Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: church leadership

Follow the leader (part 2)

When the Scriptures give us a direction, it’s always best that we pay attention.  If we observe God talking about the same subject more than once…well…then He’s putting down some emphasis that we need to linger on.

Twice in his closing statements and encouragements, the author of Hebrews mentions how the church body should be acting toward our church leaders.  The second one reads as follows:

Hebrews 13:17
Obey your leaders and submit to them, since they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.


Some days, it’s great to be the leader.  You get to help people understand God and His purpose.  You see the fruit of your efforts paying off as your people mature.  People say ‘thank you’.  Sometimes, they do something to say ‘thank you’.  The sun shines and you can see God moving in the community through the work of those you lead.

Other days…being the leader doesn’t feel all that good.  People who are supposed to care about each other end up selfishly hurting each other.  They want you to fix it.  Maybe they blame you for it happening – or they blame God and you just happen to be a more convenient place to blow up.  You offer a helping hand to the community, and instead of taking it, they reject it…and you.  To the surprise of many, your own family has struggles and issues.  The pressure to be ‘perfect’ is constant.  You are always ‘on call’ – expected to effortlessly represent God and be the calm voice of reason in any situation that happens.

As members of the church body, we need our leaders.  We need them to guide us when we are walking close to God, and we need them to correct us when we are wandering (or running) away from Him.  We look to our leaders for acceptance and love, even when life has gone completely sideways and we feel like a hopeless mess.  Their reliance on God helps us believe that we can trust God, too.

To those who lead a church, in any capacity, God takes their role very seriously.  He expects the leader to maintain His perspective, so that they can keep watch over your souls.  One day, those who lead will give an account of all they taught others about Jesus – through their words and their actions.  Remember how Jesus’ harshest criticisms and biggest frustrations were because of the hypocritical Pharisees?  When it comes time to give an account, God is not going to be any easier on today’s leaders who take a similar, selfish path.

So, let’s be honest – Being a church leader is not an easy job, but the author of Hebrews says there a couple of ways we could make it easier on them.

First, he says to obey your leaders and submit to them.  I will guarantee that your church leadership will not always ‘do church’ exactly they way you want them to.  But before we go to complain, we need to check our motivations and make sure we’re not just advocating for our personal preferences.  There are likely other factors influencing your leaders’ decisions, and if God is leading them – then you don’t want to be fighting against God’s direction for your church.  By all means, we should feel comfortable bringing issues and concerns to our pastor’s attention; however, let’s be very careful and selective in what we find fault with.

Second, he says our interactions with our leaders should help them do their job with joy and not with grief.  A leader who dreads dealing with those he is responsible for is someone who will lead others as little as possible.  Certainly, a hands-off pastor would be unprofitable for you

When we obey our leaders and submit to them, we show that we trust them to follow God’s lead.  While that trust is a big responsibility, being trusted by the congregation gives our leaders confidence to do God’s work with joy and profitable to those who follow them.

So how can we support our leaders in their all-important (and sometimes draining) work?  The New Living Translation of Proverbs 11:25 is a good place to start:

Proverbs 11:25
The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.


Let’s be refreshing to our leaders when we interact with them.  Don’t bring them the unnecessary burdens of self-centered complaints.  Trust them enough to obey and submit to them.  If you don’t need something at the moment from them, then show/tell your leaders they are appreciated.

Let’s love on them, so that they can do this with joy.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Follow the leader (part 1)

When the Scriptures give us a direction, it’s always best that we pay attention.  If we observe God talking about the same subject more than once…well…then He’s putting down some emphasis that we need to linger on.

Twice in his closing statements and encouragements, the author of Hebrews mentions how the church body should be acting toward our church leaders.  The first one reads as follows:

Hebrews 13:7
Remember your leaders who have spoken God’s word to you.  As you carefully observe the outcome of their lives, imitate their faith.

When looking for a mentor, role model, or Godly example, those who lead in the church should be at the top of our list.  However, the author does not give his approval to cast a wide net and grab ahold of any church member in any leadership position.  He says to focus on the ones who have spoken God’s word to you.  Does your preacher teach from the Bible, or does he only teach from pop-psychology to keep the audience engaged?  When you ask a question, does your teacher point you toward God’s perspective, or she rely on feel-good statements and stories?

The leaders who have spoken God’s word to you are the ones worthy of observation and imitation

Learning to be like Jesus is a lifelong journey.  We’re not going to figure out whose lives and faith are worth imitating by only checking them out at a surface level.  It will be impossible for us to evaluate the outcome of a leader’s relationship with God if our only interaction is by watching him online or reading her books.  This is why it is best to be involved with our local church.  Find a leader there who is worth partnering with and learning from.

Once you’ve found a good example, how should we follow them?  Notice the author says to imitate their faith.  Now, let’s be clear – he doesn’t tell his readers to act out their faith in the same way their leaders have done.  They don’t also have to be preachers, teachers, worship leaders…instead they should be trusting God as they use the gifts He has given them. 

They are to imitate the leader’s character and reliance on God – not to try and do the exact same skill in the exact same way their leader operates.  This is why the author says to carefully observe the outcome of their lives.  When we are able to watch closely, we can see the strength of their faith in God…which drives their ability to lead (instead of us guessing about their relationship from afar).  We must also keep in mind there are many ways to exercise our faith and demonstrate our reliance on Him.  God does not expect us to be carbon-copies of our pastor, teachers, and other leaders.

So, the first part of following church leadership looks like this:

·       Stay local
·       Find a leader who points you toward God’s Word and God’s perspective
·       Observe their lives
·       Imitate their faith in God as you act out your own

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Stomaching the misconduct of leaders

I think Dr. Thomas Constable was right when he wrote in his notes on 1 Timothy, “Criticism of leaders is a favorite spectator sport.” 

Let’s face it – not everyone is going to agree with or “like” every pastor they come across.  But how should an accusation of misconduct be handled?

As Paul continued his instructions for Timothy regarding the appointment of church leadership, he takes a realistic, yet extremely serious, approach to dealing with leaders who may not be living up the standards their position would require.

1 Timothy 5:19-21
Don’t accept an accusation against an elder unless it is supported by two or three witnesses.  Publicly rebuke those who sin, so that the rest will also be afraid.  I solemnly charge you, before God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing out of favoritism.

Paul’s directions fit in perfectly with what Jesus taught his disciples about church discipline (Matthew 18:15-17).  Timothy must thoroughly evaluate an accusation against an elder.  One person’s word isn’t sufficient.  However, if the charge proves true – if the elder isn’t living up to the qualifications set forth a few verses back in 1 Timothy 3, then a public rebuke and/or removal from office may be in order.  These steps would correct the issue with the elder in question…but also keep the other elders from falling into the same trap. 

