So, last week I was standing in one of those self-checkout lanes at Leppinks trying to pay with cash. I had a wad of ones to get rid of. In my wad I had good “ones”, you know, flat, crisp and clean bills, and, I had crummy ones, you know, the wrinkly, stained, creased and dog-eared one bills. Which ones did you think I was trying to give to the machine? That’s right, the crummy ones – so I could keep the good ones for myself (my spiritual growth hasn’t reached that far yet). Well the machine didn’t like that arrangement so it kept spitting them back out at me. Stupid machine. What do you think I was doing? Putting them back in. Stupid human. I kept trying to give it to the machine thinking “no, you’re taking what I give you.” At one point after “X” amount of tries I looked up frustrated from my own little war with this machine to see if any employee was nearby so I could call them over to command the machine to take my crummy dollars. But they all seemed to be looking in other directions as the elevator music softly played in the store. So I went back to war. It’s a new low when you think sheer stubbornness will win against a machine. Anyway, on the way out I thought, “They have got to lower the standards for what dollar bills they will take.”
What we’re talking about here today are standards. Standards for what is acceptable. They’re all dollar bills, but, what the frustrating lesson I learned is that not all dollar bills meet the standards to be acceptable. Church leaders must meet standards. Just like money machines only take dollar bills that meet certain criteria, the Bible teaches us that those who would lead the Church must meet certain criteria. And a good church knows this.
What makes a good church? That’s our question as we study Titus. Previously in Titus we learned that a good church takes the Apostle Paul – and all Apostolic writings – seriously. We also saw that a good church has a very high view of God’s Person and knows why God is so wonderful. Today we will learn that a good church knows what church leaders must be. Not only will it know what the qualifications are, but, a good local church will expect it’s leaders to be meeting those qualifications.
Why do you need to know this if you’re not a church leader? So you know what you are supposed to expect of church leaders. So that God’s criteria is your criteria when examining church leaders rather than your personal opinions. So you don’t degenerate the Body of Christ by installing or supporting unqualified leaders. So you ensure your own spiritual growth and God’s blessing on the local church by allowing only those who are approved by Biblical standards to occupy this office.
The question before you as a congregation, and before any Christian congregation is this: Who will you have to lead you? And your answer is a direct reflection on how highly a congregation values things like the name of Jesus Christ, the mission the Church has in this world, and the word of God. A congregation that assures it’s leaders are biblically qualified shows a high view of God’s Word, the Commission of the Church, and the glory of the name of Jesus Christ. A church that abandons biblical qualifications and chooses its leaders on worldly or fleshly criteria betrays a low view. We see a picture of this type of congregation in 2 Timothy 4:3-4 when it says:
“For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”
Again the question is “Who will you have to lead you?” There is a quote from Charles Spurgeon you have to hear for yourself on this matter [Read Spurgeon book]
There is a list of 17 qualifications listed here and I have personally divided them into 4 groups: 1) The Pastor at Home, 2) What the Pastor is Not, 3) What the Pastor is, and 4) the Pastor’s Spiritual Skillset. We will not begin those today, but, rather we are going to study verse 5 and the first part of verse 6. This will be part one in a mini-series on leadership set within our larger series through the book of Titus. Let us read verse 5 and 6
“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. And elder must be blameless…”
Let us divide our time today into two points: 1) The Commission for Pastors, and 2) the Criteria for Pastors.
The Commission for Pastors (v5)
Paul tells Timothy to straighten out what was left unfinished. Have you ever noticed how there are 2 kinds of people in the world? One is the kind of person who is always starting something but never finishing it. Usually they’ve got 10 things or more going on but what they’ve got going on never really seems to wind up getting done. It’s like someone who keeps opening more boxes of cereal without finishing that last half a bowl’s worth in the previous boxes – pretty soon you got a shelf full of almost empty boxes. Just finish the box!
The other person is the opposite, they can’t start anything else until they’ve finished things. They lose sleep at night because the finishing touches haven’t been done to their work and nothing else is going to get done until that project is done.
The Apostle Paul I don’t think could be quite so easily pigeon-holed but he no doubt had many things going on and he was obviously concerned that he finished what he started.
