Listen: Christian Growth with Simon Manchester. (Airs 8am Sundays on Hope 103.2 & Inspire Digital.)
Simon Manchester presents a two-part series of messages from the book of Titus in the Bible, looking at lessons for Leadership and for Life. This week, Part 1: Effective Leadership.
Part 1: “Effective Leadership”
I want to remind you as we turn to Titus this morning that going to church is not like going to a movie where you sit with some strangers and hope that what is up the front is mildly entertaining or profitable.
I hope that you will not see church as going to a supermarket where you sort of move in, get a few things and leave. The church is a group of people who God loves a lot, who God paid a lot to collect and the church is a group of people that we get to love a lot and grow a lot with. And so for two mornings we are going to look at the local church and today one of the keys to the local church is how to make the local church faithful and how to make it helpful.
And I need to tell you as a little warning that this is a passage which will not appeal to the person who sees the church as a kind of a movie or supermarket. If you think of the local church that is something which you can take or leave, if you have a superficial view of the church, then what I am saying from this Titus passage today will not greatly interest you. But if you have an insight into the church, if you would like to know how it could be strong and helpful and if you have a commitment to the local church, you will find this Titus passage not only important but I think interesting.
There are 12 verses we are going to look at with two headings. The first (if you are writing a note on the back of your piece of paper) is True Elders and the second is False Teachers.
The Qualities of Church Leaders
Now True Elders, you will see in verse 5, the Apostle Paul says to young 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”. The Apostle Paul describes himself in verse 1 as “a servant and an apostle”. Humble and authoritative and he writes to young Titus who is a little bit of an enigma in the New Testament because he doesn’t appear in the book of Acts at all. But he does appear in some of the Letters. He seems to have been a convert (one of the people that the Apostle Paul led to Christ) and now he has been given a job of overseeing quite a big area in Crete and making sure there are Christian elders in every town.
Now this is the key – a sentence from John Stott’s commentary.
“The main way to get a church straight or healthy is to secure for it a gifted and conscientious pastoral oversight.”
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I want to show you that this is not finding a pastor for a church but it’s praying for and making sure in place are the right leaders for the ministries. And this is something which surprisingly every member of the church has got a very key role to play.
Now I wonder whether you realise the key to the local church
- is NOT having a fancy building (we happen to have a fancy building),
- it’s NOT having friendly people (we happen to have friendly people – at least – we are growing in friendliness!)
- Is NOT smart handouts, great morning tea and fine music.
All of these things we could provide in a church which was pretty well dead and destructive, but the key to the local church as we read here is to put in place leaders who really are committed to the Word of God.
So let’s look at these qualities in the elders.
- So first of all you will see the things that are not there. For example, he doesn’t say ‘appoint one elder in each town’. He says (pleural) ‘appoint elders in each town’. We need a team, we need complimenting of the gifts in a church.
- Secondly, he makes it clear that he is talking about good men. He is not saying anything negative about the women but he wants to make sure that there are good men who rise up to the task. Just as he expects good men to give good leadership in their home, he expects good men to give good leadership in the local church.
- Thirdly, this eldership does not equal the staff. You don’t get elders just with a cheque book by putting on staff. Elders are something much more profound than just a payroll. These elders are not deacons. Deacons, we discover in the rest of the New Testament are given much to Administration but here the elders have got to be able to handle the Word of God (verse 9). They have got to be able to give sound doctrine and they have got to be able to refute those who oppose sound doctrine. So there’s got to be a good handling of the Scriptures.
- Fourthly, it seems that elders in the New Testament were to be capable of handling the Word of God without necessarily being set apart to do it full time. I want to say that again in case you missed it. “It seems that the elders would be capable of handling the Word of God without necessarily being set apart to do it full time.” So we are not just talking about choosing a pastor. We are talking about making sure that the right people are in the right places.
- Fifthly, these elders are also not picked with secular criteria. For example, they are not picked because they are successful in business. Those gifts will be vital for the local church but they don’t make an elder. An elder, you see is something deeper and it is set out in verses 6-9.