Paul could not have been more serious regarding the importance of going through this process without any prejudice or favoritism.  When Jesus referred to his return with the Father and the elect angels, it was in regard to judgment (Matt 25:31; Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26; Rev 14:10).  While we might be tempted to think that a public rebuke is too harsh, it is better for an elder to be confronted now than for them to go on unchecked and then be confronted later by Jesus at the Bema judgement.

In order to avoid these kinds of situations, Paul gives Timothy some additional guidance:

1 Timothy 5:22-25
Don’t be too quick to lay hands on anyone, and don’t share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.

Don’t continue drinking only water, but use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.

Some people’s sins are evident, going before them to judgement, but the sins of others follow them.

Likewise, good works are obvious, and those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden.

Paul’s water vs. wine comment might seem a little strange to us, but keep in mind that wine was used for medicinal purposes in the ancient world.  Purified water from a faucet wasn’t readily available like it is for us.  Even though their water may look fine, there was a decent chance that it was contaminated.  Using a small amount of alcoholic wine would have been beneficial in keeping his digestive tract in working order.

It seems to me that Paul is taking a practical step from Timothy’s life and using it as an example of how to manage the appointment of leaders.  Timothy needs be cautious about appointing someone to represent God and lead others in their relationship with Jesus.  Just because someone seems like a “nice Christian guy” and he can quote a few Scriptures doesn’t mean he should be leading the congregation.  The importance of Timothy taking preventative measures to keep pure would also ensure that the church family would also avoid having to stomach elder-judgement issues in the future.

Bottom line for us?  We need to recognize that our leader’s lives matter.  We can’t expect them to be perfect, but their position mandates a level of blamelessness in order for them to handle this kind of influence on God’s family.  Just like Timothy needed to take appropriate steps in evaluating a leader, we need to do the same when we are considering who we get our Bible teaching from.  Just because they’re on the radio doesn’t mean they are “good” and their teaching is accurate.  Just because they are “really nice” doesn’t mean that we should be submitting to their leadership.  We need to do some work on the front end to avoid being misled.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Hard questions about church leadership

Good leaders are hard to find these days.  Whenever we are under a person who is in a leadership position, but he or she isn’t leading – the results are often disastrous.  Without guidance from those who should be responsible, the people in the workforce are directionless and unproductive.  Left unchecked long enough, non-leading “leadership” makes the workplace chaotic.  

However, don’t think that leadership problems are only business and career problems.  Even in a charity setting, leadership matters.  Without an engaged leader, the volunteer work being donated to the cause ends up being ineffective.  And as hard as it is to admit…the same thing can happen in the church.

But rather than focus on the damage that a poor leader can cause, we have a more difficult question to answer…

What do we do for the good leaders?

I think we, as a church, tend to take advantage of good, Godly leadership.  Oh, we say nice things to them, like “I really enjoyed your talk”.  Then we move on with life.  But the moment we need guidance, answers, or support, we expect them to be available.  Especially on the weekends and holidays…because that’s when we have church services, right?

Our church leaders need more than a “thank you”.  Paul thought so as well:

1 Timothy 5:17-18
The elders who are good leaders should be considered worthy of an ample honorarium, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.  For the Scripture says:

You must not muzzle an ox that is threshing grain, and
The laborer is worthy of his wages.

The metaphor is an obvious one - as big and strong as the ox is, it still gets tired and needs to eat, even during the work.

This isn’t the first-time Paul has referred to the oxen direction in the Old Testament law.  He also pointed it out to the believers in Corinth.  Timothy was heavily involved with the Corinthian church, and he would have been aware of Paul’s previous directions based upon the Old Testament oxen scripture.  As such, Paul doesn’t need to reiterate his full teaching in Timothy’s letter – a reminder reference is sufficient to get his point across.

However, for our benefit and understanding, let’s take a look at what Paul said to the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 9:9-11, 12-14
For it is written in the law of Moses,

Do not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.

Is God really concerned with oxen?  Or isn’t He really saying it for us?  Yes, this is written for us, because he who plows ought to plow in hope, and he who threshes should do so in hope of sharing the crop.  If we have sown spiritual things for you is it too much if we reap material things from you?

…Do you not know that those who perform the temple services eat the food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the offerings of the altar?  In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should earn their living by the gospel.

How many people attend your church?  If you were responsible for supporting that many people at your job, what kind of salary would you expect?  Is that somewhere in the neighborhood of how much your pastor is being paid?

I know, I know.  Those are hard questions.  Our society struggles with the idea of non-profit and church workers making “too much”.  We think it “looks bad” or “detracts from the cause”.  We tell ourselves that our church leaders are “storing treasure in Heaven” (which they are) and shouldn’t have “too much” down here.  But whose measurement of “too much” should we trust…ours or God’s?

Do some preachers give in to greed and abuse their position?  Absolutely, it happens.  A few verses downstream from these, Paul will address those kinds of issues in leadership.  But that shouldn’t stop us from allowing the good leaders to be appropriately compensated for their hard work now.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

How to deal with conflict

Ever get the urge to just “knock some sense” into someone?

Or at the very least, give them a verbal beat down that will “set them right” – and maybe let us blow off a little steam?

Take Paul’s protégé Timothy as an example.

He’s in a major metropolitan city he didn’t grow up in, he’s (at most) 30 years old, he’s in charge of the entire Christian church family in the city, and Paul has charged him with combating false doctrine and incorrect teachings of others.

How much conflict is going to come his way?  How many folks will be coming at him to argue with him?  Think he’ll have days where he feels the need to put someone in their place?

The Greek word for rebuke means just that – to strike or beat upon, to chastise with words.  I’m sure there were more than a few people (even some of them believers) who would have needed a strong dose of correction.

But look at how Paul says the young leader Timothy should handle those people:

1 Timothy 5:1-2
Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and with all propriety, the younger women as sisters.

While a rebuke would be a sharp, cutting word of correction, Timothy’s choice to exhort the person sits at the opposite end of the spectrum.  The Greek word translated exhort means to call to one’s side, to encourage and strengthen by consolation, comfort, or instruction.

Paul knew his Old Testament well.  As he directed Timothy, he likely had this proverb in mind:

Proverbs 15:1
A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.

In a separate letter, Paul reminded the believers in Rome:

Romans 2:4
Or do you despise the riches of His kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

Going toe-to-toe with an angry patron would make it difficult for Timothy to reach them with lasting correction and change.  Nor would harsh words model how God treats us.

One last observation to make.  Did you see the extra note Paul included for Timothy’s interaction with younger women?  With all propriety, [exhort] younger women as sisters.  We’ve all seen it too many times.  A high-ranking church leader losing his reputation, his job, and his influence for Christ due to an inappropriate relationship with another woman. 

