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Finding Good Church Leaders- Titus 1:5-9

I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.


Introduction: The Making of a Good Leader

It was President Dwight Eisenhower who once said:

"In order to be a leader a man must have followers. And to have followers, a man must have their confidence. Hence the supreme quality of a leader is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, on a football field, in an army, or in an office. If a man's associates find him guilty of phoniness, if they find that he lacks forthright integrity, he will fail. His teachings and actions must square with each other. The first great need, therefore, is integrity and high purpose."

In the book of Titus we have Paul the Apostle talking to his young associate Titus whom he left in Crete to help organize the new church there. After his first Roman imprisonment Paul had visited Crete with Titus and had won several converts to the Christian faith. He then left Titus to stay there and continue the work of helping them in their new-found faith.

And, of course, the first thing one must do to organize a church is to set up its leadership. Beginning in verse 5 Paul tells Titus that he should appoint elders in every city as he had directed him to do.

Just as in the days of Titus and Paul, the church of the 21st century needs good leaders who are men of character and integrity, who love the Lord and love people as well. Let us look a little more deeply into this passage to see what kind of men that Paul commands to be those who are the leaders of the local church.

I. Two Major Categories of Leaders in the New Testament Church

Before going further in this passage, however, it is necessary for us break down how the New Testament sees the various leadership roles in the church. The original church was made up of both elders and deacons as the official leaders.

When talking about elders we are speaking of mature spiritual leaders in the church. They are also known as bishops, overseers and pastors. The term pastor, literally means shepherd, as the church is seen metaphorically as a flock of sheep whose chief Shepherd is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The pastor is an under shepherd who cares for the local flock of believers.

The deacons, on the other hand, have a different yet still a very important job. According to Benjamin Merkle, who is a professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.

"Deacons, too, have a crucial role in the life and the health of the local church, but their role is different from the elders’. The biblical role of deacons is to take care of the physical and logistical needs of the church so that the elders can concentrate on their primary calling.

This distinction is based on the pattern found in Acts 6:1–6. The apostles were devoted “to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (v. 4). Since this was their primary calling, seven men were chosen to handle more practical matters in order to allow the apostles the freedom to continue with their work."

Though Paul doesn't say anything about deacons in the book of Titus, he does talk about them in the parallel passage where he tells his protégé Timothy how to organize the church in Ephesus (I Timothy 3:1-13).

II. Qualifications for Church Leadership

So, what are the qualifications that Paul gives for a person who leads the church. It is interesting that, both in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 the major qualifications revolve mostly around the character of the person and not his abilities or gifts. This also suggests that most of the qualifications that an elder or deacon should possess must be the same character traits that all Christians should be seeking to develop in their own lives.

Since Paul only mentions elders and not deacons in Titus, we will start with the qualifications of elders. However, we will also compare this list with the lists for both elders and deacons in I Timothy.

Here is what Paul says about elders to Titus:

"For this reason, I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. For the overseer must be above reproach as God's steward, not self-willed, not quick tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict." (5-9)

That the elder is to be above reproach is not referring to sinless perfection but to a personal life that is beyond legitimate accusation and public scandal.

The idea of 'being the husband of one wife' is literally 'a one-woman man.' He should be a man who is consistently devoted and faithful to his wife. That doesn't necessarily leave out an otherwise qualified single man. Some even think that Timothy, whom Paul also wrote to about leadership, was single at the time the apostle wrote to him in Ephesus.

Further, Paul is not talking about divorce here, as some have read into this passage, but of internal and external purity in the sexual area. Polygamy, or having multiple wives, was rampant at that time as well. It is definitely ruling out that for the Christian man and is advocating sexual faithfulness to one woman for life.

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Another thing we must glean from this section is that we know that a lot of church's allow for women elders in the church of the 21st century. However, if we follow the injunctions of Paul here, the role is definitely assumed to be men, as in this case of the one-woman man here. I like what has to say about this. It states:

"Not just anyone can assume the role of overseer in the church. Specific qualifications for overseers are provided in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9. The position is reserved for men. First Timothy 3:2 specifically says that the overseer is to be “faithful to his wife.” This assumes he is a man. Elsewhere in Scripture we see that God has instituted an authority structure within the church, wherein the primary leadership position of maintaining doctrinal integrity and providing spiritual shepherding to the congregation is to be held by a man. See, for example, 1 Timothy 2:11–14. This is merely a matter of role or function, not one of value or importance. Women are made in the image of God just like men (Genesis 1:27). Women come to Christ the same way men do (Galatians 3:26–29). Women are of equal worth with men. In fact, Peter tells husbands to be considerate of their wives “as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life” (1 Peter 3:7). So, it is not a matter of value but one of orderliness, based on the order of creation (1 Timothy 2:15). God has organized His church in such a way that a male is to assume the primary position of spiritual teaching authority."

