Appointing Godly Leaders

Titus 1:5-7

September 26, 2004 | Brian Bill

Mrs. Baker, a fifth grade teacher, observed a student in her class flipping a coin as he answered each true/false question on a test.  This answer selection method continued all the way through the exam.  Mrs. Baker then watched as he went through each question again, pausing to flip the coin each time.  She finally got up out of her chair, went over to his desk, and asked, “Norman, what are you doing now?”  To which Norman replied, “I’m doing what you always tell us to do!  I’m checking my answers!”

I’m thankful that we don’t have to flip a coin when it comes to selecting servant leaders in the church.  The Bible is very clear about the test for Elders and Deacons and this morning we’re going to check our answers with Scripture.  While our series is centered on the Book of Titus, for a comprehensive understanding of this topic, 1 Timothy 3:1-7, 1 Timothy 5:17-20James 5:14-15, 1 Peter 5:1-4 should also be studied.

Today we’re going to look at the next three verses of chapter one by focusing on the expected character qualities for Elders.  Next week we’ll pick up the second half of the list and also spend some time describing the role of Deacons.  

The Task of Titus

Please turn in your Bibles to Titus 1:5: “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.”  Here in this verse, Paul describes his purpose for leaving Titus on the island of Crete.  While the Book of Acts does not record a visit from Paul to this island, his trip with Titus most likely took place after his release from his first Roman imprisonment.  After spending some time on the island, Paul moved on to preach in other cities, but because there was much work still to be done, he left “Titus the Troubleshooter” behind.  Some have wondered how Crete could be evangelized so thoroughly if Paul never preached there during his earlier missionary journeys.  The key is found in Acts 2:11, where we read that some Cretans were present on the Day of Pentecost, and after hearing the gospel in their own language, were converted and went back to the island where they spread the good news.  

The Greek word indicates that Titus was left behind temporarily.  His task was to “set in order” or “straighten out what was left unfinished.”  This is the word epidiorthoo, from which we get the words orthodontist or orthopedist.  It literally means “to set right, to set in order, to complete unfinished reforms.”  It was used by medical writers to describe the setting of broken limbs or straightening crooked ones.  Like a doctor, the task of Titus was to set straight the things that were still unfinished.  The word “unfinished” shows us that Paul was concerned about the lack of leadership structure in the local churches.  

As I read this verse, I think of all the things that are still unfinished around me, and in me.  I’m thankful that God will complete what He has begun (Philippians 1:6).  And, as is the case in all churches, there is unfinished work right here.  No church has completed its chore and no ministry is without messes.  We have work to do in a lot of areas.  

Specifically for Titus, his task was to “appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.”  Most New Testament uses of this word refer to “setting someone in office” or appointing a person to a position of authority.  Jesus had this meaning in mind in Matthew 25:21: “Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness!”  Titus was given the tall task of appointing those whom the Holy Spirit had already raised up to serve as Elders.  Notice that he is to do this in every town.  Crete back then had 100 different cities, which shows how the gospel had spread, and also tells us that the expected norm for church leadership is eldership.

The word “Elder” primarily refers to those who were older.  This is how it is used in Luke 15:25 to describe the older son who stayed home when the prodigal son left.  Paul has this in mind in 1 Timothy 5:1 when he tells us to “not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father.”  A full study of eldership actually begins in the Old Testament, with the men who served as leaders over Israel.  The concept of Elders as leaders in the embryonic church is established in several key passages in the Book of Acts.

  • Acts 11:29-30: “The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea.  This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.”  We see here that the disciples are beginning to pass the baton of leadership to Elders. 
  • Acts 14:23: “Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.”
  • Acts 15:22: “Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas.”
  • Acts 16:4: “As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey.”
  • Acts 20:17: “From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church…”

The New Testament uses four key words that help paint a picture of the godly men who lead the church.  