Men, hear me clearly – if we do not keep ourselves intentionally pure and sinless in this area, especially with younger women, then we are inviting destruction into our lives.  Carelessness in this area will bring shame to ourselves and significant damage to God’s reputation in this life…and then we’ll have to answer to Jesus at the Bema Seat judgment.  You don’t want that.  I don’t want that.  We must take any steps necessary to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

So, here’s Paul direction to Timothy, all fleshed out:

Do not rebuke and older man, but exhort him as a father
Do not rebuke a younger man, but exhort him as a brother
Do not rebuke an older woman, but exhort her as a mother
Do not rebuke a younger woman, but – with all integrity – exhort her as a sister.

Put these into practice, and you will reflect God to others.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

 

The pressure of being young and in charge

New leaders often feel the pressure to “prove” they belong in their position.  New young leaders feel this pressure even more.  If left unchecked, this pressure will kindle a leader’s internal worries of public failure.  Their fear of failure normally manifests itself in a variety of bad ways – becoming bossy, refusing counsel, trusting only themselves, stubbornness, condescending actions, or even expectations of special treatment because “I’m the boss”.

A boss who behaves this way will undermine the aim and purpose of the organization they are supposed to lead.  Don’t think these fears and actions are isolated to just business leadership.  You’ll find them in any organization – volunteer groups, military, even your local church. 

When Paul left Timothy in charge of the church in Ephesus, he knew that he was leaving the congregation in capable hands.  However, Paul also understood some of the challenges that Timothy would likely face. 

Throughout his letter, Paul warns about the kinds of disputes Timothy will face as he leads the church in Ephesus.  When disagreements came up, it was certainly possible that someone would try to use Timothy’s age as a reason to discredit his leadership.  At this time, Timothy is likely in his late 20s, or possibly his early 30s.

So Paul gives this instruction to his protégé:

1 Timothy 4:11-12
Command and teach these things.  No one should despise your youth; instead, you should be an example to the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.

Whenever I get the chance to encourage other fathers, especially fathers of young boys, I use phrases like “more is caught than taught” and “you must be the man you want them to be”.  In the long run, parenting is easier if we model the lessons we insist our children learn.  The same goes for leaders in the church.

Additionally, as Timothy did his best to emulate Jesus, there was a specific scene in Jesus’ life that he could have found reassuring.  Recall that at age 12 – still considered a child by Jewish society standards – Jesus was conversing with the teachers of the law in the temple, astounding them with his understanding and answers (see Luke 2:41-50).

Timothy couldn’t stop someone from questioning his position due to his youthfulness.  However, he could proactively prevent many concerns by how he conducted himself in his position.  The limitations other perceive in us are always overcome by our actions.  As Timothy modeled Christ-like behavior, his example would give him the credibility that his youthful age would not.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

It's all good

It’s all good!

I might be giving away my age here, but that phrase became pop culture slang in the middle of my teenage years.  Typically said with twang that made the “all” sound like “awl”, the person who used the phrase was telling everyone that they were not going let a situation bring them down or derail their direction in life – even if the circumstances or news was really bad.

As cool as we thought we were for saying it, we didn’t realize that the Apostle Paul said it almost 2000 years before we did.

While instructing Timothy on how he needs to lead the church in Ephesus, Paul informs him of the following:

1 Timothy 4:4-6
For everything created by God is good, and nothing should be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, since it is sanctified by the word of God and by prayer.  If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished by the words of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.

Did you catch that?  Everything God created is good.  Going back to original creation and the Garden of Eden, at the end each day, God looked at what He created and saw that it was good (See Genesis 1).  Despite the ways sin has corrupted the world, we can still approach everything through the lens of the word of God and by prayer.  When we use these two tools, we can see God’s original design and intent for our lives. 

Paul wants the believers in Ephesus to know this, but he also knows that they must be reminded of it.  Why does Paul tell Timothy to point these things out to the brothers?  Because he knows that the troubles of this sin-soaked world will skew our vision.  We must keep coming back to God’s word and prayer if we’re going see properly.

Can I be honest, though?  Sometimes I tire of hearing that message, even though I know it is right.  It happens to all of us.  Our sin-nature gets emboldened, and we resent the messenger who reminds us of our need for God’s word and prayer.  Being resented can be difficult for our church leaders, even though they are correctly doing the things God has asked them to do.  Paul knows this and encourages Timothy:

if you point out these things, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus

Paul uses the same word for good here that he did earlier.  So he’s essentially saying that as good as God made the initial creation and design, that’s how good of a servant Timothy will be when he carries out his mission and points the believers back to the importance of God’s word and prayer.

So we should ask ourselves:

Do I see today as something good?
Do I see my home, my family, my work, my food, and my responsibilities as something good?
Am I thankfully receiving everything from God, seeing it all through the lens of His word and prayer?
Am I resentful when someone reminds me see life through this lens?

Despite what sin-soaked mess comes our way, when we see this world from God’s vantage point, we can honestly say

It’s all good.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Addressing needs in the church family

There were deacons in the church I grew up in, but honestly, I had no idea what that title meant for them.  Many Christian denominations have deacons on staff or as specially chosen volunteers.

What does a deacon do?  How are they different from the overseers?

The Greek word for deacon (diakonos) translates into humble servant.  While all Christians are called to serve others like Christ did, the early church found themselves in a situation where they needed officially identified servants to address specific needs in the church family.  Here’s how the apostles in Jerusalem established this office:

Acts 6:3-4
Therefore, brothers, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we can appoint to this duty.  But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the preaching ministry.

This division of labor makes a whole lot of sense.  We can’t expect our church’s pastors and overseers to handle every single ministry need of the congregation.  Notice that these first deacons were to be highly regarded men from within the church family – but their role as an official church servant was to then be appointed by the church leadership.

Paul wanted to keep this balance of structure within the churches outside of Jerusalem as well.  After explaining to Timothy the qualifications necessary to be an overseer, Paul then turns his attention to the qualifications necessary to be a humble servant for the congregation:

1 Timothy 3:8-13
Deacons, likewise, should be worthy of respect, not hypocritical, not drinking a lot of wine, not greedy for money, holding the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.  And they must also be tested first; if they prove blameless, then they can serve as deacons. 

Wives, too, must be worthy of respect, not slanderers, self-controlled, faithful in everything.  Deacons must be husbands of one wife, managing their children and their own households competently.  For those who have served well as deacons acquire a good standing for themselves, and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

Paul’s directions to Timothy do not list what places a deacon is to serve; rather, Paul is more concerned that Timothy understands the type of person who would be allowed to represent the church’s ministry to others by their serving. 