The phrase “straighten out” is a medical term that refers to the setting of broken or crooked limbs. Paul had come to the island of Crete and started a work that for some reason he had to leave behind. However, he wanted it finished, because to leave a church plant unfinished in the way mentioned here was inviting a church to go crooked and wind up broken. So, Paul appoints Titus to be his man on Crete to finish what Paul had started. It sure says a lot about Titus, as he was considered qualified to finish in a way worthy of what the great Apostle Paul started.
Well the question that comes to mind when reading this commission is this: “What was left undone?” What is it that Paul didn’t have the time to do that he would have done himself if he were able to stay? What task was so important that unless it was done by someone he trusted the church work there would have been crooked and deficient?
Paul tells us in the same verse: appoint elders in every town. The top task on Paul’s “To-Do” list was to get pastors appointed for the churches in each town on the island of Crete.
Now, first of all, you might be thinking, “Pastor, you keep talking about ‘Pastors’ when Paul says ‘elders’.” That’s because in the Bible pastors are called by two other titles than just pastor, and elder is one of them. The NT refers to those men leading churches as 1) pastors, 2) elders, and 3) overseers. For instance, notice that in our passage today, Paul is listing the qualifications for those who are called “elders” as seen in verse 5 and 6. But then notice that in verse 7 he calls them “overseers”. The ones who lead the local church are called “elders” and “overseers” in the NT. Now I want you to see where all three are used in one passage, over in 1 Peter 5:1-2. Did you see how Peter also calls the elders “overseers”, and then tells them to “shepherd God’s flock”, which literally means to “pastor God’s flock”. The passage even calls Jesus in verse 4 “the Chief Shepherd”, or “Chief Pastor”.
So what’s the difference between these titles? Elder refers to an older man and because it is used to refer to a church leader it means a church leader ought to be mature. While this doesn’t mean he has to be old enough to use a cane it does mean he has to have a couple years with experience where his character and faith have proven mature. He cannot be childish, juvenile, sophomoric, or adolescent. He must, as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:8, “have put childish ways and thinking behind himself”. He must act like a man, think like a man, be responsible, prioritize, and have an attitude that is appropriate for a mature Christian man.
I have read often times of preachers who started when they were in their teens and frankly I think that is unbiblical. It’s even worse today because many young people just aren’t growing up quick enough if at all. Adolescence is perpetuated out into the twenties and even thirties. Thus, it behooves churches to consider very carefully anyone who would seek to pastor at that age.
Overseer is a term used a lot in Greek society of people who were charged with managing someone else’s assets or property. The overseer did not own the assets but managed them on behalf of someone else. It is a very apt title for a pastor because a pastor is charged with managing the “household of God” (1 Timothy 3:15) on behalf of God. Pastors are to oversee the affairs of the church and govern it in a way that reflects God’s governing of things and God’s character. That is why 1 Timothy 3:4-5, the cross-reference passage on pastor’s qualifications, says says the pastor must manage his own home well first, before he can lead the household of God, which is the church. Turn there with me and let’s see Paul’s
Pastor is a word that literally means “shepherd”. It reflects the care and the guidance and the leadership that the man must give to the local church flock.
If you thought on this verse for any length of time what would come to your mind is that these pastors (also called “elders” and “overseers”) are an essential part of the local church. A local church is not complete without a pastor any more than a flock of sheep is complete without a shepherd, or a family without a father. Pastors are vitally necessary to the health, protection and growth of a local congregation. They are indispensable gifts from God (Eph. 4:11) who help the congregation understand God’s Word, give the congregation a human picture of what godliness is so it can be emulated by the congregation, and a man to stand in the gap to pray for those under his charge.
#2: The Criteria for Pastors (v6a)
Next we will look briefly at the first part of verse 6 to see where Paul begins his list of criteria for pastors. Before we see this list we must first make sure we are walking into this list with a proper perspective. This is the inspired word of God and therefore this description of the qualifications of a pastor is God’s description – not simply Paul’s. This is important because of this point: Since pastors are God’s idea, He defines the qualifications. Our personal opinions about what a pastor should or should not be are irrelevant when it comes to who should or should not be the pastor. Here is a funny list of the list of qualifications someone drew up for their next pastor:
- He pleases everyone.