  1. Elder.  This is the Greek word presbuteros, from which we get Presbyterian.  In this sense it refers to one who is mature and models the faith.  (Acts 20:17; 1 Timothy 5:17; 1 Peter 5:1)
  2. Overseer.  This is the word episkopos, from which we get Episcopal.  It means to “oversee, or care for.”  (Acts 20:28; 1 Timothy 3:1; Titus 1:7; Philippians 1:1; 1 Peter 5:2)
  3. Pastor.  The Greek word poimen means, “to shepherd,” or “one who cares for the needs of others.” (Acts 20:28; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Peter 5:2)
  4. Ruler.  Hegomai has the idea of ruling or governing.  (Acts 15:22; Hebrews 13:17)

Ray Pritchard notes that these words are often used interchangeably, especially elder and overseer.  If there is a difference, “elder” seems to stress the high qualifications while “overseer” stresses the responsibilities of those holding the office of elder.  In Acts 20 and 1 Peter 5, “elder,” “overseer,” and “pastor” are used in various forms to describe the same function of caring for Christians.  In Titus 1:6, Paul refers to an “elder” and in 1:7, he switches to the term “overseer” in the middle of the list of qualifications.  

Many times I hear people ask, “What is it that Elders do anyway?”  Among other responsibilities, the Bible lists six primary tasks.

  • Model Christian maturity.  1 Peter 5:3: “Not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”
  • Shepherd the sheep1 Peter 5:2: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care…”
  • Feed the flock.  1 Timothy 5:17: “The Elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.”
  • Refute the rebellious.  Titus 1:9: “…Encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.”
  • Manage church matters.  1 Timothy 3:5: “If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of the church of God?”
  • Intercede for the ill.  James 5:14: “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.”

According to the Life Application Bible Commentary, three principles emerge from Paul’s letter to Titus regarding the nature of leadership roles in the local church (page 225).

  • Local.  Leaders are rooted in the local church and accountable to it.
  • Multiple. Authority and responsibility are shared by several rather than concentrated in one person.
  • Qualified.  Men who serve as Elders must meet the qualifications.

Let’s look at Titus 1:6-7: “An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.  Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless-not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.”  We’ll pick up the second half of the list of qualifications next week in verses 8-9.  I want you to notice before we go through this list that most of the qualifications involve character, not a specific skill.  It really covers who Elders are, not so much what they do.  This list is more a character description and less of a job description.  This was especially important in Crete because the culture had created so many people with corrupt characters.   Verse 6 has to do with family qualifications and verse 7 describes the expectations for Elders in the family of God.

Family Qualifications

1. Blameless. 

This word is also translated as “above reproach.”  Notice that this quality is so important that it is listed first and is actually stated again in verse 7.  This is really a summary quality that is fleshed out in the following verses.  This does not mean that an Elder must be completely flawless or faultless, or no one could serve in this capacity, including me.  The Greek word means “without blame” and has to do with “unquestioned integrity.”  One pastor qualifies this requirement by reminding us that “Paul is not speaking of sinless perfection but is declaring that leaders of Christ’s church must have no sinful defect in their lives that could justly call their virtue, their righteousness, or their godliness into question and indict them.” 

A leader’s lifestyle and reputation must stand out so that he will have the respect of those he is leading.  This is not an optional quality for an Elder must be blameless.  Stuart Briscoe writes, “The only leader worth following is the leader who is following Christ.”  I think of how Enoch was described in Genesis 5:24 as one who “walked with God.”  Deacons are also held to this standard in 1 Timothy 3:10.  

2. Husband of but one wife. 

He must be completely committed to his wife in every way

This integrity must be evident in the marriage relationship, if the Elder is married.  The Greek phrase literally reads this way: “a one-woman man.”  While there is some disagreement about what this may mean, the obvious interpretation is that a man must remain faithful and true to his wife.  This was particularly important in Crete because of the rampant immorality that pervaded the island.  In fact, in the Roman world, it was common for wealthy men to have relations with servants in their home, with prostitutes at the pagan temple, and with their wife.  Paul is saying that this is unacceptable for the Elder.  He must be completely committed to his wife in every way.