It should be noted, too, that the Greek word for wives is often translated as “wife” or simply “women”, depending on the context of the word.  Commentators have made reasonable arguments for either interpretation here – that Paul is referring to qualifications for the wife of a deacon, or that Paul is allowing for women to also hold the deacon-servant role within the church.  Supporters for the latter interpretation often refer to Paul’s comments at the end of his letter to the Roman believers:

Romans 16:1
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant (diakonos) of the church in Cenchreae.

Additionally, with the deacon role’s subordination and support function for the activities of the church’s overseers, having both men and women official serve the church would fit nicely into the leadership model Paul describe just a few verses prior (see 1 Timothy 2:1-15).

Paul then closes out his discussion about deacons by reminding Timothy of the two-fold reward available to those who serve well in this capacity.  First, that by their quality service, a good standing and reputation would be enjoyed by both them personally and the church corporately.  Secondly, a quality deacon would imitate Jesus’ servanthood so well that they would acquire a great boldness in the faith.  The Apostle John also believed that obtaining this boldness was worth working toward:

1 John 2:28
So now, little children, remain in Him, so that when He appears we may have boldness and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.

A deacon’s actions are a great help to the pastors and overseers, allowing them to focus on spiritual needs of the congregation through teaching and prayer.  Serving and ministering the physical needs of the church congregation is an important and rewarding labor, which is why Paul wanted Timothy to carefully select those who would serve in this manner.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

A warning for the young ones

Success at a young age can have its downfalls.  We see it often in the entertainment industry, when a child star has national fame and an unending flow of fans…and then, as soon as their voice begins to crack, the public focus shifts away to the next young talented person.  The starlet usually doesn’t handle this rapid change in fortune very well, either.  Our news feeds are full of sad ‘Where are they now?’ stories.

I think a large reason why these starlets begin to flail and eventually fail is because they are not receiving sound advice as they navigate their early success.  Their manager’s (and oftentimes, also their parents’) ambition is to take advantage of every opportunity to keep the starlet’s name in front of the public.  Whirlwind tours, constant events, and deceptive sweet-talk convince the child that he or she really is the center of the world.  When the starlet begins to believe they are the reason for everything going so well, they think that they actually deserve the spotlight.

As Paul explains to Timothy which characteristics either seek out or avoid for someone to fill the overseer role for the local church, he includes this warning:

1 Timothy 3:6-7
He must not be a new convert, or he might become conceited and fall into the condemnation of the Devil.  Furthermore, he must have a good reputation among outsiders, so that he does not fall into disgrace and the Devil’s trap.

Paul’s concern is that a “young one” in the faith will not be ready to handle either the rapid success or flattery that could come their way in an overseer role.  An overseer’s job is to leading people toward God, helping them avoid personal pitfalls, and instructing them on how to navigate cultural issues.  However, if an overseer doesn’t keep his focus on God, if he begins to dwell on all the compliments that come his way…then he might become conceited and think that he is reason for his congregation’s success.

It was pride that cost the Devil his position as an archangel.  Likewise, if an overseer becomes conceited in his position, God will remove him. 

Satan is more than willing to use his experience to lay a trap for the overseers in God’s church.  Therefore, overseers must be vigilant in protecting their reputation among those in the larger community, and especially among non-believers.  The world loves to point out the stories of when Christian leaders fall into disgrace.  If an overseer is a new convert, then the risk of being caught in these traps goes up significantly…so it is better to let the young one develop a blameless reputation on his own before he carries the burden of representing a larger Christian community.

Paul doesn’t gives Timothy these guidelines so individuals will be excluded from doing the noble work of an overseer; rather, Paul wants to protect the individuals who do lead, the church, and most importantly, God’s reputation among unbelievers.  We need competent, mature leadership within our church family. 

This is why Paul mentored Timothy.  Now it’s Timothy’s turn to mentor others.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

What a leader should NOT be

When it comes to choosing the person who will manage the overall activities of the church family, Paul listed qualities an overseer should have – as well as some qualities an overseer should definitely not have.

1 Timothy 3:2-5
An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, not addicted to wine, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy…

One way to understand the importance of each of these not characteristics is to consider what it would be like if our leaders actually had these qualities:

not addicted to wine – Notice Paul doesn’t say “thou shalt not drink”.  Instead, Paul wants Timothy to ensure that the prospective overseer does not allow himself to be controlled by alcohol.  The line between appropriately handling and not appropriately handling varies from person to person.  Does he “need a drink” every time stress starts to build?  If he is regularly turning to alcohol for comfort, escape, or pleasure…then this is a huge warning flag.  Think of the damage a man with this addiction in an overseer position would do.  Personal and private issues would eventually become public incidents – divorce, DUI, financial disaster.  There is room in God’s family for anyone dealing alcohol and with the problems it can cause.  However, while they are being dealt with, that person should not be leading a congregation.

not a bully – We’ve seen this in other areas of life.  Someone is really successful at “getting the job done”, but when you look beneath surface, you find that they stepped all over people to actually get the job done.  Several times in His ministry, Christ said that the greatest in His kingdom was the one who was the servant of all (see Matthew 23:11, Luke 22:26).  As such, there is no place in leadership of God’s family for someone who physically intimidates others, is always ready for a fight, or who treats others belligerently.  An overseer is there to guide and direct others toward Jesus.  Since Jesus never led way, a church leader has no excuse to do so, either.

not quarrelsome – In addition to telling Timothy to avoid appointing leadership to someone who relies on being physically intimidating, Paul also tells Timothy to watch out for those who are verbally intimidating.  Does he love arguments because he relishes to chance to prove someone else is wrong?  Is he always on the defensive?  It’s impossible to lead others toward the God who loves them if the one leading them does not speak out of love toward them.

not greedy – Greed cuts into the attitude of both the poor and the rich.  It is a consuming desire for what you don’t have.  This is probably the most common visible vice for those in church leadership.  The low hanging fruit is to make sure that they are not lovers of money and not materialistic.  However, Paul doesn’t limit their greed to money here…greed could manifest itself in other ways, in their desire for authoritative power, or increased church attendance, or in the approval from people.

When we begin to breakdown Paul’s list, we find that these qualifications are rather exhaustive and to find all of these characteristics in one man might even be difficult.  However, I believe that is Paul’s point.  Look at how he finishes the qualification list:

1 Timothy 3:2-5
An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, not addicted to wine, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy – one who manages his own household competently having his children under control with all dignity. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God’s church?)

A man’s family is his proving ground.  Since the church family is made up of our individual families, the same kind of leadership is needed at the church-level.  If I cannot handle my family of four…then I should not expect to be able to oversee 40 other families.  Paul knew that any one of these not characteristics had the potential to inflict severe damage to an individual family, and the damage would only be magnified when they crop up in church leadership.  Timothy had to be careful in who he selected for the job.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Providing oversight

Even though Paul writes Timothy a letter chock-full of advice and direction, there are three specific truth-sayings Paul wants his young protégé to remember.  We’ve now come to the second of the three trustworthy statements Paul highlights to Timothy.

