“Most high achievers”, says leadership guru John Maxwell, “spend time developing their professional skills. They seek to be highly competent. Fewer focus on their character.” Maxwell encourages his readers along with developing crucial skills to focus on their character as that is equally if not more important than competency. He encourages them to develop integrity, “being scrupulously honest even when it hurts”, authenticity, “being your real self with everyone”, and discipline, “doing the right thing every day regardless of how you feel”. In lists of attributes people look for in a leader these character traits rank highly. Conversely, we’ve seen recently the damage that even highly competent people in positions of power can cause when they are lacking in character… The Harvey Weinstein scandals has bought to light sexual misconduct, we have examples of issues to do with money and the abuse of power. On a grand scale we’ve watched the dictator Robert Mugabe being forced to give up the power he had used force to impose on Zimbabwe for so many years and on a smaller scale heard stories of exploitation of migrant workers in New Zealand and workplace bullying. Sadly, the church has not been immune to these issues; Gifted and talented, and respected Leaders have fallen to the unholy trinity of sex, money and power. AS Paul sets Titus the task of establishing leaders for the churches in all the towns on Crete his focus is on Blameless Character, that they live out the faith they hold to.
We are working our way through what are known as the Pastoral Epistles, Paul’s letters to co-workers, leaders in the church, as they deal with different challenging pastoral situations. Letters in which Paul encourages and instructs them, and gives us insight not only to Christian living and community but also into Christian leadership. Leadership which is not just a call to a select few, but to all who would follow Jesus Christ, as we grow in maturity and ministry.
The passage we had read to us today is split into two sections. Firstly, Paul instructs Titus to appoint Church leaders in every town on Crete and he provides Titus a code of what to look for in elders and overseers. Then he moves to set the scene in which the Church in Crete finds itself. The need for such leadership because the church faced false teaching from a group called the circumcision party who focused on ritual cleanliness like the Jewish food laws rather than Christian ethics, so there was a disconnect between gospel teaching and gospel living. It should not surprise us in this environment that character was of such important in the leaders being appointed.
Before we look at the character of the leaders Paul identifies, we do need to make some comment about the leadership structure Paul talks about. In this passage Paul uses two words for Christian leadership. The first is elders, it has its basis in Jewish society, where the family heads who provided leadership for the villages and the nation. Moses consults with the elders and gives them judicial responsibilities. During the time of the judges they formed the basis of local government, and under the monarch they were like an advisory panel whose voice needed to be listened to. They were the magistrates in local villages, with the jewish diaspora they became the leadership model for the synagogues. They were not the main teachers in Jewish society that was more the priests. So when Christianity comes along and there is a need for leadership in churches, it is natural to have adopt the idea of Elders. Of course, as a Presbyterian Church, ruled by elders we have focused on this model and we believe it is agreeable with scripture. It’s not perfect, its not the only way but it is what we have discerned in history as a good form of church governance.
The other word that Paul uses here is overseer. The Greek word is Episkopos, which we interperate bishop, the Anglican church in the US is known as the Episcopalian Church, a church governed by bishops, overseers. Overseers come from Greek culture where they were the slaves put in charge of their master’s household, or business ventures or property. The Old testament example is Jospeh who when he is sold as a slave rises to be overseer of his master Potphar’s household. It fits in very much with the idea of Christian leadership being a service and the early church being built round groups that met in people’s houses. The leader of that basic unit could be described very aptly with the term Overseer.
In this passage the two terms seem to be interchangeable, referring to the same people in each town. In 1 Timothy they seem to be two different offices, as Paul gives similar codes for the conduct of elders in chapter 3 and one for overseers and deacons in chapter 5. It maybe that the church in the towns on Crete were small and so the two roles were synonymous, where as in Ephesus where Paul wrote to Timothy it was large enough that Elders and overseer were different roles. It is easy to get caught up in different styles of church governance and historically that has been one of the issues that has kept the church apart. The focus of Titus is not the structure as much as the character of the leaders.
We need to turn our attention to that.
Paul uses the word blameless twice in his list of what to look for in a Christian leader. We might look at that and think that You must be perfect to be a Christian leader. The reality is that if you wait till you are perfect then you’ll be waiting a very long time. I wonder if part of many church leaders falling into abuses of power and money and sex is that they live with such a high expectation and start believing the hype about them, and it becomes arrogance. Blameless is a legal term which means that no charges can be bought against a person. It’s more than a background check for criminal convictions, its a life style test for present commitment to faith convictions. Paul is asking for leaders to have a good reputation in the community and the church, a solid reputation, integrity, not simply a pretty façade.
