Titus 1:1-9

            Paul wrote his letter to Titus so that some solid competent virtuous leaders might be appointed to guide the church on the island of Crete (located in the Mediterranean Sea, south of Greece).  There was no ambiguity with Paul about this.  He laid it out clearly:  “Church officials are in charge of God’s work, and so they must also have a good reputation.  They must not be bossy, quick-tempered, heavy drinkers, bullies, or dishonest in business.  Instead, they must be friendly to strangers and enjoy doing good things.  They must also be sensible, fair, pure, and self-controlled.  They must stick to the true message they were taught, so that their good teaching can help others and correct everyone who opposes it.”
 
            There is no reason to think that Paul thought of this as the ideal leader, as if no one could really be this way.  Paul also did not think about this instruction as a strategy for getting apathetic people off their butts and into some form of service.  No, Paul meant what he said.  He knew that compromising on the character of leadership would erode and destroy the church.
 
            The selection of church leaders is important because just one bad belly-aching non-virtuous apple can upset the entire apple cart.  Good people provide good teaching.  People with a selfish agenda find ways to subvert sound instruction to get what they want.  All of us in the Body of Christ are to be wise to it all through the knowledge and understanding of God’s Word.  This is yet another reason to immerse ourselves in the Bible so that we will lead with the confidence of knowing God.
 

 

            Holy God, you insist on holiness in your people, especially in leadership.  Help all your churches everywhere to raise competent leaders with character so that the work of making disciples will responsibly go forward with joy and effectiveness.  In Jesus’ Name I pray.  Amen.

Hebrews 13:7-21

            I once rode a horse named “Old Glue” because he stuck to the ground like glue.  It took a furious amount of kicking to get that old horse to move at all.  I think about Old Glue every time I look at the final chapter of Hebrews.  It feels like the author is firing off exhortation after exhortation trying to kick some life into a group of people who have lost their enthusiasm for Jesus. 
 
            Don’t forget about your spiritual leaders; don’t be fooled by any strange teachings; share in the disgrace of Christ; keep offering praise to God in the name of Jesus; don’t forget to help others and be benevolent; and, obey your leaders and do what they say.  All these exhortations come kicking one after the other in a short amount of space.  The reason why we ought to pay attention to them is that we were bought at the price of Christ’s blood.  God has redeemed us with the ultimate price.
 
            We need to work at becoming holy and serving in genuine Christian love as if this was the last day of our lives.  We are to run like wild stallions for Jesus, instead of being stuck to the ground like Old Glue.  There is no advantage to only moving when there is something in it for “me.”  There is no benefit in just griping and complaining instead of trotting along for the Savior. 
 

 

            As the author says:  “May Jesus help you do what pleases God.  To Jesus Christ be glory forever and ever!  Amen.”

Choosing Capable Leaders

 
 
Maybe it should go without saying that Jesus himself is to form everything we do in the church. Nevertheless, it needs to be said because one bad apple in a church leadership position can spoil the whole bushel of leaders.  This is why character formation is at the core of being a church leader – because the elder’s ministry of oversight, shepherding, and discernment of God’s will comes from the inner resources of knowing Christ; and a deacon’s ministry of outreach and service comes from a close walk of faith with Jesus.  In a very real sense, elders and deacons are to manifest or reveal Jesus to the congregation.  It is a high calling.  In the New Testament text, 1 Timothy 3, Paul gave to the Church seven requirements of Christian morality and seven requirements of a daily walk for leaders.  These fourteen requirements are the basis for those who serve the church so that the responsibility of the church’s mission might be kept on track of bringing people to Jesus.  These requirements for leaders arise first and foremost from their experiential knowledge of Jesus Christ.
 
            The first set of seven has to do with morality.  A church leader is to 1) have a good reputation; 2) be completely faithful and devoted in the marriage relationship (by the way, this doesn’t mean that a church leader must be married, because then even Jesus wouldn’t qualify as a church leader); 3) be clear-minded or even-keeled (consistent); 4) self-controlled (not trying to control others); 5) possessing moral courage, that is, specifically to speak truth with grace and not take the coward’s way of complaining; 6) a friend of strangers (hospitality quite literally means love of the stranger); and, 7) able to impart instruction to others, or, in other words, able to communicate truth in such a way that helps people and builds them up and does not tear them down in the Christian life.  These seven requirements are possible because the leader has witnessed Jesus personally working in his or her life.
 