Now friends please grab on to this, this morning because although Paul writes this to Titus because he is a pioneer, it is actually true in the bulk of Scripture and in our Anglican formulae that the job of finding the elders belongs to the congregation. You have the remarkable and biblical privilege and responsibility of being able to pray for, nominate, elect, put in place, leaders for roles. And that’s how it should be. It should be the congregation who are at work. If you ask, what should I be looking for? Well verses 6-9 set out the answers and there are some quick brief areas.
The Home Life of a Leader
Verse 6 – Home Life. He says, “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.”
Home Life, a very interesting place to begin as you are thinking of who to put in to a particular position. I wonder how many nominators get around to asking the person they are talking to to come to a church as a pastor, about their home life? I wonder how many Parishioners think of home life before they nominate for the Vestry Meeting or the Annual General Meeting? I wonder how many staff think of home life before they put people in place? It’s a very shrewd litmus test, the home. As one commentator said ‘a good look at a man’s home life will tell much about his character and his ability to give leadership to the church’.
Now Paul begins by saying this person should be “blameless”. Thankfully this does not mean faultless. Otherwise we wouldn’t have any leaders, we wouldn’t have any pastors. Nobody would be able to be nominated for anything. And I hope as we read the first reading today from Psalm 15 and we heard about somebody being ‘blameless’ and ‘righteous’, I hope that you didn’t think that anybody in this church thinks that they are personally and naturally blameless. We are not pretending to be blameless. You may think that people come to church and pretend that they are better than they are. Actually we come to church to admit that we are as bad as we are. And it is true that because of Jesus and his forgiveness, it is possible to stand before God as the Scripture said ‘without fault and with great joy’.
“As one commentator said ‘a good look at a man’s home life will tell much about his character and his ability to give leadership to the church’.”
But when Paul says the elder must be blameless, he doesn’t mean faultless, he means that the elder must not have an alarm bell that goes off when their name is mentioned. The elder must not have some kind of disgrace that always comes up when that person’s name is thought of. Nothing that would give the reason to people not to want to follow, that’s the important thing.
And then wife and children. Now there’s a lot been written on this ‘wife and children’ verse. What does it mean? Essentially it means this. Does the person that you are thinking of understand what it means to be faithful? Could the person be rightly accused of waywardness in their marriage or compromising or adultery? Is the person that you are thinking of somebody who has just basically given up on their wife? That’s a big warning. That’s disqualifying.
And when it comes to the children, obviously nobody is able to convert their children and there is a lot of much better men than me with more challenging children than I happen to have. But it’s obvious that nobody is able to convert their children. The question needs to be asked, look at the home and see whether they have done a faithful job in leading their children because if they can’t lead their children then will they be able to have any leadership with God’s children?
What the Apostle is saying is that the marriage between the husband and the wife is meant to be a good reflection of the Gospel which is a marriage between God and his people, that’s the thrust of this.
The Personality of a Leader
Personality comes up in verse 7, or what we might call “manner” or “style”. He says “that the elder must not be overbearing, quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent or not pursuing dishonest gain”. He uses the word “overseer”, the word we have for “Bishop” in verse 7. Elder, Bishop, Oversight are very similar ideas. And there are five warnings here.
- Firstly, the elder must not be overbearing because there ought to be a servant factor. This person has got to be interested in God’s purposes, not just their own.
- Secondly, they must not be quick tempered or angry.
- Thirdly, they must not be given to drunkenness which would make them unreliable.
- Fourthly, They must not be violent or vicious.
- Fifthly, They must not be greedy or covetous or interested in what doesn’t really matter rather than what does matter. And I think that is good wisdom to help us eliminate certain characters from the candidates.
The Character of a Leader
We come to the question of Character. And there are six positives. He says in verse 8 “the person that we are seeking to appoint should be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self controlled, upright, holy and disciplined”. I don’t have time to comment on all of those but they are to love strangers or the visitor, they are to love what is good, the upright thing and they are to have these marks of godly character. We ought to think about the person and say ‘do they have a new nature?’ “Do they have a new agenda?” We ought to watch the character.