1 Timothy 3:1
This saying is trustworthy:

“If anyone aspires to be an overseer, he desires a noble work.”

Knowing what an overseer does will help us understand the qualifications God has for the office and why Paul refers to the position as a noble work.

The Greek word for overseer carries the connotation both of inspecting and guarding, along with the general shepherding of the church’s activities.  Additionally, it’s important to note that Paul says being an overseer is, in fact, work.  A noble work, for sure; however, there is an expectation that the person in this office will be putting in effort.  Becoming an overseer isn’t a pinnacle one climbs to and then expects others to serve him; instead, when he achieves the title of overseer, he needs to understand that it’s time to roll up his sleeves and do the noble work.

As such, it is of the utmost importance that the right person be selected for the job.  We see it all time in the businesses world – someone gets promoted to a level of responsibility they were not prepared for, and their lack of leadership skills then wreaks havoc on the company.  The wrong person in leadership, even for a short time, can inflict significant, lasting damage to an organization.  To guard against a leadership disaster in the Ephesian church, Paul provides Timothy with a first-level checklist in order to considered someone for the overseer job:

1 Timothy 3:2-5
An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher…

It’s easy to gloss over a list like this, thinking “Yeah, we should only have good Christians fill this role” and then move along to other parts of Paul’s letter.  However, I don’t believe Paul haphazardly listed these qualities.  A simple description of each characteristic helps us understand why we need to see these qualities in our church leaders:

above reproach – Could he be accused of wrong doing or misconduct against others?
husband of one wife – Paul had previously explained to the Ephesians that the marriage relationship is the highest earthly example of the relationship between Christ and the church.  As such, an overseer must not be polygamous, and if he has been widowed or divorced, those circumstances must be considered.
self-controlled – Is he sober-minded and temperate in his action?
sensible – Does he have a safe/sound mind, can he balance the range of emotions and passions?
respectable – When dealing with himself or others, is he well arranged, orderly, modest?
hospitable – Is he generous and welcoming toward guests?
able teacher – Does he understand God well enough that he can skillfully instruct others, through both verbal teaching and his own personal example?

A deficit in any one of these areas will hinder the overseer’s ability to approach people from God’s perspective.  As such, selecting the right individual is of paramount importance.  God doesn’t take this position lightly, and neither should we.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Women and church leadership (part 2)

When coming back to a difficult passage, we need to remind ourselves of the three rules:
1.  Context is key.
2.  We interpret a passage we are unsure of in light of passages we are certain of.
3.  We let the author speak for himself

In the previous post, we discovered how important these rules are – because sometimes our first impression (i.e. – assumption) of what the author meant isn’t always the correct interpretation.  A couple of paragraphs after our subject verses, after Paul finishes his entire discussion regarding the qualifications of church leaders, Paul tells Timothy the following:

1 Timothy 3:14-15
I write these things to you, hoping to come to you soon.  But if I should be delayed, I have written so that you will know how people ought to act in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

As such, we need to keep in mind that Paul’s intention for this section of his letter was so that Timothy and the Ephesian believers will know how people ought to act in God’s household.

As a refresher, here are the verses we reviewed last time.  If you haven’t read Part 1, I suggest going back a reading it before going further with this post.  However, if you did read Part 1, reading the verses again will help form the context for the verses that follow:

1 Timothy 2:9-12
Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense; not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel, but with good works, as is proper for women who affirm that they worship God.

A woman should learn in silence with full submission.  I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent.

Last time we discovered that the education system of Paul’s day held the expectation that pupils would receive instruction from their teachers in silence and with full submission.  We found that these two phrases describe a student who peacefully conducts themselves while they are respectfully under the authority of their teacher.  We also realized that Paul’s prohibition against a woman teaching or having authority over a man was only in regard to the official teaching and ruling ministry of the church.  His directions to Timothy are not a prohibition on women leading in business, government, or even other sub-groups within the church family. 

Now, let’s see how Paul supports these directions for the church:

1 Timothy 2:13-15
For Adam was created first, then Eve.  And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed.  But she will be saved through childbearing, if she continues in faith, love, and holiness, with good sense.

Paul notes that Adam was created first, then Eve.  God could have made them both at the same time, but instead, He created them at different times and in unique ways – with Adam being formed from the dirt and Eve being fashioned from Adam’s rib.  There were distinctions in origin and design from the get-go, from which God has specified a distinction in roles within the family and within church leadership.  God entrusted Adam with leadership responsibility over his wife.  Before God, Eve was not responsible for Adam in the same way that Adam was responsible for Eve.

God had an order and a plan for both men and women from the start, and Paul says the structure within the home-family should be the blueprint for the church-family.  Paul’s instruction here builds upon his previous teachings to the Ephesian church (see Ephesians 5:22-33).

Avoiding deception, especially concern against women being deceived, is frequently repeated in Paul’s communication with the Ephesian church (see Ephesians 4:6; 1 Timothy 4:1, 5:15; 2 Timothy 3:6-7).  Paul was concerned that the women in Ephesus were in danger of being deceived by false teachers, just like Eve had been.

One last note, on Paul’s last statement.  The Greek word saved can mean to be rescued from something or can mean to be returned to a previous state.  Given the context here, saved clearly does not refer to eternal salvation from sin’s penalty; instead, Paul emphasizes that women can be restored to their pre-fall status, and find leadership fulfillment within her family, provided she continues to walk with God.  Additionally, I think it would be acceptable to apply this concept to both naturally born children or to those spiritual children that a woman directly mentors.

With this, Paul wraps up his discussion on what women should not do with something they alone can do.  It was pointed out to me recently that perhaps we put too much emphasis on the leader up front and we unfortunately minimize the influence and mentoring of those who got them to that point.  It’s been said that “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world”, and there is a lot of truth in that statement.  In fact, before Timothy met Paul, his entire spiritual instruction came from his mother and grandmother.  Without them preparing Timothy’s foundation, he would never have grown into the influential leader he was in the first century church.

In short, Paul’s directions in this passage to the believing women in Ephesus is to take God’s design for their immediate families and extend those characteristics to the church family.  As we all live out the talents, opportunities, and roles God has designed for us, our lives will become the walking gospels that point others toward God – and not to ourselves.  Ultimately, though, we are responsible before God for how handle His instructions.  If God is who we claim Him to be in our lives, then we should be able to trust Him in all aspects of life – even in the difficult passages.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Women and church leadership (part 1)

When dealing with difficult passages, we need to remember three rules:
1.   Context is key.
2.   We interpret a passage we are unsure of in light of passages we are certain of.
3.   We let the author speak for himself

Much of Paul’s letter to Timothy talks about rebutting and correcting false teachers that were influencing the church in Ephesus.  He addresses topics and groups within the church that were being swayed by these teachers, including marriage, food, wealth, men, women, and church leadership.  In this next passage, Paul takes a moment to address the question of women in church leadership.

