Good morning, Raintree! If you have children ages Preschool through 2nd grade, they can be dismissed out this door to your right. For those of you who are guests, my name is Ryan Gilbert, and I’m the Lead Pastor here at Raintree. I want to invite any of you who might be interested in coming to our Raintree 101 class, we have another one starting next Sunday. It’s Sunday mornings 9:30am, and there are children’s activities at the same time. This a four week class that’s the perfect way to just learn who Raintree is, get to know myself and a few elders as well as an opportunity for us to get to know you, and get any questions you may have answered. If you are interested at all, email me to sign up, the info is inside your bulletin. On other clarification: Our Parent/Child Dedication was going to be two parts, but that was just confusing, so now it will be on Mother’s Day during the service. So, if you’ve had a child born or adopted in the last 2 years or so, email me at Ryan@raintreechurch.com. This is just a neat opportunity for us to really pray for you as a church.
Today we begin a series on the book of Titus in the New Testament. We’re going to look at all of chapter 1 of this book today, so you can go ahead and start turning there. In the blue New Testaments under the seats, we’ll be on page 109. Titus is called a pastoral epistle, which means it is a letter written from Paul to a church leader as opposed to a church. Most New Testament letters were written to churches, but Titus was written to Titus, that kind-of makes sense.
Chapter 1 is a chapter on church government. Now, I realize that may not sound like the most exciting thing in the world, but it’s an incredibly important thing nonetheless. Let me mention why. Some of you in here, I hope, are interested in being part of church leadership one day. That’s a good thing to desire. 1 Timothy 3:1 says, “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” So some of you may desire that. The other reason this chapter is so important and relevant for all of us is because the attributes listed in Titus 1 are not just for elders and leaders. They’re for all Christians! No matter who you are, we are all called to pursue the same standard of Godliness, it’s just that, particularly for church leadership, these things must be seen in pastors or elders. By the way, we believe that pastor, elder, and overseer all refer to the same biblical office. That’s just something to know as we move forward.
So, I hope your thought this morning as we tackle a chapter on church government and structure isn’t, “Ugh, a message on church leadership, that’s not me.” But instead that you have a desire to know exactly how to pray for our leaders, and even how to pray and help others see the importance of Godly leadership. Just a shift in mindset, perhaps, as we begin this morning. Let’s read together Titus chapter 1, starting with verses 1-4, then moving to verses 5-16.
Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, 2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began 3 and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior; 4 To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.
This is a longer introduction from Paul than what we see in the other pastoral epistles, which are 1 and 2 Timothy. It actually provides a neat reflection of the Gospel and what Paul considered the purpose of his life! He’s an apostle of Jesus, a messenger, for the sake of the elect, which are God’s chosen people. He’s an apostle for their sake and for their spiritual growth because God promised eternal life before the ages began, and decided to reveal it through the preaching of the Word. To Titus, my child in a common faith.
Paul is writing this letter to Titus, whom he had left on the island of Crete, which is off the southern coast of Greece, to basically finish what he had started, to put things into order. Now, getting into the heart of chapter 1 and some of the reasons that Paul wrote this letter, let’s start in verse 5 and read to the end of the chapter.
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— 6 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. 7 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, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 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.
3 Questions about Church Leadership
- 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 that God leads the church through a plurality of Godly men called elders.
The church is not led by one man. 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. This isn’t to say there aren’t wonderful churches that are led primarily by one man, it’s just to say, that it clearly is not the New Testament model. In fact, there’s not one example in the New Testament where the church was led by one elder or lead or senior pastor. It’s nowhere in the New Testament. In fact, here’s yet another tid-bit to help us understand why this is so convincing: 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 is plural.
The church in the New Testament was lead by a multiple Godly men who shared unilateral authority. That means they all had the same authority and responsibility of shepherding the church. At Raintree Community Church, that means that Vergil Nelson has equal authority with me. I have equal authority with Joe Cerra. Joe Cerra has equal authority with Jim Holmberg, Jeff Fitzgerald, so on and so forth. 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 as elders.