Now the last thing which is in verse 9 is the handling of the Word of God. And I think it’s not too difficult as we are putting people in place to find one, two and three (verses 6,7 & 8) reasonably covered. But then verse 9, this is a key for the elder. Can they handle the Word of God? “Sword handling”, remember the Word of God is described as a “sword” in the Scriptures and this person (verse 9) has got to be able to encourage with sound doctrine and refute opposition.
Calvin says they have to be good at ‘gathering sheep and removing wolves’. Well what are we going to look for then? We are going to look for somebody who does love the Word of God, who holds on to it firmly, who is able to introduce sound doctrine at the appropriate time and is able to refute error. And sometimes this is going to be quite tough discipline.
One writer says “I gain a wonderful sense of protection in knowing that if I committed a scandalous sin and showed no repentance, my church would not put up with it. They would plead with me to change, they would patiently confront me with God’s Word and if I refused, remove me to wake me”. It’s tough talk, isn’t it? And yet refuting or removing is something which may fall to the lot of the elder.
So this is how the Apostle says we can pick an elder – home life, manner, character and handling of the Word of God. We are not to be looking, you see, for people who are charming, cunning, wealthy, successful, famous and all those sorts of things. We are to go with the Biblical criteria for our elders.
A Note on False Teachers
Now the second point this morning is False Teachers (verses 10-16) more briefly. The elders are needed because there is a fight on the hands of everyone in the local church (verse 10). “There are many rebellious people” – there were in Crete and there always will be. There’s always the infiltration of funny ideas and erroneous thoughts and evil ideas. And they come from all sorts of sources and quarters and the elder is going to be needed for the fight.
Now what is going on in this Crete context? We need to look at that quickly. In the Crete context there are rebellious people who are talking, deceiving and it seems to be they are quite legalistic, they are involved (verse 10) in the circumcision which is a kind of an add-on to the Christian faith. They are interested in what they can get out of it (verse 11), they want dishonest gain whether that’s financial or something else and they are also having the effect (verse 11) of ruining families.
Now this is not an exaggeration friends. When lies come in at a section of the church, it has a ruinous effect. It’s able to separate people in their fellowship with God, it’s able to frustrate relationships and it’s a very very serious thing.
So notice what the Apostle expects of the elder, that they will be able to silence and refute. Those are strong requirements. I can’t imagine anything more difficult today in the climate in which we live when we are expected to tolerate all views. When we have a view of Scripture which is that it’s all very rubbery and elastic and nobody can really know as some people falsely assume.
We’ve got the fear of losing a happy atmosphere in the small group or in the local church. We’ve got an uncertainty about whether we can be judgemental, when of course Jesus asks us to be discerning and responsible. And many of us would just prefer peace at any cost.
To come in at that point and be a silencer or a refuter is a strong ask. And I hope you’ll pray for that. I hope that I will have the courage to be able to silence somebody who is a heretic in the church, I hope you will too and I hope I will have the courage to be able to refute somebody who says things that ruin the household and I hope you will too.
Now what are we to look for? Well in verses 14-16 what we are to look for are set out in a very good guide for us.
The Test of Scripture
First of all (verse 14) you will see that these people are paying attention to myths or the commands literally of men. The first thing we are to look for is – Is the idea that is being put forward out of somebody’s brain or out of Scripture? Is it a human origin or a divine origin? That’s the first thing we are to look for.
There are many things that come to us in ideas, theses, systems and phrases which spring from people’s heads. We need to be always on the look out to see whether these things come from the Scriptures.
I will just give you a simple example. You may hear the phrase said every now and again “that music has the ability to bring people into the presence of God”. Now how do we test that by Scripture? That music has the ability to bring people into the presence of God. Now Scripture says that it’s the Gospel that brings people into the presence of God. It’s when you put your faith in Jesus and trust Him you move into the fellowship of God, the presence of God and the family of God and you cannot be closer to God than to be in the family of God.
So music, you see, is not going to do what the Gospel does, nor without music will you lose what the Gospel does. You are in the presence of God because of the Gospel. Therefore whatever music does, it does something else and we need to be able to assess that kind of phrase with a Biblical critique.