1 Timothy 2:9-12
Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense; not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel, but with good works, as is proper for women who affirm that they worship God.

A woman should learn in silence with full submission.  I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent.

It’s statements like these, especially when taken out of context, that cause a lot of strife within the modern church.  However, before we dismiss Paul’s instructions as being old-fashioned or oppressive, let’s consider some context.

Paul’s direction here is for women who affirm that they worship God, and as such, this passage falls under the theme of the previous context.  Paul began this section with instructions for all believers.  He stressed the importance of living a quiet and tranquil life, one displaying godliness and dignity in such a way that our lives become a “walking witness” for the God we have a direct relationship with. 

Paul moves from how women who worship God present themselves publicly and then immediately moves to how she can be learning.  That may seem like an unusual transition, given the culture of the time.  There were not a lot of education options for women in the ancient world, as all of the formal teachings and instructions went to men.  When he says that a woman should learn, we can observe that Paul is counter-culturally giving the women of the church an equal opportunity with the men of the church to be learners of God’s Word.

Now let’s look at the ‘how’ a woman should learn.  The Greek word for silence doesn’t mean “not talking”; instead, it refers to someone with a stable quietness who doesn’t meddle in the affairs of others or act in an unruly manner.  Additionally, the Greek word translated as submission means to “rank under”.  Just like in military settings, rank has to do with order and authority, not personal superiority or inferiority.  In fact, the teaching style of the day held an expectation that a pupil would do all their learning with both of these two characteristics – silence and submission.  As such, Paul isn’t suppressing women here – instead, he is holding them to the same expectations as the male learners.

Understanding Paul’s word choice also helps us interpret why he says I do not allow a woman to teach or have authority over a man.  The verbs teach and have authority are both in the present tense, which implies a continuing ministry rather than a single instance of ministry.  Additionally, the word for have authority over is unique in comparison to the typical Greek word chosen to describe someone in a higher ranking position.  Instead, Paul is describing a woman who acts without accountability, who domineers as an absolute master within the church family.  By recognizing that the context immediately after this passage gives specific qualifications for church overseers and deacons, we begin to see that Paul’s prohibition here specifically addresses only the official teaching and ruling ministry of the church.

While the current cultural and educational settings would have been familiar to the Ephesian church, Paul doesn’t appeal to those cultural norms to justify his instruction.  Instead, he looks back to God’s initial creation: 

1 Timothy 2:13
For Adam was created first, then Eve. 

We’ll get deeper into Paul’s reasoning for referencing back to God’s initial design for the family in the next post.  And in the text that follows, we’ll observe that Paul gives specific criteria for the men who want to be in the overseer or deacon roles.  We’ll see that God’s standard for those roles is quite lofty, and that they carry the risk of significant punishment for those who mishandle the position.

For now, though, because we took the time to examine the text, can see that Paul’s direction isn’t some off-the-cuff, all-women-are-slaves-to-all-men kind of idea.  Paul is addressing a specific leadership situation within the church family.  His directions are not a prohibition on women leading in business, government, or even other sub-groups within the church family. 

Instead, we’ve discovered how this passage fits into the theme of this section in Paul’s letter to Timothy.  Proper dress, a right attitude, and orderly church-family leadership are all ways that Paul directs women to flesh out their part of all believers’ responsibility to lead a tranquil and quiet life, with both godliness and dignity.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The heart condition of our teachers

Have you ever listened to someone giving a presentation or a training and realize that they don’t know what they’re talking about?  How frustrating is it to recognize that they haven’t completely thought through the plan they are advocating…and, in fact, what they plan to implement will be detrimental or even harmful?

Unfortunately, this kind of thing can even happen in the church.  Paul warned Timothy about fellow believers acted in this manner:

1 Timothy 1:5-7
Now the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.  Some have deviated from these and turned aside to fruitless discussion.

They want to be teachers of the law, although they don’t understand what they are saying or what they are insisting on.

Why do they want to be teachers of the law?  Given Paul’s comments, they were likely after the things that come with leading and teaching, namely status, popularity, and authority – all of which are easily self-focused and not God-focused.  The goal of their instruction would be the promotion of themselves, which is the exact opposite of agape love.  Instead of leading for the benefit of others, these wannabe leaders are focused on themselves. 

If you replace the word ‘love with ‘self-focus’ you quickly realize that Paul’s statement becomes almost ridiculous:

Now the goal of our instruction is self-focus from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.

Their self-focus betrays the true condition of their heart.  Jesus similarly cautioned His disciples about inter-family relationships:

Luke 6:43-45
“A good tree doesn’t produce bad fruit; on the other hand, a bad tree doesn’t produce good fruit.  For each tree is known by its own fruit.  Figs aren’t gathered from thornbushes, or grapes picked from a bramble bush. 

A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart.  An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.”

Since these wannabe teachers in Ephesus have deviated from their pursuit of God via a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith, what comes out of their mouths isn’t agape love – it’s just fruitless discussion.

Later on, Paul tells Timothy that it is a good thing to desire a leadership position and that those in charge reap extra rewards from God.  However, Paul will also caution against appointing someone before they are ready.

That’s the situation here – this group that want to be teachers has an incomplete knowledge base, an incorrect understanding, and as a result, they are focused on themselves.  Because of all this, the logical conclusions of what they are insisting on is either harmful to others or contradicts what God actually meant.

After we believe in Jesus for eternal life, the early steps of Christian living are more focused on us “being” rather than us “doing”.  God cares more about our character as a reflection of Him than He is about us doing “big things” for Him.  After we have the foundation of a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith, the agape love pouring from that character will give us opportunities to lead – at church, at work, or in the home – and then we will produce good fruit

However, without that character foundation, we are prone to self-centeredness, fruitless discussion, and teachings that misrepresent God.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

How to give correction, lovingly

No one likes a phony, especially when we are on the receiving end of correction. 

When presented with correction, our human nature will begin to build a defense any way that it can.  We justify our understanding, we make excuses for any gaps, and – if possible – we challenge the credibility of the messenger.

Because – we rationalize – if the person correcting us can be shown to be deficient, then we feel justified in not heeding their correction.

So does this mean we must have our lives perfectly put together before we can rebuke anyone?  Of course not.  However, those of us who lead know how difficult it can be for correction to be received and implemented…and how even more difficult it is to prompt a change in behavior when our own actions need some work.