Let me make two additional points related to this qualification.  First, the clear teaching of Scripture is that Elders and Pastors are to be men.  Paul uses the masculine pronoun throughout this list and here says that Elders are to be husbands.  Second, as I stated strongly earlier this summer, God’s standard is one man and one woman for life in a monogamous marriage.  We must take a stand for the sanctity of marriage.  While some say that this is a political issue and we should therefore stay away from it in the church; it is really a biblical and moral issue that must be communicated and protected by the church.

3. A man whose children believe. 

An elder must be above reproach in marriage and in his parenting.  A father must be actively involved in the faith development of his children.  An elder’s children must not only believe but not be “open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.”  To be wild is to be incorrigible and was used to describe behavior that is reckless.  The adverbial form is used in Luke 15:13 to describe the prodigal who squandered his estate “with loose living.” The word “disobedient” was used to describe horses that would not tolerate their yoke or soldiers who would not keep their ranks.  In short, disobedient children are those who are unwilling to bow to parental authority.  

Now, let me qualify this.  There are no perfect children and we must allow them to process their faith as they discover their place in God’s family.  Having said that, the true training ground for an Elder is in the home.  In Paul’s letter to Timothy, he links the managing of children with the managing of the church: “If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?” (1 Timothy 3:5).

Did you know that the first man to scale Mount Everest without oxygen later fell off a wall at his home because he had locked himself out of his house?  He conquered every mountain in the world but fell at home.  Jon Courson writes: “True ministry may one day extend beyond your family, but not before it is established within your family.”

Family of God Qualifications

4. Entrusted with God’s work. 

Verse 7 reiterates the standard of blamelessness and introduces the concept of being a steward.  To be “entrusted” refers to stewardship and was used of the one who cared for all the needs of family members, finances, crops and other servants.  As such the overseer must see himself not as the owner of the church, but as the one entrusted with the spiritual nourishment, growth and behavior of the family of God.  Just as the steward’s main task was to carry out the will of the master; so too, the overseer is to carry out the Word of the Lord.  According to Jesus’ own words in Matthew 24:45, the most important quality of a steward is “faithfulness.” 

5. Not overbearing. 

There is no place for arrogant intolerance on the Elder board because overseers are to be loving leaders, not dominant dictators

The Contemporary English Version captures the meaning this way: “Must not be bossy.” The word combines two ideas: “self” and “delight.”  An overbearing person is one who is self loving and is so preoccupied with himself that he forces his opinions on others.  Vine suggests that this is the opposite of gentle.  There is no place for arrogant intolerance on the Elder board because overseers are to be loving leaders, not dominant dictators.

6. Not quick-tempered. 

An Elder must not be “easily inflamed.”  Barclay provides some interesting insight: “There are two Greek words for anger.  There is thumos, which is the anger that quickly blazes up and just as quickly subsides, like a fire in straw.  And there is orgē, and it means inveterate (firmly established by long persistence) anger.  It is not the anger of the sudden blaze, but the wrath which a man nurses to keep it warm.  A blaze of anger is an unhappy thing; but this long-lived, purposely maintained anger is still worse.  The man who nourishes his anger against any man is not fit to be an office-bearer of the Church. 

I like what someone said: “Temper is such a wonderful thing that it’s a shame to lose it.”  As Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13:5, love is “not easily provoked.” While anger is sometimes justified, there are many warnings in Scripture to avoid exploding.  Proverbs 29:22: “An angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered one commits many sins.” An Elder must be like the person described in Proverbs 14:29: “A patient man has great understanding…” and Proverbs 17:14: “Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.” 

7. Not given to drunkenness. 

This is an interesting phrase in the original because it literally means, “beside wine” or “tarrying at wine.”  This picture is of a man who always has a wineskin or a bottle with him.  It was especially important in Crete for the leader to avoid drunkenness because this behavior could be confused with the drunken worship of the Greek god Dionysius, which involved drunkenness and immorality and was widely practiced by Cretans.

8. Not violent. 

An overseer must not be a “striker” or a “fighter.”  The Greeks expanded this meaning to also include those who were violent in their speech.  This prohibition to avoid retaliation was important because it was not uncommon in the first century for men to settle their disputes with their fists.

