This week I had to prepare a Bible study on a selected passage for my “leaders-in-training-group.” My passage: Titus 1: 5-9.
“The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. 6 An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 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.”
Pretty intense, right?
In this passage, Paul is writing to Titus, a leader in Crete. He has left Titus responsible for carrying out the work of the gospel in Crete, with his greatest task being the selection and overseeing of church elders, or leaders. Paul continues on to divulge a lengthy list of criteria for church leaders, which may as well end with “ad infinitum.”
I must admit, I found this off-putting.
My first reaction was to disqualify myself as a leader. As I prepared the study, I sensed that the “right” Sunday school question to center my study around was, “How do we as leaders measure up to this standard?”
But I found that question answered itself for me in the form of an excuse. A disqualification. I couldn’t possibly lead because I am not blameless. In the face of this legalistic list of musts, I cringed and cowered and wanted to go back into hiding. I was tempted even to stop my planning right then and there and instead prepare to tell the group that I couldn’t lead the study because the material itself told me I wasn’t qualified.
But then I thought, I may be missing the point.
Perhaps I am too quick to disqualify myself.
Does this passage really suggest that we must have all of our ducks in a row before we can begin to lead others to Jesus?
My first thought was obviously, no. God can use any of us in any state to lead others to himself.
But where does our responsibility fit in?
Why would Paul impose such strict guidelines on the church leaders?
What was Paul’s heart for the church? What is the purpose of leaders?
I believe the purpose of leaders is to lead others to Christ, to minister to others, to share the doctrine and the stories and the truth of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection.
Do you have to be blameless to do that?
This passage suggested so.
Who or what makes us blameless? Is it our own effort? Our own strength? If this is really what is required to lead, how then do we get there?
According to Paul (and corroborated in my own life), it is the Holy Spirit that makes us holy, not our own striving. The Holy Spirit in us. Holy spirit re-creation. We have new life in Christ. Do our lives show evidence of that? How do we get there?
Yes, it requires effort and intentionality, but it also requires trust. Trust in the goodness of the One who has called us to lead. Trust in the work of the Holy Spirit. Trust in a redeeming, renewing relationship with Christ.
And in that mindset, we can ask ourselves how we’re measuring up as leaders without shame or guilt. We can receive forgiveness for the ways we’ve fallen short. We can move toward this ideal, this standard.
When I actually led the Bible study, my wonderful friends and co-leaders reminded me that, even more important than the list of requirements, is the fact that we have all been called to lead.
One of my best friends is quick to tell me, “God does not call the equipped; he equips the called.”
And over the last week, I have heard God speak to me:
“I will be here with you as you ask these questions. You will not unravel. I will hold you together. Do not fear me. Do not fear the truth. I will equip you to love others better. To show my face. To serve and heal.”
In this knowledge, I have found that I can begin to take my leadership role seriously. I am given the strength to begin the journey to becoming a healthy and spirit-led leader who is learning to daily die to my own desires and pride in exchange for love, generosity, hospitality, and all of the other attributes Paul mentions.
I am learning to trust in God’s calling and dismiss my disqualifications.