            The second set of seven has to do with the conduct of the person in everyday life.  A church leader is to:  1) not be a drunk; 2) not given to being angry and constantly carrying a chip on his shoulder about something he doesn’t like (respectable); 3) gentle; 4) not always picking a fight about something; 5) not thinking about the all-mighty dollar in every decision; 6) having a caring approach to family that results in loving relationships with kids, because after all, rules without relationship will lead to rebellion not only in the family but in the church, as well; and 7) the leader must not be a beginner in the faith, but have some proven maturity in order to handle the job well so that those on the outside of the church may see that there is something wonderfully different about the way things are handled and done among those who profess Jesus Christ.
 
            In addition to this, we have seven related requirements for deacons:  1) dignified in every kind of relation (worthy of respect); 2) not double-tongued, saying one thing to one person and something different to another (sincere); 3) practicing moderation when it comes to drinking; 4) not greedy; 5) keeping very close to faith in Christ with a pure heart; 6) able to handle the eyes of everybody in the church on them when they serve without falling apart; and 7) also holding to the vows of marriage faithfully and nurturing kids well.
 
            God calls and sets apart individuals for his service so that he might reveal and manifest his presence among his people.  Jesus Christ wants his church to be built up through faithful service.  A few final observations:  notice that nowhere in this passage or in the New Testament is there found that it is the main requirement of a church leader to listen to complaints and whining.  The ancient Israelites took quite a beating from God for being a community of grumblers.  Philippians 2:14 flatly says Do everything without complaining or arguing.  Neither will you find that the church operates just like an American form of democracy.  Instead of church leaders being representatives of the people to do their will, church leaders are rather representatives of God to the people so that God’s will is done in all things.  So, then, prayer is a major work for elders; and, outreach a major work of deacons because this work is primarily the work of God and only secondarily the work of people.
 

 

            So, in selecting church leaders, churches have a biblical imperative to not just arm-twist anyone who will respond, but choose men and women of God whom are people of high integrity, on the path of spiritual maturity and pursuing Jesus Christ.  May God be glorified, Jesus followed, and the Spirit unleashed.

Why Not Women?

Women are the greatest and largest untapped resource in the church today.  You might wonder why I would say such a thing, being that more women attend church than men.  But I stick to the statement because  the reality for many churches is that only men can hold positions of authority as elders and deacons.  The reasoning goes something like this:  “the Bible says women can’t serve over men, so women can’t hold those positions.”  Really?  So, a woman can serve as a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, can be elected as governor of a state, and can manage men on a factory floor, but that same woman cannot serve as an elder in many evangelical churches?  I once asked a pastor that very question, and he answered with “yes, because the Bible says so.”

If you are of the belief that a church office is to based on gender instead of just good ol’ calling and gifting of the Spirit, then, methinks, it behooves us to ask these questions of the biblical text:

