If you attended our Cornerstone teaching a little over a week ago on eldership, from Acts 20, you might have walked away thinking, “Man, that’s a high calling. I’m not sure I’d be up for that.” If so, that means I taught it right – eldership is indeed a high calling. Elders are appointed as vice-shepherds, under the High and Great Shepherd, to “carry God’s fine china” and oversee the souls of those He has called to Himself. Thus in the end elders will be called to account for the sheep they looked after. It is a high calling, a noble one, and a sobering one.
And, and, it is a calling that must be done. Paul commanded Titus to “appoint elders in every town” (Titus 1:5) – not just where he found qualified men. Paul assumed he would find qualified men. So find them, he tells Titus, and then appoint them to eldership.
What qualifies a man? It mostly has to do with character, not giftings or sheer knowledge. We’ve all known someone who was greatly gifted, and full of knowledge – and a total jerk. Sometimes whole churches can look like this (looking at you, Corinth!). But God wants elders who are one-woman men, with faithful children – basically men of good repute, who do not lack control regarding alcohol, anger or money, but who are hospitable, lovers of good, self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined (1:6-8). The only qualifications about knowledge and giftings have to do with whether he knows the gospel and can teach it and defend it (1:9).
Can those adjectives be used to describe a fellow? Make him an elder, Titus.
But look again at those qualifications. Do you see ANY that ordinary Christians are not called to? Neither do I. Every Christian man is called to be a one-woman man, to be of good repute, of sound habits, knowing the gospel, and able to spread it. Every Christian man. So then, Titus, look for men who are above average in these character traits. Men that others can respect in this regard. Perfect? Of course not – not this side of heaven. But find men that are on the right trajectory, that the congregation will continue to see grow in these ways, and thus they can emulate their trajectory. Find men who are above-average, in that town, and who are going in the right direction, and appoint them as elders.
Now why is this so important? Because we are like Israel, going into the Promised Land. The land is full of idols, that will lure all of us away, if we don’t mercilessly put them to death. Be killing sin, or it will be killing you, J.C. Ryle once said. And when you live among the Cretans, like Titus did, you need men who can put to death the foolish talk of lying, evil beasts (1:12), in order that the sheep will not be led astray.
Thus we’re not just structuring our church right. We’re ordering ourselves for conflict and battle, that the sheep of God’s flock might flourish in relative peace, sound in the faith (1:13), a people who wait for their blessed hope (2:13), redeemed by God for His own possession, who are zealous for good works (2:14). Thus we’re not in need of perfect men, or awesomely exceptional men, or celebrity men. Just ordinary, above-average men, who in love for God and neighbor, see the need, see the threat, hear the call, and respond by saying, “Well, if I’m qualified, I’ll go. I’m insufficient, but by God’s grace, I’ll fight.”
And because it is God’s grace operating, that will be more than enough.