintree, as we’ll see shortly.

We’re going to look at verses 5-16 of Titus chapter 1, if you want to go ahead and start turning there.

Titus chapter 1 is a chapter on church leadership: the elders, or pastors, or overseers. By the way, we understand pastor and elder and even overseer to be used interchangeably in the New Testament. Those are not three different offices. Even pastor and elder are not two different offices. They’re one and the same. That’s just something to know as we move forward. Don’t get caught up in the vocabulary, elder vs. pastor, because, biblically, they have one and the same responsibility.

So, I hope your thinking, this morning as we tackle these verses on church leadership, I hope you’re not thinking like this: “Ugh, a message on church leadership, that’s not me.” I hope instead that you have a desire to know exactly how to pray for your leaders. And also I hope that this will serve as a good reminder that I am not your only leader or shepherd. Just a shift in mindset, perhaps, as we begin this morning. Let’s read together Titus chapter 1, starting with verse 5 and going through verse 16. This is what Paul wrote to Titus:

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.

10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.

This is a great chapter, also a very important one. From it, I want us to answer 3 Questions about Church Leadership.

1. Who leads the Church?

Look with me again at verse 5: “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.” So, who leads the church? The clear New Testament model is this: God leads the church through a plurality of Godly men. That’s the answer for your notes. God leads the church through a plurality of Godly men, who we call elders, or pastors (again, same role, titles used interchangeably in the New Testament).

The church is not led by one man, when at all possible. A brand new church with 10 people might have one elder, but the norm is that the church is not led by one man all by himself, setting the course for the church. The Church didn’t just follow one guy, and assume that what he thought and desired for the church was God’s will for the church, no matter what anyone else thought. Something very interesting: every single reference to elders in the New Testament, except for John and Peter using it to speak of themselves, every single reference to elders, the word used specifically for elders, is plural.  

The church in the New Testament was led by multiple Godly men. At Raintree Community Church, that means that Vergil Nelson, Joe Cerra, Jim Holmberg, Jeff Fitzgerald, and eventually—two of our new elder candidates—we all are responsible for leading and shepherding this church. My title is technically “pastor,” but in Scripture they are one office. My responsibilities are a little different because of my vocation, as in I’m the primary teacher and administrator for the church, but we each have the same biblical roles and responsibilities.

This is really important for you to know, especially as Lauryn and I are moving our family. Especially for those of you who are new, I want you to know our elders, because they’re the main reason we came here in the first place. When we got to know these four men, who are the same elders that hired me, by the way, when we got to know them and their wives, we felt compelled by God to come here. They have their flaws, but God has gifted this church with wonderful men who love the Lord and love the church.

So, who leads the church? Not one man making all or even most of the decisions. Not a hierarchy like Priests, then bishops over them, then archbishops, etc., etc. Not deacons, who were servants of the church. We also don’t see a norm in the New Testament of the church being led by popular vote or majority opinion, whatever the masses wanted. Whoever had the most influence. The Church was and is led by a plurality of Godly men, called pastors or elders, who are appointed and confirmed by the local church, which is you.

The Practical Side

Before we go on to question #2, I want to mention the practical reasons why more than one pastor or elder, when possible, is so good and helpful.

First of all, here’s something practical: I am 30 years old. That might be enough said right there, right? You all probably immediately understand what I mean by that. I’m 30. If I was the only pastor or elder of this church, I don’t think this church would be nearly as healthy as it is today. There’s no way. I dare you to ask me sometime over the next few weeks the mistakes I would have made in shepherding this church if I was the only elder. I dare you…

Here’s another practical part. One of the more disturbing things I’ve seen, and I didn’t really see it until someone pointed it out to me, was how many times, a church, over a period of time, begins to reflect the character and personality of its lead pastor, especially if there’s one pastor or elder leading the church. If that’s true, I have to say, God help us! We’re never to reflect the character of a mere human being; we’re to reflect the character of Jesus Christ. No mere man is our King, Jesus is our King. In 1 Corinthians 3:4-5 it says, “One says ‘I follow Paul,’ and another says ‘I follow Apollos.’ But are we not mere human beings? Who is Apollos? Who is Paul? Only servants of Christ.”

More than one man leading and shepherding the church will help avoid the church coming to reflect one man. Your pastor’s weaknesses will likely be another pastor or elders’ strengths. So, I hope you’re incredibly grateful for the men we have shepherding this church. If you don’t feel particularly grateful, ask my bride Lauryn what she thinks it would be like if I was the only one leading this church. You might get some interesting answers from her also. In fact, I’m kind-of afraid of the answers she might give. The point here, is that hopefully, with a plurality of pastors, all of our strengths combined will do two things: 1) it will give you a better picture of Jesus, and not a picture of any one particular pastor, and also, 2) it will help us lead the church well. So, the answer to the first question: God leads the church through a group of Godly men. The 2nd question about Church Leadership is…

2. What are they to be like?

This is a very natural 2nd question. If you’ve been part of a church in the past that just consistently had real issues with the leadership, maybe it was due to a pastor or a few pastors not meeting Godly standards for church leadership.  