Throughout his letter, Paul is mentors and advises Timothy on how those in charge in the church are supposed to lead and live.  Paul knows that it is not enough for a leader to just “go through the motions”.  So in addition to discussing what a leader is supposed to do, Paul also points out how they are to do these things, as well as their motivation of character behind doing them.

So when it comes to correcting error, take a look at where Paul tells Timothy he should be coming from:

1 Timothy 1:3-5
As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach other doctrine or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies.  These promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith.

Now the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.

This love is the agape love, which is a ‘give-all’ kind of love that one has for the benefit of others.  This is the kind of love that God shows us; and in the context of giving correction, it is the kind of love Timothy is to have for his fellow believers who are messing around with bad teachings.

The goal of Timothy’s instruction is to show love to those he is correcting and that they will accept the correction, change their focus back to God’s plan, and also participate in the same agape love.

But this is where character matters.

Timothy could say “I’m correcting you because I love you” and still be a total jerk about it.
Timothy could say “I’m telling you this because I love you” and be a hypocrite.
Timothy could say “I’m commanding you to stop because you’re wrong and I’m in charge”.

In each of these situations, Timothy would be right – they need to be corrected – but he would have a difficult time convincing his fellow believer that change is necessary.

When we own ‘our stuff’, it is much easier to lovingly comment on ‘other people’s stuff’.  This applies to everyone, but especially those of us in leadership positions – at church, at work, or in the home.  Let’s take steps to keep our hearts pure, our conscience clear, and our faith sincere…and then love others accordingly, especially when they need correction.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Correcting bad teaching

When Paul sent his letter of instruction and encouragement to Timothy, the very first area he discussed had to do with Timothy’s authority in the church family.

1 Timothy 1:3-4
As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach other doctrine or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies.  These promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith.

Right away, we see that Timothy is in charge.  The Greek word Paul uses for command means to instruct, charge, or declare a message to others.  This word was often used by the gospel writers to describe Jesus’ teaching to both the crowds and to his disciples.  Paul wants Timothy to exercise his authority in the church at Ephesus, as evidenced by him using that particular Greek verb five different times in this letter.

Given the multicultural makeup of the city, its inhabitants, and their multitude of religious practices, the church would have been inundated with many competing ideas about who God is, what He is like, and how a relationship with Him is supposed to happen. 

Whenever Timothy would encounter these incorrect ideas about God, and the time came for him to command people not to teach these false ideas, it is easy to understand how tense of a situation that could be.  No one likes being wrong, and no one likes being called out for being incorrect – especially on something they are passionate about.

Oftentimes, when a person’s doctrine beliefs are discussed, there is a tendency for pride to creep in.  We fight in order to show that our understanding is right…rather than taking the humble route of wanting to make sure we are rightly aligned with God. 

That balance between humility and authority will be challenging for a leader, so Paul makes sure that Timothy understands where his motivation comes from:

1 Timothy 1:5
Now the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.

Timothy is to give commands because he genuinely loves the people he will be shepherding in Ephesus.  While Timothy’s instructions will be authoritative, they will be given for the people’s benefit. 

We need to correctly understand who God is and what He is like if we’re going to have a strong, life-giving relationship with Him.  As such, correcting false doctrine and false teaching is of paramount importance within the church family.  However, to be effective, the goal of our instruction must be love.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Playing favorites

Titus 3:13 Do everything you can to help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way and see that they have everything they need. 

Last time, we were introduced to Apollos and caught a glimpse of his impact on the churches in the known world.  However, there is another important lesson to learn with a continued look at his ministry.

Apollos later went to Corinth (Acts 19:1), where he again successfully ministered to the believers.  His teaching was so well respected, that the believers in Corinth actually placed Apollos at the same teaching level as Peter, Paul, and even Jesus.  The debate of which-teacher-to-follow became such a problem in the Corinthian church that a good portion of one letter Paul wrote was to correct them in how they should be viewing himself and Apollos.

1 Corinthians 1:11-13 My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.  What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas (Peter)”; still another, “I follow Christ”.  Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Were you baptized into the name of Paul?

Nowadays, if a situation like this arose and one of the popular teachers wrote a letter concerning how the congregation should view the other teachers, I would expect the letter to be very territorial.  Given today’s denominational climate in America, it’s easy to envision a letter being written that sounds theologically pretty, but the author’s core message is that the believers should listen to him only.  His arguments would sound something like – “I am best suited to help you develop your relationship with Christ”, or that “Since I ministered to you first, you should stick with me”, or he could suggest that the other preacher’s teaching style or approach to spreading the gospel was inadequate.  Unfortunately, concern for a congregation is also a potential mask for a preacher’s ego and pride.

However, Paul is not one to play these kinds of games.  Direct and to the point, Paul’s main concern was that the believers were properly focusing on Christ…and not on who the message of Christ was coming from or what teaching style the person used.

1 Corinthians 3:5-9 What, after all, is Apollos?  And what is Paul?  Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task.  I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.  The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.  For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

All teachers, preachers, and church leaders are susceptible to the trap of thinking that it is “my church, or “my” class, or “my” ministry.  The cure for this selfish pitfall is the same for the teacher as it is for those who follow the teacher…our focus must be on God, for he is the one who makes things grow

A congregation does not grow because the preacher is preaching and an individual does not grow because of the particular teacher they are listening to.  The work of preachers, teachers, and church leaders is to provide the best conditions for people to grow.  Ultimately, it was God that built us with the capacity for growth in relationship to him, and the responsibility for the development of that relationship is between the individual and God. 

1 Corinthians 3:21-23 So then, no more boasting about men!  All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

Our favorite teacher is simply a servant of the God we love.  Don’t look for them to make you grow.  Don’t put God’s responsibility on your teacher.

Since Paul was the one who started the church in Corinth, he could have been territorial about which teacher they should be follow; however, he chose not to be.  The debate about which teacher to follow was already dividing the congregation, and could have easily led to a church split.  Imagine the damage to the church’s reputation!  A division of ‘Paul vs. Apollos’ could have also spread to the young churches in other regions if Paul had either ignored or participated in their debate.

Instead, Paul kept his pride in check and didn’t fuel the fire of their arguments.  Instead, he promoted harmony within the church by turning their attention appropriately towards Christ.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Providing relief

“I need a break.”

How many times have we walked into our home or sat at our desk…and muttered that phrase?

We recognize the value of getting even a few moments away from our normal daily activities and responsibilities.  In sports we see this concept clearly.  Backups – second and third string players – have an important role on the team.  A baseball team will pull the starter and bring in a relief pitcher to close out the final innings.  This isn’t usually a commentary on the starting pitcher, but a strategic choice to rest the starter to ensure that he will be recovered and ready for his next game.  A backup running back may only get seven scattered carries a game, but the carries are timed so that the starter can catch his breath off the field.  On any team, when a starter gets injured, the common phrase uttered is “Next man up!”, and the backup is expected to step in and fill the starter’s role for as long as needed until the starter has recovered from his injury.

