I’ve been sharing a few thoughts about aspects of church life over the past few days to help those who are seeking to plant or replant churches think through the practicalities of church life. In this previous article, I wrote about elders and what they should do, today I want to talk about what elders should be.
Titus was based on the island of Crete. Paul writes to him giving him instruction on how to continue the Gospel work that they had started there. The gig for Titus is a tough one. There are already problems within the church with people unsettling the church with lies and division (Titus 1:10 -11) and a wider culture of deceitfulness and unreliability (Titus 1:12). Elders therefore needed to come with a character and reputation that stood out in contrast to the culture of the world around and of the troublemakers in the church whom they would need to rebuke.
Elders were to be “above reproach” (Titus 1:6). This is not to say that they wouldn’t at times face false criticism but those false charges should so obviously be questionable and out of character that two witness were required before such charges were entertained (1 Timothy 5:19).
Their reputation was to start at home. They were to be the husband of one wife, or literally “a one woman man” not only did this rule out polygamy but also unfaithfulness. Elders should be faithful to their wives. Their children were either to be “believers” or “trustworthy” (both translations are possible. The character and behaviour of children reflected the father’s management of the household and their ability to teach, instruct and disciple starting with those closest to them. The elders were going to need to lead the household of God away from the sinful behaviours of the culture around and so it was important that they demonstrated the ability to do this at home and so it was crucial that their children did not have a reputation for the very things they would have to correct (debauchery and rebellion).
The language here appears to point towards older, more mature families. However, I don’t think we are meant to presume that there is a legalistic requirement for married men with children. That would have ruled Paul out of the qualifications for church leadership whilst Timothy would also have been on the young side. The point is that the elder is meant to be able to demonstrate the qualities of reliability and godliness in his normal day to day life before being appointed to the role. Therefore, there may well be ways in which a single man or someone without children can demonstrate faithfulness, wise leadership and the ability to teach before being appointed.
He must be above reproach in his personal conduct, not subject to addictions and vices and showing self control and patience. These virtues will be critical for elders seeking to navigate the stormy waters of troubled church life and to be able to provide pastoral care and discipleship for others through the ups and downs of their Christian walk (v7). They are to be hospitable, in other words there should be a warmth to their character. Elders need to be people orientated, welcoming and willing to give time. This might challenge our tendency to focus first on their intellectual bilities and communication gifts (v8). Indeed, notice that those things we associate with intellect, study and communication come late in the list.
But yes, the elder does need to be well grounded in God’s Word and to know their doctrine. The emphasis seems to be on steady reliability and faithfulness rather than charisma and flair. They must be able to teach God’s Word, to instruct (v9) though this may be on 1-1 and small group contexts as well as through Sunday preaching. They also need to be able to confront and rebuke false teaching. There’s no place for shrinking violets! Elders need to be able to both provide and to protect as we saw in the previous article.
Now, the qualities of the elder are clearly set to contrast with the character of those causing trouble within the church and the pressures of the culture outside. However, those are consistent with the needs we see in the church today. We too live in a society where basic ethical standards of honesty, integrity and self-control have been thrown out the window. But sadly we also find ourselves frequently confronted with sin in the church. I’ve talked here on Faithroots frequently about both how pastors can set themselves up in authoritarian, tyrannical abusive control and we’ve seen too many examples of abuse scandals. I’ve also talked about how the bullying can come within the church or leadership against a pastor with threats, attempts to emotionally blackmail and whispering campaigns to undermine. In the face of such a climate, we need elders who fit the qualities described in Titus 1.