I love how seriously Raintree takes this, and you’ll hear tonight a bit about two new elder candidates we have. And I’m convinced God has really given us two more Godly men to lead and to shepherd. Truly, it makes me, yet again, that much more sad to leave. And yet, really happy, for Raintree, to have these two coming on board as elder candidates, and being part of shepherding this church in the coming months.

So, back to our question. What are they to be like, these men? Here’s the summary: They are to be Godly men qualified according to Scripture. What are some of those qualifications? Look at verse 6:

  • “If anyone is above reproach.” Another word used in some of your translations is “blameless.” That doesn’t mean he has to be perfect. Otherwise, no one would be able to be an elder or pastor. But it does mean that a pastor is not living a life that would bring reproach to himself or, more importantly, to the reputation of Jesus Christ. Also in verse 6, he’s to be:
  • “The husband of one wife.” Now there’s a lot of discussion about exactly what this means, and I think the best translation or understanding of this is the literal translation, which is “one-woman man.” He’s a one-woman man. This requirement does not disqualify those who have been divorced, although a divorce is a concern and would definitely need to be talked about openly before becoming an elder. This also doesn’t negate the possibility of a single person from becoming an elder. If it did that, Jesus would not be able to be an elder at Raintree. I don’t know about you, but I kind-of see a problem there, right? I think Jesus should be able to be an elder here. So the best understanding of this is that a married elder should be faithful to his wife, plain and simple. Next, also in verse 6:
  • “His children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.”  Now, for clarity, the word there for “believers” can also be translated “faithful,” and when you compare this passage with the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3, it seems that Paul’s point is that elders’ children must be somewhat behaved or submissive. Why does this matter? 1 Timothy chapter 3:5, kind-of explains. It says, “For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” Kind-of makes sense. It’s not saying you have to have perfect children (we’d all be disqualified), but it is saying that if you can’t lead your family well, you may have trouble leading and shepherding God’s family as an elder. And, just practically, a father may not need to spend the time and effort it takes to be an elder if this is an issue, because he probably needs to instead focus on his family. Again, just kind-of makes sense, right? Paul goes on in vs. 7:
  • 7 “For an overseer (interchangeable), 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.” Now those are pretty self-explanatory. Once again, this doesn’t mean elders don’t make mistakes, but it does mean that they should not be living lives that would bring reproach upon themselves or more importantly on the reputation of Jesus. Vs. 8 then goes into a few things elders or pastors should be known for:
  • 8 “But they’re to be hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.” Again, those are pretty self-explanatory, at least for our purposes today.   

Now, sometimes it’s easy to look at this list and think none of us would ever qualify to be an elder or pastor. But again, this list doesn’t mean elders shouldn’t struggle and even make mistakes, but it does mean they’ve grown to a point in their walks with Christ that Christ rules in their hearts, and there is little evidence to the contrary. It’s obvious that Jesus, who their Substitute and Savior, is also their King.

And I can’t help, before we go on, using one of our elders and his bride as an example. All of our elders and their wives are wonderful examples of Godly men qualified by Scripture. But just an example within the last year, of Jesus being King in the lives of our elders. Almost exactly a year ago, Reba, Joe’s wife, was diagnosed with stage 4 lung and brain cancer. Can you believe that’s been a year? First of all, some of the doctors gave Reba a month to live without treatment, so can we just pause and thank God for a moment? Probably the most life-changing moment for me in these four years, or almost four years, was that very night in the hospital.

Obviously, Joe and Reba were in shock, they were grieving this news. But if you heard them talking only hours after finding out—finding out, out of nowhere, that she had 10 brain tumors that they knew of—only hours later, what were they talking about? What were they finding solace in? The goodness of God. Of course, they were praying for immediate intervention from God, right? Of course, but they were also basking in the goodness of God in the midst of it. Listen, Joe and Reba are not perfect people. I know Joe well enough to know he is not a perfect man. Amen?! And yet, I don’t think I’ve ever known two people who trust in the sovereign plan of God more than Joe and Reba. That’s just one of your elders.