We see this in business as well.  Before a manager goes on vacation or to a conference, she will delegate her responsibilities to those who have been prepared to “hold the fort down” and keep the department running.  They aren’t expected to perform the manager’s job forever, but just until she returns.  This same concept is also necessary, but not seemingly practiced as much, within the church leadership.  Some lead pastors never take a Sunday off, and most do not take all the vacation time allotted by the church.

As Paul closes out his letter to Titus, he gives the following instructions:

Titus 3:12 As soon as I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, because I have decide to winter there.

There are several things worth noting here:

First, Paul was training others to step in and lead so that Titus could have a break.  Paul had other trusted associates and people he had mentored who could step in and lead for a little while.  Titus needed a “season” to rest.  Even if it is just the boat ride from Crete to Nicopolis, Titus would have a break from the day-to-day pressures and responsibility of leading an island full of churches.

Second, Titus’ rest wouldn’t be just lying on a beach without having responsibility, but would be found in facetime with Paul.  Titus would be poured into instead of constantly being poured out of.  He would continue to work for God both with Paul and in other missionary assignments (2 Timothy 4:10).  However, ancient writings tell of him returning to Crete, finishing his life’s work among these people that he loved.

Third, Paul wanted Titus to make this trip away from Crete a priority.  Paul specifically stated do your best to come to me at Nicopolis – the Greek phase for do your best means to be eager to do something or to make every effort to do a task.  Getting a break was to be part of Titus’ mission.

If you are in ministry, when was the last time you had a break?  Are you training others to lead and allowing them to relief-pitch for you?

If you are not in ministry, how can you help your pastor?  Look for ways to take the pressure off of him for a little while.  Volunteer to handle something he normally would do but doesn’t necessarily have to, cook his family dinner one night, and definitely encourage him to take a vacation that includes a Sunday away.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

A leader's rebuke

When we study the Bible, one way that we know the importance of a subject is how many verses the author uses to talk about it.  If he talks about it more, then the subject matter is being emphasized in relation to the other topics within the book.

Paul’s letter to Titus is no different.  While spending the entire first chapter describing the expectations for those who lead in a church, Paul spends about 5 verses discussing how a leader should treat his family, conduct himself, and interact with others…and then spends the next eight verses discussing one topic: How a leader handles God’s message and the reasons why it is such an important topic.

We saw that Paul warned for Titus and the church leaders to be on the lookout for those who would come and distort the good news that Jesus came and paid the penalty for our sins, thus restoring our relationship with God.  However, Paul wasn’t only concerned with direct opposition to the leaders, he also showed concern for the Cretan believers. 

Titus 1:12-13 Even one of their own prophets has said, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.”  This testimony is true. 

This quote is attributed to Epimenides, from about the 6th century BC.  And Paul agrees with the philosopher’s assessment!  In the ancient world, to “Cretonize” someone meant to both “double-deal” and “to lie”, all rolled into one.  Paul recognizes that the Cretan reputation had not improved for hundreds of years, and that Titus would have to watch out for this kind of behavior as he appointed leaders for the churches.  If Cretans acted like that on their own, imagine what would happen to the church if its leaders adopted the teachings of those who were

Titus 1:11 …ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach – and that for the sake of dishonest gain.

This kind of situation would damage both the local believers’ relationship with God, but also God’s reputation to those outside of the church.  Paul’s solution to the Cretans’ default behavior was clear and direct:

Titus 1:13 Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth.

In this “sharp rebuke”, Paul was not giving Titus the license to simply blast another believer and then walk away.  The word used for rebuke also carries the idea of exposing, showing fault, and convincing.  Paul is directing Titus to deal with false teaching directly and swiftly, however, he is not giving permission to “hit-and-run” someone who is incorrectly presenting the gospel.  Exposing, showing fault, rebuking, and convincing someone will likely take some time and patience.  It will be hard, but the health of the church depends on it.

The Cretan church leaders must be rooted in their relationship with God through the Scriptures.  Only then would they be able to handle these upcoming situations with those who reject the truth or with those who were more interested in Jewish myths than teaching the gospel.  Clearly this is why Paul spends so much time on this subject; the emphasis he gives it is absolutely necessary.

Are our leaders rooted in Scripture?  How do they handle false teachings and cultural pressures?  These are important topics to consider, as they affect both our individual relationships with God, but also God’s reputation to those outside of the church.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The trustworthy message

After giving Titus clear expectations for how a church leader is to treat his family, conduct himself, and interact with others, Paul then moves to the most important requirement…how the leader handles God’s message of salvation.

Titus 1:9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

If our church leaders are going to be God’s representatives, then they must know God well.   Knowing God begins with hold[ing] firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, for the Scriptures are how God has revealed himself to humanity.  If he doesn’t know God, he will be unable to give those under his care the encouragement they will need, nor will he be able to correct those who oppose God’s message.

Opposition will come.  Although rescue from the penalty of sin is good news, not everyone wants to hear it.  Among those that actually do hear the message that Christ paid the full penalty for our sins are plenty of people that think they must still also earn God’s favor, as Paul points out:

Titus 1:10-11 For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group.  They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach – and that for the sake of dishonest gain.

The “circumcision group” were those who taught others that in addition to believing in Jesus, a person must also be circumcised and follow the Jewish law.  This wasn’t just a local problem on Crete either, as all throughout his ministry, Paul dealt with those who preached

Belief in Jesus plus following the Jewish law equals Salvation from sins

Whenever anything is added to Jesus’ death on the cross for our salvation, the message is no longer “good news”.  In fact adding anything to the gospel message negates the work of Christ.  Paul’s entire letter to the Galatians deals with very subject.

Galatians 2:16 So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.

Galatians 2:21 …for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!

Galatians 6:12 Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised.

Do Christians today deal with these kinds of pressures?  While no one is proclaiming circumcision as a salvation requirement, there are many who insist that in addition to faith in Christ it is necessary to “do good works” or “persevere to the end of their life” or “make Christ lord of their life” in order to be truly saved.

Don’t get me wrong, those are good things to do.  And we should endeavor to reach for those goals.  However, adding any contributions on my part to Christ’s death on the cross is doing the same as what the “circumcision group” was trying to teach.  Do you believe that Christ was telling the truth with his last words on the cross? It is finished – the single Greek word means “Paid in Full”.  Either Christ paid it all, or he lied to us just before he died.

This is the trustworthy message – that Christ paid our entire sin debt, we add nothing to his payment – and Paul wanted Titus to only select leaders who hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

If we want to avoid being led astray, we must have leaders that get this right.

Keep Pressing,
Ken