First Steps (Pt 1)

Or, The Calling and Qualifications of Elders

Scripture: Titus 1:5-9

Date: June 2, 2024

Speaker: Sean Higgins

Most of us (over the age of 20) are here because of a fork in our church road driven by bad elders. That is both a brutal and typical reality. Elders go first as examples to the flock—good or bad. Elders are the first examples, they are the first responsible-s, and affirming them in every local church is of first importance for the flock. Paul told Titus to get qualified elders identified as the first step.

Paul greeted Titus and then gave Titus public instructions about installing elders in every city on the island of Crete (Titus 1:5-9). It was the next step for setting things in order. And in a letter that values truth which accords with godliness (Titus 1:1), that values adorning the doctrine (Titus 2:10), there needs be a group of men who are recognizably godly and leading others to grow in godliness.

There are some assumptions in the context of this first-century epistle that are not so assumed in the context of our day. We need a mini apology (in the sense of a defense) of authority. Good authority is good, which is why there are qualifications on how to identify good authority, which does mean that good authority is not impossible. Jesus—the only perfect authority in the flesh—gave men with authority as gifts to His church (Ephesians 4:11).

Good authority is like the dawn (a political context in 2 Samuel 23:3-4, but a principle with application across spheres). That’s part of the reason that Paul comes out of the epistolary gates addressing the subject of elders. It’s not exaggeration to say that this paragraph about godly elders was for the good of the whole island. There are titles for authority, recognized offices, and they are given apostolic affirmation in this public, pastoral letter. The authority was to be affirmed by locals in every locality. Paul explicitly exhorted Titus to do his work with authority (2:15).

Good authority is good. Godly authorities model and instruct and stimulate godliness; godly authorities put things in order. It is a high calling, with heavy responsibilities, and so restricted to those who meet the qualifications. It’s not for everyone.

These instructions/qualifications are given so that everyone can know what to look for; it’s Titus’ work to take the first steps, but each local flock would have to participate in some way. It takes wisdom, because you want some men to be elders, but not the wrong men (see verses 10-16). It takes wisdom because current elders should be leading the way in joyful, fruitful, and godly oversight, but it is also a heartbreaking and burdensome work to care about sheep who keep sinning and to watch out for wolves seeking to destroy the sheep.

To shepherd the flock of God is (one of) the most demanding callings among men.

  • In terms of consequences, we are talking about eternal and generational and communal outcomes.
  • In terms of necessary resources, we do have the Word and the Spirit, but the intervening instrument is one’s own soul, which if your own isn’t working right makes it seem impossible to help others.
  • There are family-wide requirements that aren’t on most job applications, which includes a higher level of scrutiny put on “preacher’s kids.”
  • It’s in the field of the spiritual battle, which all Christians are in, but elders are supposed to go first.
  • They are given a message to carry that, while it is the power of God to salvation, is also seen as foolish or scandalous by many.
  • It requires persistence whether in season or without, when others demand something more tickling, or a nicer tone, or whatever.

It is a noble task, yet those who do it are often treated as the scum of the earth. Such men live at the breaking points (2 Corinthians 4:7-10), but don’t lose heart. The calling is of such a kind that if you can do something else, you should.

So there are public qualifications, yet there is no inspired process. Since every one of the local churches on Crete would have been first-generation Christians (as written to Titus around AD 63), we probably should give consideration for how the same qualifications look after multiple generations of Christians, when a flock doesn’t just recognize elders but raises them up. Elders are vital to the health of the body and there is still some necessary flexibility due to what Paul doesn’t say.

A couple more things from looking at the passage in its overall context before starting to consider the particulars.

Elder (πρεσβύτερος in Titus 1:5) and overseer (ἐπίσκοπος in Titus 1:7, also translated “bishop”) are used of the same person, elder emphasizes maturity (not just age) and overseer emphasizes the nature of the ministry. Pastor/shepherd (ποιμήν in Ephesians 4:11) is a third term that refers to the same office, and we could add steward (οἰκονόμος in Titus 1:7), preacher (κῆρυξ in 1 Timothy 2:7), and minister (διάκονος of the gospel in Colossians 1:23).

There were to be elders in every town , a plurality in each single church. How many shepherds per number of sheep? No formula. Would there ever be a time when there was just one elder? Maybe, but that’s as risky as it might be temporarily necessary. Get a many. While any group of elders may not spend all their time doing the same thing, there is no hierarchy or pastorarchy, no monarch or “senior” or “executive” or “ruling vs. teaching” elder (though some perhaps do more labor in preaching and teaching per 1 Timothy 5:17).

The plurality are all men. Women should teach…other women (Titus 2:4), but not have authority over other men (1 Timothy 2:12). It’s good for godly and gifted women to be protected by and provided for by godly men. Related, there are no “elderettes,” though that is a fun name. Being a pastor’s wife is not a spiritual gift, though it is often a great burden. A godly man will get great insight and help from his wife, but she must not run the church, through her fears or her force.

Two above reproach (verse 6 and 8) and a man’s family is the first place to consider his qualifications.

The Elder’s Marital Fidelity

The husband of one wife is a beautiful phrase, and our elders understand it to mean a monogamous man, faithful to his marriage covenant with one woman. He ought not have multiple wives at the same time, let alone visits with a mistress or porn sites. It would go against other Scripture to say that he couldn’t lawfully remarry after the death of his wife. For that matter, this does not seem to require that if his wife died, he would immediately lose his qualification. We must apply more wisdom than which checkbox to choose on the census.

The Elder’s Paternal Fruitfulness

The qualifications about his kids stand out, starting with the fact that nothing similar is required about his wife. Could he be an elder if his wife hadn’t converted to Christ? Maybe that’s more possible in a place where you got married when there were no Christians, then an apostle came through your city and you believed but your spouse didn’t.

The kids, though, give a different kind of evidence of a man’s authority. An elder is to have children (who) are believers .

Of course there are arguments about this, starting with, does it mean “faithful” (NET) or “trustworthy” (KJV) instead of “believing”/Christian? The next phrase of the verse certainly shows a way they might not be faithful in conduct.

Other relevant questions: Can a married man without any kids be qualified? Why don’t they have kids? How old do his kids need to be? What if he and his wife were only able to have one kid, that’s not “children”? Can kids “age out” of this qualification, so if they aren’t living under his roof any more, then this doesn’t apply? What if he’s four out of five in faithful kids?

For real, these are good questions that good men disagree about. But what is the point of this qualification? It’s that a man does the work of an evangelist with his offspring first; an elder wants others to have faith like him, starting with the people who share his last name. It’s that a godly man adorns the doctrine so that the people who live with him think it looks good. It’s that he knows how to shepherd and disciple others to renounce ungodliness. A flock can, and are instructed to, evaluate the fruit of a man’s home field.

“Keeping his children submissive” is an appropriate qualification (that is another inspired description in 1 Timothy 3:4), but certainly expects more than showing you can be the boss of a two year-old. Eli was a priest, but his sons would have disqualified him from being an elder (1 Samuel 2:2, 17). Though it’s a parable, the dad of the prodigal son wouldn’t be qualified, until his second son repented of his bad attitude.

The key is: what does the man use his authority for? That’s also how he’ll care for God’s church.


To be a leader, one must both have and embody a vision of where one wants to go. It is not a matter of knowing or believing one is right; it is a matter of taking the first step . (—Friedman, A Failure of Nerve)

What Crete needed were more godly and growing men leading local churches in faith and knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness.

Godly men must take the first step.

See more sermons from the Titus - Adorning the Doctrine series.