This is really important for you to know, whether you’re a member or a guest. It’s not just that they keep me in check. “Ryan, you need to slow down on a few things. You need to slow down your hoodlum youngster ideas.” I don’t think any of them speak like anyway. But it’s not just that when big problems come up, that they help me deal with those issues. They’re not just figure-heads that keep me somewhat accountable, or are there if I happen to need them. That’s not it at all. They have the same biblical responsibility from God Almighty that I do. We, as a collective group of elders, seek God’s will and shepherd and lead this church.
I know when we think of the word “elder,” we think an old person. Particularly if you’ve not been part of a church led by multiple elders, you may have had this picture of elders as these old men who have all the power and just “haha!”, lord it over people! In my world, which my background is Southern Baptist, the idea of elders is generally foreign; it’s weird to people. Now more and more churches like the ones I grew up in are adopting this leadership model from the New Testament, but to many it’s foreign. Maybe you too thought that “elder” just referred to old people in the church. But the Greek word for elder, presbuteros, doesn’t carry with it this idea of being old physically, at least in this context of church leadership, but instead it carries with it the idea of being mature spiritually. Elders are spiritually mature men given the responsibility to shepherd and lead.
So, in the New Testament, 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, which is another really important office of the church, but they were servants of the church, different from elders. We also don’t see one example in the New Testament of the church being led by popular vote or majority opinion, whatever the masses wanted. Not one example. Instead, the Church is led by a plurality of elders, who are appointed and confirmed by who? The local church, which is you. We’ll talk about that more in a bit.
The Practical Side
But before we go on to question #2, I want to mention that this is why Lauryn and I were seeking a church like Raintree to be part of. For the most part, I’ve had great experiences with churches led by one pastor, but I had grown increasingly aware not only of the clearly biblical warrant for more than one elder, but I’ve also grown increasingly aware of the practical reasons for more than one elder.
Can I just bring something up that I’ve sort-of hidden from overly public knowledge. It’s not that big of a deal at all, but it just really seems to relate here to the need for more than one primary leader of a church. Here it is: I am 27 years old. Some of you knew that, it’s not a secret, but I don’t often broadcast that info (I guess until now), because there are oftentimes certain assumptions about someone who is 27 years old.
The reason I say this is because I do have strengths, strengths that I believe equip me for being a teaching pastor like I am, mainly because certain people have poured into me and discipled me in college and in my first years of ministry. But can I also say something else? I have many weaknesses. Not much of a shocker, there. I have weaknesses. Weaknesses both because I’m young, but also weaknesses just because I’m human. That would be true whether I was 27 or 87. But my weaknesses are strengths in some of our other elders. Do you see the practical part of why more than one elder is needed?
Here’s another practical part. One of the most disturbing things I’ve ever 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 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 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.”
A huge part this whole thing about the church reflecting the personality of the pastor can be avoided if there’s more than one pastor or elder, more than one man leading and shepherding the church. 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. And I haven’t screened those answers or anything. The point here, is that hopefully, with a plurality of elders, all of our strengths combined will both give you a picture of Jesus, and not a picture of any one particular elder, and also help us lead the church well. So, the answer to the first question: God leads the church through a group of Godly men called elders. The 2nd question about Church Leadership is…
- What are they to be like?
This is a very natural 2nd question. What are they to be like? If you’ve been part of a church in the past that just consistently had real issues with the elders, it likely was due to an elder or a few not meeting Godly standards for church leadership. In fact, before we look at what Titus has to say about the character of the leadership, I have to mention that this is why churches should not do some sort of popular nomination for elder. Like everyone put in your nominations for elders, whoever gets the most nominations, we vote between those few, and eventually we get our new elder.
