By Chuck Chambers, Pastor, Woolsey Baptist Church
According to the Bible, pastors are to preach the Word, equip the saints, care for souls, provide leadership, and set an example.1
My text focuses on that last duty- to set an example. Setting an example primarily concerns character.
Titus 1:5-9 stresses the matter of character because our character empowers ministry. It generates true respect. Character gives the foundation that undergirds our entire ministry. Robert McCheyne said, “The greatest need of my people is my personal holiness.”2 Paul addresses specifically the character of the elders Titus must appoint in every town on the island of Crete. Where we tend to emphasize competence, Paul emphasized character.
No one would deny the importance of competence. No one wants an incompetent pilot or medical doctor. But in Christian ministry, competence without character sooner or later leads to catastrophe.
Billy Graham once said-
“When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost.”3
My mentor, Pastor Cliff Duvall, year after year after year set an example for me and so many others in Christian character.
Titus 1:5- suggests that Paul and Titus had actually been involved in a joint missionary effort on the island of Crete before Paul had left. Titus must have felt the heavy weight of being left in Crete. The ministry Titus had on this Island came with many challenges. Titus 1:12 gives us an insight to some of those formidable challenges- One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.”
That sounds like a hard place to do ministry. Some here are in hard places!
Just when you would think it could not get worse, the young churches had come under the destructive teaching of some so-called Christian leaders.
So, Paul writes Titus an urgent letter instructing him to put what remained in order. He was to appoint elders who would serve and protect the young churches.
In view of the horrible character of the men of Crete and even some in the churches, Paul gives some of the qualifications for pastors and they all relate to character. They were to model a Christian ethic which ran contrary to the Cretan value system.
First Paul gives an overall character trait of the pastor in Titus 1:6- when he told Titus if anyone is above reproach– above reproach– speaks of the basic character qualification under which the others stand.
Above reproach speaks of a man having a good reputation in the community. No credible accusations or charges can be brought against him. Titus 1:7 emphasizes that the elder must be above reproach.
His visibility as a pastor requires that his conduct before the church and the non-believing community must reflect the saving gospel.
While all Christians are to live lives that are above reproach, pastors have greater visibility which means greater accountability.
From being above reproach, Paul deals with the matter of character under three main headings. I credit The New American Commentary on 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus4 for the outline I am using. Paul begins with. . .
Marriage and Family Qualifications 1:6
Paul addresses the pastor’s marriage and the faith and conduct of his children. First, Paul tells Titus that a pastor should be the husband of one wife.
I recognize there are honest differences of opinion on the precise meaning of husband of one wife. But I am confident we can all agree that a pastor must have demonstrated and continue to demonstrate absolute faithfulness and devotion to his wife if he is married. Our words and actions should never signal anything other than exclusive devotion to our wives. Compromise here is catastrophic. No so-called pastoral “success” can ever override a pastor’s lack of single hearted devotion to his wife. A pastor is to be a one woman man!
In addition to marriage, Paul addressed the children of a pastor writing that his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. If a pastor has children, he must lead his home well. Be careful that you do not neglect your family.
I’ve been doing this for a long time and if I could encourage you- win at home first. Prioritize family time. Your kids will not remember your best sermon, but they will remember that you were deeply invested in their lives. The footprint of your building is not nearly as important as the footprints you are leaving for your children.
Paul then moves to five negative and six positive aspects related to character qualifications.
Character Qualifications 1:7-8
Five negative traits are preceded by the word not.
A pastor must not be . . .
Arrogant -or Overbearing- He’s considerate of the viewpoints of others. He’s not characterized with “a my way or the highway mentality.” He must not crave power or recognition.
Quick-tempered– He does not fly off the handle. People should not have to fear upsetting you.
Not a drunkard– I know Christians hold different opinions on the use of alcohol, but I can confidently say that a pastor must give thoughtful consideration to the impact of his witness when it comes to alcohol, especially regarding Paul’s comments in Romans 14 about the strong and the weak.
Not violent– He’s not a striker. Remember that words can strike as hard as fists and social media has provided a platform for throwing a lot of punches that hurt the body of Christ.
Not greedy for gain. He’s honest in matters related to money and he’s not in Christian ministry for financial profit.
Then Paul moves to the positive traits.
He’s hospitable– He’s concerned for the welfare of others and welcoming to people. He opens his life to others.
He’s a lover of good and self-controlled. This includes a mastery of his mind, his emotions, his words, and deeds.
He’s upright, holy, and disciplined. He is committed to doing what is right and just. He’s disciplined. He controls his bodily appetites and passions.
Then, Paul moves to. . .
Doctrinal Qualifications 1:9
Titus 1:9 refers to the gospel as the trustworthy word. He must be firmly committed to the truth of God’s Word so he can give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. That was needed in Crete, and it is greatly needed today. This is really the one qualification that the pastor must possess that all Christians are not responsible for in the same way.
A pastor should be well versed in the Bible. He must be able to study and apply God’s Word so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine.
We do the hard work of study and sermon preparation. But also, a pastor is to rebuke those who contradict it. This is more than winning an argument or putting someone down. The goal is restoring one in error to sound doctrine. It’s one thing to hold firmly to the Word but also not slash people who are off base. You care for people in a pastoral way. The task of holding to sound doctrine is critical.
- If I speak to a pastor who feels like you have been left in a hard place and believe you are failing, I hope you will remember that if you are pursuing godly character, you are succeeding! Our metrics for success often do not match the biblical metrics.
- Pursuing godly character does not mean ungodly people will not take shots at you.
- The final application concerns a challenge- Ask someone who knows you well which of these character qualifications do you most need to give attention to in your life?
Future pastors, missionaries, seminary professors, and a host of vocational Christian workers are in our churches. May they look on us and not be impressed with our titles or degrees but with our character.
1 See 2 Timothy 4:2, Ephesians 4:11-12, Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:1-3.
2 Robert McCheyne, as cited by Kevin DeYoung, “The Pastor’s Personal Holiness” July 23, 2015; https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/the-pastors-personal-holiness-2/
4 Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, Jr., General Editor David S. Dockery; The New American Commentary: 1, 2 Timothy and Titus; Vol. 34 (Nashville: B & H Publishing), 1992.
Published February 7, 2024