Church Leaders

Titus 1:5-9

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
August 2011

The topic that we will be studying for the next two weeks is the office of elder.  What exactly are elders?  What do they do?  Who is qualified to be an elder in the church?  What are some common errors that churches have about elders?  These are the questions that we will be answering.

Tonight, I want to look at qualifications for elders which also are the qualifications for a pastor, as we will see next week.  For our Scripture reading, I want us to read Titus 1.  I am only going to be looking at three verses but I want us to get the context of the chapter.

What is the context of this chapter?  Paul and Titus had just evangelized the island of Crete.  They just planted churches and those churches are young and apparently they were disorganized.  Paul left Crete and gave him a job to do after he left.

His job was to appoint elders in these brand new churches.  A local church needs structure and it needs godly leaders.  Leadership is important in a church.  It is important in a home and in society.

Paul told Titus to appoint elders in churches on this island of Crete but who was he to appoint?  Titus was not to appoint any elders he wanted.  You have to be very careful who you place into church leadership.

Elders had to meet certain qualifications.  Elders should not be chosen at random or just because they volunteer or want the position or because they are sincere.  They have to be qualified. What are the qualifications?  They are found in Titus 1:6-9.

General Observations

1. There are seventeen qualifications for elder in Titus 1.

Just about every one of the requirements for elders are requirements for all Christians.  We tend to think of these as special rules for the top dogs in the church but that is not what they are.  These are standards for all Christians.

Elders are not to be quick tempered.  We are not to be quick tempered (slow to anger).  Elders are to be not greedy.  We are not to be greedy either.  Elders are to be lovers of the good and so are we.  Elders are to practice hospitality and so are we.

All Christians are to be given to hospitality (Romans 12:13).  Elders are to have self control but so should all Christians.  Self control is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).  Elders are to be blameless but so are all Christians (II Peter 3:14).

2. These requirements are not optional.

One qualification is that an elder is to be blameless.  Paul does not say that “this would be a really good idea”.  He does not say that “I strongly recommend that they be blameless”.  He says “The elder MUST be blameless.”

It is not optional.  An elder or pastor must have all seventeen.  If he has all but one or two (and it is obvious that the individual does not have these qualities), he is not qualified for church leadership.

A man may pray for four hours a day but if his home life is a complete mess (some of his kids are locked up and the rest are crack heads), he would not be qualified.  Another individual may have his home life in order and be a real family man but simply not know the Word very well.

3. Most of the qualifications are positive.

Out of the seventeen different qualifications in the first chapter of Titus, only five are negative.

4. Most of the qualifications deal with character traits.

What qualifies a man for primarily spiritual leadership is godly character.  Most of the qualifications to be a church leader are character traits.

 What Paul Does Not Say in Titus 1

1. Paul does NOT say that elders cannot drink wine.

He does NOT say that they have to be total abstainers.  That is the policy of many churches but that is not what Paul said.  He said elders are not to be drunkards.  It is proof that Paul was not a Baptist.  He was Jewish.

He lived in a completely different culture than Southern Baptists.  He does not say it is okay for ordinary Christians to drink in moderation but if you are an elder or a pastor you can’t drink.  You care called to a higher standard.  He doesn’t say that.  He just says that elders cannot get drunk.

2. Paul does NOT say that elders must be financial wizards.

The only financial requirement is that elders are not greedy, not that they are great with money.

3. Paul does NOT say that elders have to be college educated.

He does not say that elders or pastors have to be seminary graduates.  He does not say that they have to have an M.Div.  You can be an elder and not go to seminary.

4Paul does NOT say that you have to be a certain age to be an elder.

The word “elder” implies that you will be older rather than younger but how old you need to be is not stated. Paul does not give an age requirement for elders. Paul does not say that say that you have to be a Christian for twenty years before becoming an elder. While elders do need to be spiritually mature, they do not have to be saved a certain number of years before serving as elder.

A Closer Look

Let’s look a little closer at some of these qualifications.  The first one is blameless.  People like Noah (Genesis 6:9), Job (Job 1:1), Zechariah and Elizabeth (Luke 1:6) were said to be blameless.

Elders are to be blameless.  He says that twice (1:6, 7).   Deacons are supposed to be blameless as well (I Timothy 3:10).  What does it mean to be blameless?  Let’s look at what blameless means and what it does not mean.

What Blameless Means

Blameless means that you have a good reputation with people.  It means that you have an unblemished reputation, to have a clean record.  It means that your life can withstand scrutiny.  There are no major scandals in your life.  It is what you need if you plan on running for President.  You have a better chance of winning that if you have a bunch of skeletons in your closet.

Daniel was also a good example of someone who was blameless (Daniel 6:3-4).  Daniel was not only a prophet in the OT.  He was a politician.  He had a job and his job was to work in the government of Babylon.  He was a government official and even in his 80s he was blameless.