Paul gives a list of positive traits to look for and negative traits to avoid that make up the idea of blameless. Sort like red lights and green lights for a potential leader. Family relationships are in order, there is fidelity within marriage, in a very new and difficult setting like Crete it was important that the whole household believed. That is wasn’t split with the Children involved in the wild side of Cretean behaviour. The false teaching was disrupting households, to counter it they needed to have a household that was keeping the faith and keeping together. It was important not to have a family which could be pointed to as out of control by those outside the Church. I think it is a protection for families and marriages that are struggling as well, not putting them under the added pressure and scrutiny that comes with leadership.
Then Paul gives a list of negative traits, ‘not overbearing, not quick tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursing dishonest gain. ‘These are the direct opposites of what is happening in pagan Crete society and specifically with dishonest gain it mirrors Paul allegations that the circumcision party are in it to make money. Paul had had to defend himself against such allegations, telling the Philippians he appreciated their gift but was not asking for anything and had learned to be content in all situations. He also tells the Thessalonians to remember that he had worked as a tent maker while he was with them so not to be a burden.
Paul then follows that up with a list of positive character traits, hospitality… which is generosity, sharing what God has given. In a church that met in peoples houses it is also an essential attribute. In Phillipi, part of Lydia’s repose to the gospel was to open her house up to Paul and his team, we must assume that as where the church started and met as well. Who loves good was seen as the opposite to being about self-gain, it reflects Jesus Beatitude, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, self-control and disciple speak of having ones emotions and appetites under control. Upright. Speaks of being committed to justice and fairness in all dealing with other people, Holiness in greek ethics meant “living in accordance with the wishes of your god”. It describes the condition of the whole person… we might use the word integrity, our outward actions, are in harmony with our inward beliefs. Jesus would say it ‘if you love me you will keep my commandments’. In all these traits people would see that the Candidate for Christian leadership lived out the gospel they believed in.
Paul adds a skill to his list as well that the person hold on to the trust worthy teaching they have received and be able to encourage others with sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. Paul’s not looking for people with a theological degree here, but rather people who know the gospel and show they now it by how they live. There is a competency element here being able to teach. But also that they set an example for others to see and follow.
How do we bring that from the there and then to the here and now.
The elephant in the room is does this passage say church leadership is only for men…Married men. As we looked at last week when we looked at the household code and leading where we are, we noted that people have tried to take the household codes of patriarchal society and impose them as binding on todays society. In Paul’s time household leader’s elders and overseers were gendered roles. However, I’ve mentioned many times that Paul affirmed women in leadership roles, Lydia was the leader of the church in Philippi. In Corinthians Paul talks of Chloe’s people coming to him with concerns about what was happening in Corinth, which implies she was a leader in that church. As we are a society now that values women in leadership, I know we still have a long way to go, we must ask how we apply Paul’s code to women. The answer is that the teaching on fidelity in marriage and other character traits to do with attitudes to the use of authority and money are equally as relevant, for men and women… As we look at 1 and 2 Timothy next year we will deal with some difficult passages about women in leadership.
It’s interesting that in the list of attributes Paul used Greek terms and concepts to describe the qualities of a leader. He has taken the Jewish gospel and translated the best of the qualities that Jesus epitomised and made them relevant for the situation on Crete. The attributes and moral integrity that the Greeks themselves values Paul is able to call Christians to live those out. It’s a key principle for us as well, to see Christian Leadership be about people reflecting the best character traits virtues and qualities that our society holds up for leaders, Maxwell does that by using words like integrity, honesty, authenticity, discipline cover the traits Paul had talked about. This word picture behind me reflects leadership qualities people saw in Martin Luther King Jr, many which reflect his Christian faith. The list of the top attributes that people look for in a leader today like dependability, transparency; having no ulterior motive, empathy, compassion and care for workers and those we lead, all reflect a Christ honouring life, a person who hears Jesus words and obeys them. That are able to be examples of what it means to follow Christ. In their relationships, inside the family and outside.
When I was at Knox Theological college the then principal showed us this diagram to do with ministry formation, and he asked us which of these quadrants we felt that we needed to work on in our time at Knox. Professional skills and developing gifts, knowledge, spiritual growth, character development. I actually think it is a good way of thinking about not only ministry development but also leadership development and Christian discipleship. To be well rounded in Christ we need to grow in all those areas.
In this passage Paul is not telling Titus to look for the superheros of the faith, the exceptional Christian person, rather when you have a look at the qualities of a quality leader, you see that they are examples of people who have grown into maturity in Christ, it is God’s call on you and I In Ephesians four Paul states that God’s purpose for Christian leadership and ministry is that the body of Christ, all of us, might grow into the fullness of Christ and be equipped for every good deed. As we saw when we looked at Paul’s instruction to Titus about people in every status of Cretean society was that as followers of Jesus they are examples of the Kingdom of God in this world, ambassadors for Christ. To be like these street lights starting to take effect in the dusk in a town on Crete, or where we are here and now. WE are called to a Christ honouring life and as we live that some will be called into positions of leadership in the Church… We are all called to have the qualities of quality leadership… as we serve and grow in the qualities of Jesus Christ.