Why do we not do that? Because inevitably, what do you get? The most popular man in your church! Or the most influential, maybe he’s a wealthy businessman. Whatever it is, you may not get one of the most Godly men in your church, but instead get the most popular. This is why, at least at Raintree, the existing elders, by the leading of the Holy Spirit, select potential men for this office. If you read how Raintree does this, it’s a great process. The elders select a man or a few men, and they basically go into a probation period, where they’re given certain responsibilities that go along with being an elder, the congregation is given lots of time to bring any potential concerns about this man to the other elders, and eventually, when the existing elders feel led, they can bring this man to the congregation for a vote to confirm him as an elder of Raintree Community Church.
This is a big deal, and involves a lot of scrutiny. Why? Because it’s an incredibly important thing that we have the right men leading and shepherding this church, the men God wants. Perfect men? Not at all, but these are the men who, on behalf of God, will shepherd and lead this church. So, what are they to be like? Look at verse 6:
“If anyone is above reproach.” Another word used in some of your translations is “blameless.” Does this mean he has to be perfect? No, otherwise no one would be able to be an elder. But it does mean that an elder 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.” Why does this matter? Well, another really important list of qualifications for elders, 1 Timothy chapter 3, makes this point in verse 5. 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, you may not need to spend the time and effort it takes to be an elder, but instead focus on your family. Again, makes perfect sense. 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 should be known for:
8 “But they’re to be hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.” Basically, if you want to sum up verse 6-8, elders are to rule over their desires, not let their desires rule over them. There’s nothing wrong with being emotional, or desiring particular things. But, do you have control over those emotions and desires? That’s the question here for elders, and really just all of us as Christians! There’s nothing wrong with emotion or having strong desires. It’s how we respond to those emotions, or what we do with them. Do we let our emotions dictate what we say or do? Or do we let God? It seems like the common excuse we use for saying or doing things we shouldn’t is because “That’s how I felt, I’m being honest.” Our top goal, though, in everything we do, should not be to air out our emotions and desires, it should be to glorify God in everything. Let Him dictate your actions, not your emotions.
Sometimes it’s easy to look at this list and think none of us would ever qualify to be an elder. 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 or no evidence to the contrary. So, that answers the question, “What are they to be like?” Now, The third and last question:
- What are they to do?
What, specifically, are elders called to do in the life of the church? Great question.
What are the elders to do? To sum it up, as shepherds of the flock of God, they’re to be devoted 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 teach and 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.
So this is a zealous commitment of the elder. 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, yet again, 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 they 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.
So why, then, is defending the truth of the Bible so important? I mean, at times, it seems that Paul desires harshness 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 clear in the Scriptures. But there are many things that are clear, and when one is compromised and not dealt with, there is almost always a continuous and increasing momentum with these compromises. Movements, denomination, or groups of churches who began compromising even the seemingly smallest, but clear teachings of Scripture, inevitably led to more compromise. These same movements are among those that now deny the clear teaching of Scripture on homosexuality, on the family, on miracles, on Jesus’ divinity, on the virgin birth, on 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 with our source of Truth, God’s Word.
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.
I want you to know, that the elders of this church take this office very seriously. I think the most sobering or weighty verse in all of Scripture for us, personally, is Hebrews 13:1, 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.”
We will give an account to God for our actions, our hearts, and our shepherding of the people of God. The authority we have is 100% subservient to the authority we all are under 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 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 elders). The elders seek God’s will in leading the church, AND will be held accountable before God Almighty Himself 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.”
Pray for the Elders
I mentioned back in December that I thought 2016 would be the year of building for Raintree Community Church. Not building a building or even growing numerically, but in the sense of building a foundation on which we point people to the glory of God and the magnificence of the Gospel for the next 5, 10, even 20 years.
I’m not speaking as some sort of prophet at all, but it seems that we’re in a catalytic moment as a church. I bring this up because it’s such an important thing for us to pray for our church leadership, and selfishly, I am talking about me, personally, but I’m also and especially talking about our elders. What we have done in the last six months, and what we will do in the next six months as far as laying a foundation and a real direction for the church in all areas will affect this church for many years to come.
So what I’d like us to do to close today is pray for our elders. These men pray for us on a weekly basis. We have it organized to where there is an elder praying for you every single week. So I think it might be a really good thing for us to pray for them as a church this morning.