I know it’s sad that we’re moving to Texas. We’re happy to be going near family, but we’re very sad also. I know that that is sad. But I don’t know that all of you are aware of what we have right here in our church leadership. I wish I could steal all of you away, but I especially wish I could steal these leaders. Honestly, maybe even their wives more than them. The third and last question:

3. What are they to do?

What, specifically, are elders called to do in the life of the church? Great question.

To sum it up, they’re to devote themselves to teaching and defending the Word of God. Let’s read verse 9 again: 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.”

That’s the primary job of the elder. They are to help people understand the Word of God better, and they correct those who teach what is contrary to the Word. That’s why there must be a devotion to knowing God’s Word, and frankly a pretty good foundation of knowledge already. That’s part of why an elder cannot be a new Christian, according to 1 Tim. 3:6. Now, this doesn’t mean they’re always teaching like in worship services or Bible studies, but it does mean that they are able to explain and defend the Bible.

This is a zealous commitment they have. To live out and teach and defend the Word of God as clearly laid out in Scripture. Now obviously Paul means this to refer to any situation, but he also is speaking to a specific situation in the church on the island of Crete, and that’s where verses 10-16 come into play. These “opponents” of the Gospel that he brings up are out of line both in their actions and their attitudes, and specifically, with their false teaching.

He brings up the Circumcision Party as having infiltrated the Cretan church with false teaching, with the idea that Jesus Christ was not enough for salvation—you must also follow certain Jewish customs, like circumcision. He speaks so strongly against these false teachers that he even agrees in verse 13 with one of the Cretan’s own people, who had apparently said that Cretans are “liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” Paul’s saying, he’s right! Apparently they are!

Now in verse 15, he goes into purity probably because that’s the issue that these particular false teachers have raised, saying you can’t be pure without circumcision, this Old Covenant requirement. His basic point here, saying “to the pure, all things are pure”, what he means is that in Christ, those who are pure are 100% pure and holy in God’s eyes. They need nothing else to become more pure or become more holy. Also, for those without Christ, nothing is pure! They are enemies of God because of their sin. There are no levels of holiness in the Gospel, in the sense that we must do certain things to gain more and more of our salvation. All of our salvation was BOUGHT by Jesus Christ, who died on our behalf. That’s what Paul is saying in verses 10-16. And, this is what pastors and elders are called to defend.

So why, then, is defending the truth of the Bible so important? I mean, at times, it seems that is even harsh in defending Biblical truth. He says, false teachers must be “silenced.” Now this isn’t cryptic, like in movies when we hear, “silence him”, and it really means “take him out!” This doesn’t mean kill anyone, don’t worry. But it does mean it is incredibly important that sound, Biblical teaching is the only thing going around in the church.

This church is a very open place to work out questions and doubts and even disagreements. But there are certain things, that if someone goes around trying to teach differently, that will not be tolerated. There are things that we can disagree on, that aren’t as black-and-white in the Bible. But there are many things that are clear, and when compromise comes and is not dealt with, there is almost always a continuous and increasing momentum with these compromises. Movements, denominations, groups of churches who begin compromising even the seemingly smallest, but clear teachings of Scripture—they inevitably go on toward more compromise. These same movements are among those that now deny the clear teaching of Scripture on homosexuality, the family, miracles, Jesus’ divinity, the virgin birth, whether or not the Bible is God’s Word. There’s even one particular denomination that allows people to be pastors who don’t believe in God! It’s quite remarkable how quickly compromise leads to more compromise, particularly when it comes to the Bible.

This is why a major way, THE major way that the elders shepherd and lead this church is by being devoted to and defending the Word of God. So that’s the answer to the third question of Church Leadership.  

Conclusion

I want you to know, that the elders of this church take this office very seriously. We’ve talked about this before, and we think the most sobering or weighty verse in all of Scripture for pastors and elders is Hebrews 13:17, which says this: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” Yes, the church’s job when it comes to leadership is to submit to its leaders, yes. And that’s difficult at times, no doubt. No one naturally likes authority. So at times that may be difficult, but did you hear what it said about elders? “Submit to your leaders, as those who will have to give an account.”

These men will give an account to God for their actions, their hearts, and their shepherding of the people of God. The authority they have is 100% subservient to the authority we all are under, which in Christ. We don’t somehow act as your go-between between you and God, like a Priest. Instead, we all have direct access to God through Christ. But, God has established for the sake of the church that there would be a few men called pastors or elders who would shepherd and lead the local church. The Body submits to their leadership (assuming of course they never ask you to do something unbiblical and they don’t do anything to disqualify them from being pastors or elders). But the pastors seek God’s will in leading the church, AND they will be held accountable before God Almighty for their actions and their service.

Hebrews 13 continues, “Submit to your leaders, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Verse 18: “Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things.” I want to point out, especially, “Pray for us.”