The first requirement is that a man is blameless and that one is very significant.  Pastors who fall into deep sin and have affairs are no longer qualified for the office.  Benjamin Franklin said, “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.”  The church in America has been rocked by all kinds of sex scandals.

In many places, these pastors are simply restored to office after they repent.  We are all sinners and God is a God of grace and mercy.  David committed adultery and murder and he was restored to leadership after he sinned.

They can be forgiven for their sin but that does not mean that they should still be pastors.  Sin has consequences and to be a pastor you have to be blameless.  These pastors should be removed from their positions of leadership within the church.

What Blameless does NOT Mean

Blameless means “without blame” but does not mean “without sin”.  Perfection was not a requirement for elders.  None of the people that Titus appointed were perfect.Now being blameless does not mean that people never criticize you.  Was Jesus blameless?  Yes (Hebrews 7:26).

Jesus was not only blameless, he was sinless and yet people still criticized him.  They said that he was a Sabbath breaker.  They said that he was demon-possessed.  They said that he was a deceiver but they could not prove any of their charges.  All of their charges were false.  None of them stuck.

Areas of Blamelessness

Elders are to be blameless in three areas.  Elders are to be blameless in their home life.  They are to be blameless in their personal life and they are to be blameless in their faith. Let’s look briefly at these three areas.

Blameless in their Home Life

The first area that elders are to be blameless is in their home life.  They are family qualifications.   If you ever consider anyone for the office of elder, the first area to look at is the person’s home life.  What is the man’s relationship with his wife and kids?  No marriage is perfect and no family is perfect.

A person who is not a family man should not be an elder.  An elder is not expected to be perfect but he should be a good husband and a good father.  A man who has a bad marriage is not qualified to be an elder.  A man who is a bad parent is not qualified to be an elder.  Paul mentions two areas to look for in an elder’s home life.

  1. The Marriage Test (1:6)

The first area deals with his relationship with his wife.  He is to love his wife.  He is to be devoted to his wife and to be faithful to his wife (husband of one wife).  What does the Roman Catholic Church do with this?

Catholics turned the requirement of “husband of one wife” into “husband of no wife.”  None of their pastors can get married.  Their priests can’t get married.  Titus 1:6 reads in the NLT “faithful to his wife.”

That is a requirement to be an elder.  The man who is not faithful to his wife, the man who cheats on his wife and has affairs, the man who does not keep his marriage vows, is a womanizer and flirts with other women is disqualified to be an elder.  If you do not have a strong marriage, you are not qualified to be an elder.  Why?  You are not blameless.

Does this mean that an elder cannot be divorced?  That is a common interpretation of the verse but there are several problems with this view. You can be divorced and still be “the husband of one wife” if you get divorced and never remarry.

You can be divorced and still faithful to your wife.  Your wife could have had an affair and ran off with someone else.  Furthermore, you can be NOT divorced and also not faithful to your wife.

This is more than a marital status requirement.  If all that this means is “not divorced,” then Bill Clinton would be qualified to be an elder. He is not divorced.  Instead of asking, “Has he ever been divorced?” we should be asking, “What kind of marriage does this man have?  Is he faithful to his wife”?  So, the issue is not divorce perse.  The word “divorce” is not in the text and “not divorced” is a negative requirement and this is a positive requirement.

Nor is Paul saying that you can only have one wife in a lifetime (husband of one wife means one in a lifetime).  The problem with this is that if a man’s wife dies, he is free to remarry and no one would disqualify that person from being an elder.

Paul does not say “married only once” as some have translated it (Goodspeed, Moffatt).  In addition, all of the other qualifications listed by Paul refer to a man’s present status, not his entire past life.

For example, Titus 1:7 does not mean “one who has never been violent”  or “one who has never been a lover of money” but “one who is not now violent and not now a lover of money, as Wayne Grudem points out (Systematic Theology, 917).

The “husband of one wife” requirement does not mean that a man has to be married and does not necessarily disqualify someone who has been divorced.

2. The Parenting Test (1:6)

The second area deals with his relationship to his kids.  Now this is interesting.  You may be personally blameless but if your kids are all screwed up, you are disqualified for the office.   If a man cannot control his own kids, he should not be entrusted with the greater task of taking care of the saints.

Your ability to lead the family of God must be demonstrated by your ability to lead your own family.

Leaders in the church are to function like parents in a family.  Titus 1:6 says an elder must have children who believe.  What exactly does that mean?   It could either mean that an elder must have children who believe (active voice) or an elder must have children who are faithful (passive voice).  Both are possible.

The Greek could mean either one but the two other times the word πιστός is used in Titus it means “faithful” or “trustworthy” (1:9; 3:8).  That is what the context is dealing with.  The contrast in the second half of the verse is not between children who believe and children who do not believe, it is between children who are obedient and between children who are lawless.

That fits the parallel passage in I Timothy 3:2 which says that en elder’s children must be well behaved.   Furthermore, it is not anything an elder has any control over.  Parents cannot make their children believe.  They can witness to their children and tell them the gospel but they are not held responsible for their response.