Beyond all this, another qualification of church leadership is that the elder is to have "children who believe." He is to have children with saving faith in Jesus Christ and they are to reflect it in their conduct. In I Timothy 3:4 Paul requires the children to be in submission. This is directed to younger children at home while the Titus passage is most likely referring to older children. By the fact that one's children are not being accused of dissipation or rebellion, meaning debauchery or excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures, it suggests that the children are grown here.

Rebellion here is a child's rebellion against the gospel. Paul is saying that for an elder to lead the church, he should first be able to lead at home and guide his family to salvation and sanctification.

The elder is further to be above reproach as God's steward. The term steward refers to one who manages properties for the well-being of those the master cares for. In this case the master is God and the elder is fully accountable to Him.

An elder, Paul also tells us, must not be "self-willed." This is also translated “arrogant” and “overbearing”

He is not to be addicted to wine. This includes any drink which dulls the mind or subdues one's inhibitions.

He is not to be pugnacious. That is eager or quick to argue, quarrel, or fight.

An elder is not to be fond of sordid gain. In other words, he is not in the ministry for the money and to gain wealth.

In verse 8 of Titus 1 we get some positive character traits of an elder. He is hospitable. The word means a 'lover of strangers.' He loves what is good. He is just.

The man who is just (dikaios) in this case, is one who tries strictly to perform his duties towards men.

The elder is also to be devout or holy. The man who is devout studies to be true and faithful in his relations to God, which duties largely consist in keeping pure our bodies, the temple of the Holy Spirit. While the “just” man struggles after uprightness before men, the “holy” man aims at a holy purity before God.

He is also to be one who is temperate or self-controlled. Temperate ( egkratē) is having power or control over all his passions. We apply the term now with reference to abstinence from intoxicating liquors. In the Scriptures, it includes not only that, but also much more. It implies control over all our passions and appetites.

I think theologian Albert Barnes says best what Paul means by verse 9 when talking about holding fast the faithful word. Barnes states:

"Holding fast the faithful word" - That is, the true doctrines of the gospel. This means that he is to hold this fast, in opposition to one who would wrest it away, and in opposition to all false teachers, and to all systems of false philosophy. He must be a man who is firm in his belief of the doctrines of the Christian faith, and a man who can be relied on to maintain and defend those doctrines in all circumstance."

If we compare I Timothy 3 to Titus 1 we see that Paul talks about mostly the same character traits for leadership in both passages. However, in I Timothy he ads these traits. He also says that an elder is:

1. Respectable (conducts himself in good taste; not offensive to others)

2. He is gentle.

3. He's not a new convert

4. Has a good reputation in the community

As I said, the qualifications for deacons are not found in Titus. They are only found in I Timothy 3:8-13. And if we compare the passages, the similarities between the characteristics of elders and deacons are strikingly similar. Like the qualifications for elders, a deacon must not be an addict (v. 3,), not greedy for dishonest gain (v. 3), blameless (v. 2; Titus 1:6), the husband of one wife (v. 2), and an able manager of his children and household (vv. 4–5). Furthermore, the focus of the qualifications is the moral character of the person who is to fill the office: a deacon must be mature and above reproach. The main difference between an elder and a deacon is a difference of gifts and calling, not character.

One trait that you see in an elder that is not a part of the traits of a deacon is that an elder is 'apt to teach.' This is found in I Timothy 3:2. However, not even all elders are teaching elders. I Timothy 5:17 says,

“Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine.”

By specifying “especially they who labor in the word”, there is a clear indication that not all elders will labor in the word. But all elders should be ready and able to share with others the things they know about the Word. Some may be able to do this with a group of people, while others may be better able to do this one on one.


As we summarize what it means to be a leader in the church of Jesus Christ I think of the words of the late preacher C.H. Spurgeon. He once said:

"A man's life is always more forcible than his speech. When men take stock of him, they reckon his deeds as dollars and his words as pennies. If his life and doctrine disagree the mass of onlookers accept his practice and reject his preaching."

Church leaders are servant leaders. And they lead by example. One who is used by God to lead His church is a person who is choosing to allow the Holy Spirit to continually mold him into the image of Jesus Christ. And with God's help he models what it's like to live under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He isn't perfect but is doing his best to reach Christian maturity every day.

The truth is that most people in this world are followers. And they will follow someone who steps up and shows them where to go and what to do. My prayer is that the Lord will raise up for Himself a new generation of servant-leaders who will lead by their godly example.

There is a saying often attributed to D.L. Moody but I recently learned that he got it from a British revivalist named Henry Varley. It goes like this:

“The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to him. By God’s help, I aim to be that man.”

I am hoping that those who hear this message will memorize and make this saying their own. For by living it out, we will surely raise up an army of people in our churches who model the Christian characteristics found in the books of Titus and I Timothy. And with that army, we can change the world!!!

© 2021 Jeff Shirley

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