The overarching requirement for an elder is that he be “above reproach.” This unflinching requirement is measured in three consecutive areas of a man’s life. In Part 1, we looked the elder’s family. Part 2 dealt with an elder’s personal character. In Part 3, we examine Paul’s standards for an elder’s abilities.
“…holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.” (Titus 1:9)
As Paul says to Timothy in 1 Tim 3:2, an overseer must be “able to teach.” An elder who models biblical family life and exhibits blameless personal character, but who doesn’t use that platform of blamelessness to engage in didactic ministry, is incomplete. Herein lies the (primary) distinction between the responsibilities of elders and deacons. All the same character qualifications apply, but an elder must be able to teach. He must possess the gift of teaching, which is the gift of disseminating biblical truth accurately, clearly, and helpfully. In the ministry of eldership, this gift manifests itself in two ways.
First, an elder is able “to exhort in sound doctrine.”
He brings Scripture to bear upon the lives of his congregants. He wields expertly “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Eph 6:17). He “accurately handles the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15), “giving attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching” (1 Tim 4:13). In Toward an Exegetical Theology, Walter Kaiser laments the lack of this ability in church leadership today. “One of the most depressing spectacles in the Church today is her lack of power… At the heart of this problem is an impotent pulpit. And that impotency will not be dealt with definitively until the exegete is armed with an authoritative message based on the single meaning of the text.” In other words, the ability “to exhort in sound doctrine” is only possible when an elder “holds fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the doctrine,” as Paul also reminds Titus.
Second, an elder is able to “refute those who contradict.”
He is always “ready to make a defense to everyone who asks him to give an account for the hope that is in him, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet 3:15). He “with gentleness corrects those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim 2:24-25). He isn’t concerned with winning debates, but with winning souls. He doesn’t rely on bullying, scare tactics, or logical fallacies to maintain his position. Even if his gospel is reproached by his opponents, he himself is above reproach in how he defends it.
Titus was not only to appoint elders with godly families, and elders with blameless personal character, but also elders with the gifts necessary to teach God’s people.
The Elder’s Qualification
As a missionary to the Cretans, Titus faced the difficult task of raising up qualified elders in every local church. Clearly understanding Paul’s standards for local elders in Crete should inform how missionaries raise up local elders around the world today. Missionaries shouldn’t hold national pastors to lower standards than those described here. In obedience to this text, they must strive to appoint elders that are above reproach. And missionaries shouldn’t hold national pastors to higher standards than they hold themselves. If the missionary’s goal is to raise qualified elders, then it stands to reason that the missionary must be elder-qualified himself.