9. Not pursuing dishonest gain. 

Leaders in the church must not love money more than ministry.  An Elder must not be involved in dishonest practices for selfish purposes.  Again, the Cretans were notorious for being fond of sordid gain.  The Roman historian Polybius had this to say: “They are so given to making gain in disgraceful and acquisitive ways that among the Cretans alone of all men no gain is counted disgraceful.”  Plutarch said that that Cretans stuck to money like bees to honey.  In fact, in that culture, perhaps much like ours today, material gain was counted above honesty and honor.  Paul identified false teachers in Titus 1:11 as those who teach “for the sake of dishonest gain.”

This concludes the list of vices to avoid and next week we’ll focus on some virtues Elders are to emulate.  Before we conclude, I’d like to suggest some implications and applications.


  • Use this list as a maturity profile in your own life.  While these qualifications obviously apply to Elders, in his classic book called “The Measure of a Man,” Gene Getz believes that these qualities can help us measure our own maturity level.
  • Men, actively pursue becoming an Elder.  1 Timothy 3:1 plainly states that it is a good thing to want to serve in this way: “If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.”  The New American Standard Bible says, “It is a fine work he desires to do.”  The phrase, “sets his heart on” is very strong and is more than just wanting something; it has the idea of seeking after or actively pursuing.  I’m praying that God will develop more Elders and who will help oversee the flock of God.
  • Respect your leaders.  Our culture doesn’t really respect those who provide leadership.  We’re skeptical and critical, and sometimes rightly so.  But in the church, it must be different.  1 Thessalonians 5:12-13: “Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you.  Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.  Live in peace with each other.”
  • Submit to your leaders.  Hebrews 13:17 challenges Christians to not only respect their leaders but to submit to them: “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.  They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”  Some day I will have to give an account about how well I’ve kept watch over God’s flock.  Elders will be evaluated for their stewardship of God’s household.  Congregation, will the leaders of this church be able to tell God that leading you was a pleasure when they stand before Him?  What can you do to affirm your Elders today and thank them for what they do?
  • Pray for the leadership team.  One of the most important things you can do is to pray for the elders, deacons and staff of this church.  Paul summed it up very succinctly in 1 Thessalonians 5:25: “Brothers, pray for us.”

I came across a report from a search committee recently that helps us keep things in perspective.  Here’s what it says.

We have not been able to find a suitable candidate for this church, though we have one promising prospect.  Thank you for your suggestions.  We have followed up on each one with interviews or by calling at least three references. The following is our report.

ADAM: Ancestry could not be confirmed. Good man but has problems with his wife. 

NOAH: Had former pastorate of 120 years with no converts. Prone to unrealistic building projects. Great animal lover, but the last neighborhood received a flood of complaints. 

MOSES: A modest and meek man, but poor communicator; even stutters at times. Sometimes blows his stack and acts rashly in business meetings.  History says he was a basket case from the beginning.

DAVID: The most promising leader of all until we discovered his adultery. 

SOLOMON: Has had serious relationship problems. Independently wealthy, so the church could pay him less and he can make up the difference.

ELIJAH: Prone to depression; collapses under pressure.  

JOHN: Says he is a Baptist, but doesn’t dress like one.  Sleeps in the outdoors, has a weird diet, and provokes denominational leaders.

PETER: Has a bad temper, even said to have cursed on occasions. He’s a loose cannon.

PAUL: Powerful CEO type and fascinating preacher but has been known to preach all night. 

TITUS: Too young and inexperienced.

JESUS: Has had popular times occasionally, but once when his church grew overnight to 5000, he managed to offend them all with too hard a message; eventually his flock dwindled down to twelve people… then finally to eleven, and even the faithful finally left his team.  Critics report he seldom stays in one place very long, is easily distracted by poor, sick, and needy people, so doesn’t focus on ministry.  Spends too much time in meditation, needs to attend more of the organizational meetings without making a spectacle of himself and displaying his temper.  Oh… and he hangs around with sinners most of the time.  Rumor has it he got crossed up with the government at one point, and they buried him with accusations.  He’s not a quitter, however, and keeps popping up here and there. 

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?