Blameless in their Personal Life

Paul mentions eleven characteristics dealing with the personal life.  Five of these are negative and six are positive.  I would break them down into four categories.

1) The Social Test (1:7-8)

A person who does not you relate well to people or have good people skills is not qualified to be a pastor or elder.  There are several terms here that deal with how you relate to people.

a)  Not Overbearing (NIV) or Arrogant (NLT)

Warren Wiersbe writes, “While church members ought to respect and follow the leadership of the elders, they should be certain that it is leadership and not dictatorship.  A self-willed pastor is arrogant, will not take his people’s suggestions and criticisms and makes sure he always gets his own way”[1]

b)  Not Quick-Tempered

A man with a hot temper is also disqualified from leadership.  What does this mean?   Anger is not a sin but we should be “slow to anger” (James 1:19).  All of us have lost out temper before but a person with a quick temper looses it very easily.  Just about anything sets them off and they blow up like a volcano.

They explode often with little notice.  The Book of Proverbs says that you are not to associate with a hot-tempered man (22:24-25).  A church should definitely not make a hot head an elder of the church.

c)  Not Violent

People who are violent, men hit people and love to get into a fight are not qualified to be elders.  A man who physically abuses his wife, his children, or anyone else, is disqualified from the office of elder.

Chuck Swindoll says that “Sheep are to be led, not driven, assaulted or attacked”[2]. They are not to be harsh or rough with people.  In fact, they are to be the opposite.  Elders are to be gentle and kind (I Timothy 3:3).

d)  Hospitable

That is a requirement of church leaders.  It is one of the musts of church leaders.  Hospitality is one two separate lists for church leaders (Titus 1:8; I Timothy 3:2).  What are some characteristics of hospitality?

Signs or Characteristics of Hospitality

  • You are compassionate.
  • You are generous.
  • You like to share.
  • You are a people person.
  • You reach out to others and invite them in.
  • You open up your home to people.
  • You like to entertain people and makes guests feel welcome.

A person who is addicted to any subject (drugs, alcohol) is not qualified to be an elder or a pastor.  There are plenty of pastors today who struggle with addictions.  It is not wrong to enjoy things.

The Bible says that “God has given us all things richly to enjoy” (I Timothy 6:17).  It is wrong to be addicted to things.  Paul said, “I will not be mastered by anything” (I Corinthians 6:12).  How do you know if you are addicted to something?  What are the signs?

Signs of a Problem with Addiction

  • A preoccupation with something that begins to control your life.  You are obsessed with something.
  • You can’t quit.  You can’t stop (e.g., addicted to nicotine)
  • You do things out of compulsion (against your will).
  • You go through withdrawal when it is taken away.
  • You do it despite the consequences (ruin your health).

2)  The Money Test (1:7)

A greedy person is not qualified to be a pastor or elder (I Peter 5:1-2).  How do you know if you are greedy?  What are some signs:

Signs of Greed or Covetousness

  • You are very materialistic
  • You want to get rich
  • You are not satisfied with what you have
  • You always want more than you have
  • You want more than you need
  • You do not give to the poor or those in need
  • You use questionable means to get money

3) The Character Test (1:8)

What kind of a life do you live?  Are you a godly person?  This is a spirituality test.  A person who wants to be an elder has to live a spiritual life.

a)   Loves what is good

b)   Self-controlled

c)   Upright

d)   Holy

e)   Disciplined

Blameless in their Theology

There are not only moral qualifications and character qualifications of an elder, there are some doctrinal ones as well.  There are three doctrinal tests for an elder.

4) The Doctrinal Test (1:9)

The First Doctrinal Test

Do you know the Bible?  A person who does not know the Word very well should not be an elder or a pastor.  That is saying the obvious but the fact is that there are many elders and many pastors who do not know the Word.  The first test is whether you know the Bible and believe the Bible.  You are doctrinally orthodox.  They must “hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught” (1:9).

The Second Doctrinal Test

They not only believe the Bible, they must teach the Bible.  Titus 1:9 reads in the ESV “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine.”

One requirement of elders is that they are “able to teach” (I Timothy 3:2).  If you can’t teach the Bible, you should not be an elder.  Elders are shepherds and shepherd should be able to feed the sheep.

Now that doesn’t mean that all elders have to be able to preach.  Some elders should be able to do that.  We know that from I Timothy 5:17.  Elders should be able to teach the Word in some capacity (e.g., one-on-one or small group setting).

The Third Doctrinal Test

Elders should not only believe the Bible and teach the Bible they should be able to refute false teachers.  Titus 1:9 says, “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine AND TO REFUTE THOSE WHO OPPOSE IT”.  It is not enough for an elder to teach the truth, he must refute error as well and prove it to be false.


[1] Warren Wiersbe, Be Faithful, 101.
[2] Chuck Swindoll, “Looking for a Few Good Men,” (audio recording).

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