The book of Titus contains God’s game plan for the Christian life. A couple of weeks ago we looked at the first two plays in our playbook; the first set of “X’s and O’s”: bringing the lost to faith and training the saved for godliness. We’ll continue to study this playbook today by looking at a set of “X’s and O’s” for church leadership. What is God’s game plan for leadership in the church?  
1) What to look for in a church leader
2) What to expect from a church leader
3) What motivates a church leader

1) What to look for in a church leader

  • Good reputation in the home (v. 6)

The NIV uses the term ‘blameless’; the ESV uses the term ‘above reproach’. The main idea is not perfection, but having a good reputation. The church leader is to be faithful to his wife. Not open to the charge of infidelity or being a flirt. His interactions with other women are above board.

Paul continues and says his children are to be believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. The word ‘children’ here implies small children, not adult children. When children are young they are often a mirror reflecting what dad and mom believe. As they grow older they develop their own thoughts independent of their parents. Young children who are wild and disobedient often reflect problems existing in the home.

Why does Paul bring so much attention to how church leaders ought to be blameless in the home? In 1 Timothy 3, Paul sees a connection between leadership in the home and leadership in the church. He writes this: “…if someone doesn’t know how to manage his own household well, how can he manage God’s church? 

Having a good reputation in the home is the stuff leaders are made of.

  • Good reputation of character (vv. 7-8)

Paul lists five negative characteristics: not arrogant, not quick-tempered, not a drunkard, not violent, not greedy for gain; and he lists six positive characteristics: hospitable, lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.

What’s so interesting, given our cultural lettering, is that Paul’s primary concern isn’t finding people with the best skills or most alluring personalities, but finding people with character. That’s very countercultural today in a society that is enamored with skill and personality.

In her NY Times bestseller, Susan Cain writes, “In the ‘Culture of Character’, the ideal self was serious, disciplined, and honorable. What counted was not so much the impression one made in public as how one behaved in private. The word personality didn’t exist in English until the eighteenth century, and the idea of  ‘having a good personality’ was not widespread until the twentieth. But when they embraced the ‘Culture of Personality’, Americans started to focus on how others perceived them. They became captivated by people who were bold and entertaining. ‘The social role demanded of all in the new Culture of Personality was that of a performer.’ [Warren] Susman famously wrote, ‘Every American was to become a performing self.’”

Cain argues over the past couple of centuries, American culture has shifted from a “Culture of Character” to a “Culture of Personality.” What Americans value most are leaders who are charismatic and magnetic personalities. What she and others argue is that this isn’t the way it’s always been. American culture once possessed a “Culture of Character.” How one conducted oneself used to be prized. But that’s not the case anymore.

This makes being a church leader in 21st century America challenging. What does our culture tell us a pastor should be like when he gets up on this stage each Sunday? It tells us I should wow you as the charisma and magnetism seeps out my pores. I feel that tug of war. Because there’s nothing charismatic or magnetic about my personality. For Paul, character is king, not personality or skill. 

  • Good reputation of doctrine (v. 9)

A church leader “…must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” The proliferation of sound doctrine throughout the church is the primary way a church leader manages God’s household. This will become clearer as we continue through Paul’s letter to Titus.

I, for one, am convinced that sound doctrine is essential for living godly lives and building healthy churches. Doctrine isn’t just for a statement of faith tucked away somewhere on a church’s website. Doctrine is for preaching, teaching, small groups, counseling, one on one conversations, prayers, and songs.

When we hear the word ‘doctrine’ we may not all be thinking the same thing when it comes to, so let me use Bobby Jamieson’s definition of it: “Sound doctrine is a summary of the Bible’s teaching that is both faithful to the Bible and useful for life.”

Doctrine isn’t for winning Bible trivia contests. Doctrine is a map that helps the Christian navigate this life competently and in a way that honors Jesus.

2) What to expect from a church leader

Look at the verbs Paul uses throughout the book of Titus to describe the actions he’s calling Titus and other leaders to: exhort, warn, silence, rebuke sharply, rebuke, teach, remind. These verbs break down into two categories: exhortation and loving confrontation.

  • Exhortation

Some translations use the term ‘encourage.’ But in our cultural context, encourage is often tantamount to patting someone on the back or praising someone. The term Paul uses here is more technical than that. The term ‘exhortation’ is closer to the original. To ‘exhort’ someone is to urge someone in a particular direction. There’s a combination of cheerleading and instruction in this term.