Leaders Should be Interested In the Heart
The second thing that we are to look for (verse 15) is we are to look for whether the person is interested in the external or the internal. Verse 15 talks about certain people who are interested in what is ceremonially pure rather than what is actually pure. And you always find in churches that there are people who are more interested in the fabric than they are in the heart. And that’s a good rule of thumb. Is the person interested in what is internal and what lasts forever rather than what is superficial and passes?
” Is the person interested in what is internal and what lasts forever rather than what is superficial and passes?”
And verse 16, watch to see the effect in the person’s life. If a person thinks wrongly and goes wrongly, it’s likely that their life will not back up their claim to know God. And therefore it’s very important to work out whether the person or the idea or the thesis is just a kind of a talk or whether it’s something transforming. These tests will help us to do some good assessing in the local church.
Is the person talking from themselves or the Scriptures? Are they talking about what is superficial or what is really profound? Are they talking about what is just ‘words’ or something that is really transforming?
Well you see how important it is to have an elder. Because like disease in a hospital or germs in a restaurant or spies in a government, error comes into local churches at almost every level very easily. It’s possible for me or any of us to introduce something which is false and we need the good elders in the right positions who will make decisions to guard the truth. Well I want to finish by applying this in our last minute.
Things to be Thankful For
Firstly, thankfulness. Let’s be very thankful that when it comes to the battle for truth, that it’s actually in the hands of a sovereign God. That when Jesus hung on the cross, he won the battle for truth, the ultimate battle for truth. And therefore the battle for truth hangs on the one who hung. It does not hand ultimately on us. We should be very thankful that there is a sovereign God victorious and committed to the truth.
Let’s also be very thankful for the provision of leaders that God has given to us. We happen to have (I think) in our Parliaments quite a number of God fearing men. We have a number of Christian men. We happen to have as an Archbishop somebody who is really committed to Jesus and the Word of God. We happen to have a good Theological College.
Now the leadership of the church, the leadership of the Bible Colleges ultimately produce the pastors and the people and therefore we should never take for granted what we have been given in these leaders. We should never assume that it’s our right to have them, we should be very thankful for them and pray for them, they are in the firing line much more of opposition, devilish opposition. We should pray for them.
And we should also pray that, as God one day changes that leadership, he raises up new leadership that is (if possible) even better and even sharper. One very shrewd leader in the Diocese said to me once that whenever he hands over a ministry to somebody else, he tries to hand it over to somebody who is more ‘theologically conservative’ than him because then he knows that the work will strengthen, not deteriorate. It’s quite an interesting rule of thumb.
So there are things to be thankful for. And let’s be thankful for the leaders that God gives to us at the Youth, the Sunday School level. People thank me for these leaders. Leaders that I am not really responsible for but thank God for because these young people in the Sunday School and the Youth are instructing some of our children and making them clear, clean and co-operative. It’s a wonderful thing.
Let’s be thankful for the young people who are coming in to do MTS at St Thomas. Three good young men coming in on little pay, full time work to learn ministry. And let’s be thankful for the students that God sends to us from the Bible Colleges who come. They do a little bit here and they go off to do very great things elsewhere, and to have the good God has been to us over the years.
“Without good people, error triumphs. With good people in place, God’s Word spreads.”
Let’s be thankful for our Home Group Leaders. Let’s be thankful for every position that God has put a good person in place.
And then I want to finally say ‘that’s thanksgiving strategy’. I want to urge you to take your role seriously as an individual, to pray for, encourage, vote for, and put into place good people.
Without good people, error triumphs. With good people in place, God’s Word spreads.
And so we need to follow the Apostle’s lead in appointing good people, seeking high standards so that the church is well led right through and the Word of God spreads well.
Let’s pray for this, let’s bow our heads –
Our gracious God we thank you, firstly, for your own commitment to truth so that we would walk in the light and have eternal life. We thank you too for those who have blessed us as leaders in the past and whose lives we thank you for. We thank you for those you have raised up in our Diocese and city.
We thank you for those you have brought to this church and now we pray heavenly Father that you would equip us with wise prayer, careful thought and good decisions so that this year and increasingly there would be good people in place for the work of the Word.
We commit this to you so that you would be honoured, people would be strengthened and blessed, many would be reached and helped and the Gospel would speed on and triumph.
And we ask it in Jesus’ Name, Amen.