  • If women are not to exercise authority over men in the church, how do we account for actual women leaders in the Bible, such as Deborah, Huldah, Philip’s daughters, Priscilla’s role in Apollos’ life, not to mention the list of women leaders in Romans 16?  If our impulse is to say that these are exceptions because there were no men to “step up”, what does that say about our theology, that God isn’t big enough to find a man to put into a position of leadership?
  • If we insist that women ought not to teach and be silent based on Paul in the book of 1 Timothy, why do we ignore Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians that women are to publicly prophecy and pray?
  • Doesn’t the prominence of women in the ministry of Jesus and Paul suggest something different than just having women tag along to teach children?
  • Just when does a boy become too old for a woman to legitimately teach him?  If women can’t teach men, why in the world would we ever think that they are the best teachers for boys?
  • How can we apply Galatians 3:26-28 as everyone else besides women as free to serve?
  • Does the Reformation doctrine of the priesthood of all believers only apply to men?  Doesn’t the absence of women in church leadership go against this?
  • Isn’t it weird and confusing that women have an equal vote in congregational decisions, even when a male leader is being elected and/or disciplined when they aren’t supposed to exercise authority?
          I could go on, but I think you get the picture; the absence of women in leadership is problematic at best.  Its a problem because there are actually women leaders in the Bible.  So, here is my unabashed, dogmatic, and biblical belief:  All individuals are equally created in God’s image, and, therefore, have equal worth, privilege, and opportunity in Christ’s Church without any limitation, including gender.  There, I said it, and I’m sticking to it.
          In today’s evangelical church there are far too many wonderful Christian women who are exhausted and depressed because they are trying to live up to a certain expectation of being someone they are not.  They suppress their gifts and calling because they think it is delusional, and that they have to prop-up the fragile male egos around them.  They aren’t free to serve in leadership positions and it is eating them from the inside-out.  These women think there is something wrong with them, but the reality is that there is something wrong with the whole system of male-only authority.  What is more, if I’m right, we are missing out on the blessing of God.  It is high time we value all women, even those with gifts of leadership, by allowing them to serve without limitation.
          This is a passionate subject for me because I have a wife and three daughters.  And all of them are more intelligent, more gifted, and better leaders than me, the lone family male.  To have them using their superior talents in the church by leading and serving is the least threatening thing to me on this earth.  I love it that they can outdo me; it is my joy!  Even more than that, I believe it is Jesus’ joy, as well.  We must be proactive in cultivating and nurturing the gifts and calling we see in women.  They do not need to be put in their place; the good ol’ boy system of the church needs to be put in its place so that men are practicing a leadership that sacrifices on behalf of making women’s leadership a priority.

The Imitation of Ministry

 

One day, several years ago, while driving through an intersection, a car turned right in front of me and caused me to slam my brakes. After getting on my way (and proud of myself for not saying a word) my daughter, who was five years old at the time, leaned forward from the back seat and asked me, “Dad, is that guy an idiot?”

Kids often imitate their parents in everything, whether good or bad. This is no less true for adults. When it comes to Christianity, the faith is passed on not just from individuals reading their bibles in seclusion, but is handed down from person to person (2 Timothy 2:2). Christians learn from leaders how the faith is lived out and practiced, not primarily from listening to sermons, but through imitating what they see.  It is good for us to ask the question: who do I imitate? We pass on things we learn from others, so it is imperative that we learn from the right people.

Consider just a few biblical verses on this: “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Philippians 3:17). “We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what was promised” (Hebrews 6:12). “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7).

               We must imitate those Christian leaders who have a proven character in persevering in the faith in the face of pain and suffering, and have done it with great humility. This does not necessarily mean that we emulate those who eruditely speak the Word of God, have superior gifts and abilities, and enjoy success in ministry. It does mean that we ought to imitate, and have as mentors, those persons who imitate Christ and are not self-promoting peacocks who go after being admired and praised. Paul chose Timothy to go to the Philippian church because Timothy had proven himself as being genuinely concerned for others, and not for making decisions that would simply further his ministry career (Philippians 2:19-23). Timothy had learned from his mentor, Paul, how to cultivate a life of service to others rather than to be self-serving.

We are to imitate those who have proved themselves in hardship. A Christian leader who has not undergone the purgative fires of trials in this life may more easily become seduced by their own importance. However, leaders who have seen their share of hard circumstances, pain, and suffering, and have come through it loving God and serving others out of grace and humility, are leaders worth imitating.  Put in this light, the choosing and electing of church deacons and elders is greatly important.  Just getting a warm body willing to serve is not really an option.  Perhaps it could be that many young people are leaving the church, and even the faith, because they have not seen genuine Christianity lived-out with passion and integrity among those who hold leadership positions in the church.

So whom will you follow?

What Christians will serve you well as good models of faith and ministry?

Be alert for Christian leaders who exemplify genuine meekness, selfless service, and are in the habit of being helpful and doing good to others. Imitate such persons.

If you do not have someone in your life you can truly consider a “mentor” in the faith, begin today to search for a person for whom you can imitate.  It’s not only biblical, but will change your life for the better.