- Preaches exactly twenty minutes and follows it with an invitation in which everyone is convicted but no one is offended.
- Works from 7 AM to midnight in every aspect of work from counseling to janitorial work.
- 27 years old with 30 years of experience.
- Tall and short.
- Thin and heavy set.
- Handsome but not overpowering.
- One brown eye and one blue.
- Hair parted in the middle and straight on one side and wavy on the other, with a balding spot on top revealing his maturity.
- Has a burning desire to work with teenagers and spends all his time with senior citizens.
- He smiles constantly with a straight face because he has a sense of humor that keeps him seriously at his work.
- Invests 25 hours a week in sermon preparation, 20 hours in pastoral counseling, 10 hours in meetings, 5 hours in emergencies, 20 hours in visitation and evangelism, 6 hours in funerals and weddings, 30 hours in prayer, 12 hours in correspondence, and 10 hours in creative thinking.
- Is always available in his office.
- He always has time for all committees and activities of the church. He never misses the meeting of any church organization and is always busy evangelizing the un-churched.
- Has perfect kids.
- Spouse plays the keyboard.
- The perfect pastor is always the next town over.
- He is talented, gifted, scholarly, practical, popular, compassionate, understanding, patient, level-headed, dependable, loving, caring, neat, organized, cheerful, and above all, humble.
- Many versions of this are found on the Internet and several have this added “If your pastors does not measure up, simply send this notice to six other churches that are tired of their pastor too. Then bundle up your pastor and send him to the church at the top of your list. If everyone cooperates, in one week you will receive 1,643 pastors. One of them should be perfect. Have faith in this letter. One church broke the chain and got its’ old pastor back in less than three months.”
The point is this: our opinions about what the pastor should and should not be only have value insofar as they conform to God’s opinion. If what we expect of pastors is what God expects then our opinions are extremely valuable. If we have our own ideas apart from the word of God, then our opinions don’t carry much weight, if any. It is true in this issue, as well as all issues the Word of God speaks to: marriage, salvation and so on.
Now notice what verse 6 says: “An elder must be blameless…” Blameless tops the list. It is an all-encompassing word that is kind of the umbrella in which all the rest of these qualifications fall under. It is the first thing Paul mentions in this list, and, it is the first thing he mentions in his list in 1 Timothy 3.
Blameless is a word that means no charge can be brought against him. Is is said in other versions “above reproach”. It does not mean that he has to be sinless, but, it means that there must be no obvious and apparent weaknesses that can be brought up in an evaluation of him.
Why must the pastor be blameless? Two reasons. First, credibility. The pastor must be so that his integrity as a blameless man he will maintain credibility in his ministry. Credibility ultimately of the name of Jesus Christ is what matters, and a pastor who is blameless upholds the honor of our Lord’s name.
Secondly, so that those who follow him will become blameless. This is not just a qualification required of the pastor. The pastor is an example of blamelessness that others must imitate. Listen to Paul’s hope for the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 1:8, “He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” What everyone of us should want is to be blameless when Jesus Christ returns. Shame on any of us pastors who are not when he comes. Shame on Christians who are not if they have had a blameless pastor to emulate.
I’ve heard people say “You’re supposed to be blameless you’re the pastor! You get paid to be blameless.” Well, kind of. But if that is said to excuse oneself from being blameless in his or her own Christian walk then the point of a pastor’s blamelessness is missed altogether. Every Christian is called and commanded and expected to be blameless, to be like their pastor – who himself ought to be blameless. If you are were blameless but fell into sin, then you are to correct yourself so you return to being blameless. If you are not yet blameless then you need to grow to be blameless. And everyone needs to examples to follow in other people who are blameless. That’s why the pastor must be blameless.
We want to be a good church. Therefore, we must have God’s perspective of church leadership. Pastors are commissioned to lead the Church, and, their criteria is laid out for us in God’s Word. Let us all know what the pastor ought to be, expect it from him. Let me add this: I need you to pray for me to be this. We have enough men in the pastorate falling into sins of many kinds. We don’t ever want that here. Therefore, I need you to pray for me to uphold these traits. I would even say you are obligated to pray. If you care for me, for the ministry going on here, your church family at EFC, and you care for the glory of God, then you must pray for your pastor.