  • Loving Confrontation

Paul uses some strong verbs in his leadership coaching of Titus. He tells Titus to silence, warn, and rebuke sharply. We might find those verbs to be unpalatable. 

Tim Chester who is a church planter in England comments on this saying, “A loving leader will know that what is nicest for you to hear is not always what is best for you to hear.” 

This is another corrective to culture’s influence. Sometimes I wonder if our culture inside and outside the church, is that church leaders ought to be nicest people on the planet. Sometimes ‘niceness’ means infinitely tolerant or infinitely accommodating or even spineless. So when people come up against a church leader who is biblically rebuking, we might be offended by that. 

The book of Titus was meant to be read out loud to the entire church. We know that from 3:15 where the plural form of ‘you’ is used. Which means, in writing for all to hear what expectations are made of church leaders, Paul saying to the church at large: don’t be surprised when your leaders rebuke, silence, or warn. It is their God-given role to do so. 

The purpose of exhortation and loving confrontation is in v. 13: that people in the church may be sound in faith. The purpose of exhortation and loving confrontation is soundness of faith: gospel-centered, not legalistic or moralistic. In the context of the book of Titus, exhortation and loving confrontation was to take place so that the church would not drift into legalism or moralism. As we’ll see next, legalism or moralism is the primary problem in this church. Paul wants the leaders to exhort and lovingly confront those who were advocating for this legalism or moralism.

3) What motivates a church leader

The short answer is: the gospel.

Church leaders need to be of the highest character and committed to sound doctrine. They are expected to practice exhortation and loving confrontation. Why? Because the gospel is what motivates them.

V. 10 says, “For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers, and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party.”

Identifying who this circumcision party is is incredibly important to understanding what motivates Paul and what motivates church leaders. Clearly, Paul is not a fan of what this group believes and are doing. So what would the circumcision party have believed? 

This circumcision party would have believed that “You become a Christian by faith in Christ, but to stay a Christian, or grow as a Christian, or to be a good Christian or a proper Christian, you need to be circumcised.”

This is the essence of ‘legalism’ or ‘moralism’. ‘Legalism’ or ‘moralism’ reduces holiness to visible, measurable behavior: don’t sleep around; don’t get drunk; don’t go to movies; volunteer at homeless shelters – this is visible, measurable behavior.

Moralism says, “Being a good Christian is about visible, measurable behavior.” 

Why does Paul want church leaders to lovingly confront moralists in the church? Because moralists overlook a couple of things:

Attitudes – Attitudes are not visible nor are they easily measured. It’s possible to be sexually chaste and possess a prejudice attitude towards someone of another race, social class, or political party; it’s possible to be a faithful volunteer at the homeless shelter and possesses a critical spirit towards those who aren’t serving alongside you. Moralism reduces being a good Christian to visible, measurable behavior, but overlooks attitudes. 

Motivation – Doing good things for the wrong reason is wrong. In Isaiah 1, God talks about the impressive sacrifices Israel was offering him in obedience to him. God commanded sacrifices of the finest animals. Sacrificing the finest animals was a good thing. Israel was doing this. But God says these sacrifices were an abomination to him. Why? Because the reason they were doing these things was to placate him. They were offering sacrifices to appease God. They were a bribe. Moralism is bad because it overlooks motivation. Doing a good thing for the wrong reason is wrong.

I don’t want to make cynics about everybody, but we are far too easily impressed with visible, measurable behavior. We’re too easily impressed by it. We don’t realize the good, visible, measurable behavior of some Christians may be a stench in the nostrils of God because of the invisible attitudes that Christians possess or underlying motivations behind their behavior.

Why does moralism reduce being a good Christian to visible and measurable behavior? Why?

Visible and measurable behavior is a clearer indicator of how I’m doing than invisible and immeasurable attitudes and motivations. Moralism makes visible and measurable behavior the basis of my standing before God. If I can see and measure how well I’m doing, I can have peace of mind that God is pleased with me. It’s much easier to base my acceptability before God on whether or not I attended Bible study, than whether or not I loved my neighbor as myself. Attending Bible study is much easier to measure than loving my neighbor as myself. Moralism makes my performance the basis of my acceptability before God. It is, therefore, a rejection of the gospel. Which is why Paul wants church leaders to lovingly confront moralists in the church.

The gospel is freeing. Moralism says, “I’m acceptable before God based on my performance. God is pleased with me based on my visible, measurable performance.” The gospel says, “I’m acceptable before God based on Jesus’ performance. God is pleased with me based on Jesus’ visible and invisible; measurable and immeasurable performance.”

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