Reading the early part of Paul’s letter to Titus is at once like sitting at a brightly lit sidewalk cafe with a freshly brewed coffee in hand and curled up in a corner in the fetal position completely depressed.
The Apostle Paul wrote to Titus (likely in Crete) nearly 2000 years ago to encourage him as he battled against false and abusive teachers in the church. It is refreshing to read what God requires of the character of a leader. But His description and often what we see in church leadership is not at all similar.
As we read the first chapter we get a taste of what leadership in the church should look like.
…if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.Titus 1:6-9
As Diane Langberg notes in Redeeming Power, “To use our power rightly in this world, we must exercise it through love, as Christ does.” [Redeeming Power, Loc. 2444] Paul’s description of leadership in the church to Titus reverberates with love.
I am a “big-picture” guy. I like to see themes and overarching concepts as I study scripture. Yes, detail is great, but I believe scripture is particularly full of “principles” to be applied in the myriad of life events. It is the principles – like the 10 Commandments – where we find the help we need in living life on a day to day basis. It is a work of wisdom to apply God’s principles as we face the legion of decisions we make daily.
Paul’s instruction to Titus about leadership in the church has a particularly forest character: it is the big picture of Christrian character! Seeing the forest for the trees, we see in Paul’s overall instruction that a leader is loving.
Some would see the list in Titus 1 as a call to arms in taking authority in the home and squashing dissent. But it is not.
They are character traits that I have seen in numerous church leaders who I would describe as gentle, gracious, and kind. Oh, yes, they are solid as a rock theologically. But, they are first and foremost lovers of God’s people (including their family) and the world He created for His glory. They live out their theology in the way Paul instructs.
Starting in the Home
Picking the list apart, the Apostle begins in the home. Because, how the leader relates to family is often the most telling of his leadership abilities. Recently, a friend and I determined that we can be the meanest at home. There we find the full expression of our attitudes for good or bad. Maybe it is the unconditional love we get from our spouses and children that we believe gives us license to hurt.
We often find that the “charmer,” we so admired outside the home, is actually beating his wife and children in the privacy of his home.
Paul, in another place, tells fathers to not “exasperate” their children. Having children who are believers and not “open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination” is the result of a man who loves his children well. It is not bringing the hammer down on every failure, but loving the child through their faithlessness. Of course, parents are not responsible ultimately for a child’s rebellion but parents do most certainly impact their youthful attitudes. [Prov. 22:6]
In the Church
Paul’s list begins with what is visible in church leadership noting that a leader is “not arrogant or quick-tempered.” I am continually writing about “humility” because it is truly a fundamental element of godly character, particularly in leadership.
I have discovered that toxic environments in the church are so often created by individuals or a general culture that lacks humility.
There is no way for there to be peace and unity in the church or an organization without the players holding their views with humility. There will always be conflicts in theology. God has made clear the Gospel message, but there will always be clashes when it comes to particularly detailed view of ethics or doctrine.
If we do not have the humility to recognize…
- that a view we hold could be wrong or
- that others with good minds have reason for coming up with a differing view,
then our view will grow to be a mountain on which to die.
We die on the mountain of the Gospel – that all was created good, man sinned against God, Jesus went to the cross to take away that sin, and by trusting in His work we can have eternal life – but not on the foothills.
- In addition, humility helps us lay our conflict at Christ’s feet and in the Holy Spirit’s capable hands to solve.
There may be views we hold strongly and believe we must hold them unswervingly. However, sometimes we must lay it down recognizing that it is the Holy Spirit that must change hearts.
No amount of debate and argument will change a heart that God is not changing. Rest in knowing that the Lord sanctifies His children in His time and in His way. He may use our words but He may not. 2nd Timothy 2:24-26 should be the “Titus Leadership Theme Verse.”
“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”2nd Timothy 2:24-26 (ESV)
I believe Paul put “arrogant” and “quick-tempered” together for a reason. The two go together nicely. They come together to make a miserable situation.
The man who is arrogant will also tend to be quick-tempered. He thinks he is always right or is entitled and his temper is a means of getting his way. Just as we see in abusers, their anger is a way to control their situation. It is their way to create fear that the abuser may get his way. It comes from an evil heart.
Greed and Violence
The term for “violent” in Greek means “a pugnacious, contentious, quarrelsome person.” Translating it as “violent” does not capture it. Many who abuse power are not physically violent. But they are generally contenious and quarrelsome. Again, entitlement and arrogance sum it up. Being entitled and arrogant creates a pugnacious individual.
And they are self-serving – greedy. An attitude of service to others is corrupted when the motivation is to get rather than give. It is difficult to look out for the good of others when your own good is foremost in your heart.[Phil. 2:4]
We are all selfish. We are all wanting our own way. We each desire to be comfortable in our own way. But the character Paul is attributing to good leadership has, by the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying power, experienced a “dying to self” through the “mortification” (killing) of these motivations.
Hospitable, Lover of Good, Self-Control, Upright, Holy and Disciplined
Notice, each of the character traits that follow simply build upon these wonderful descriptions of a godly leader. The list provides both motivational and action character traits.
It is not acceptable to be just self-controlled when others are looking. Leaders can say the right things and even be quite amiable most of the time. However, each of these character traits have inward and outward results. Inward motivations will normally produce outward action. So, some of the traits Paul deliniates for Titus are in fact the outward results of an inner motivation.
- He who is greedy will rarely be hospitable. It costs him too much.
- He who is not a lover of good will rarely be self-controlled. His love of evil will drive foolishness.
Unfortunately, so many of our leaders in the church and Christian organization are mimicking the world’s leaders. Arrogant (narcissistic), violent, greedy for power, and unholy. They may put on a nice face but it is only an image they wish to market.
It is the responsibility of God’s people to choose wise and good leaders. It behooves congregations and boards to look more closely at applicants. It is wise of churches and organizations to do due diligence in the interview and vetting process.
Consider these options:
- Gain access to and evaluate the applicant’s family relational dynamics.
- Carefully interview those who have served under or beside the applicant.
- Learn about abusive leadership identifiers so you are able to ID one more readily.
May the church and Christian organizations raise up leaders who exemplify love and selflessness. May we feel like sitting at a brightly lit sidewalk cafe with a freshly brewed coffee in hand as we submit to these leaders.
Resources [also on P&S Resources Page]
The Allure of Toxic Leaders: Why We Follow Destructive Bosses and Corrupt Politicians–and How We Can Survive Them by Lipman-Blumen, Jean. Oxford University Press, 2004. [Get on Amazon]
Behind the Masks: Personality Disorders in Religious Behavior by Wayne Oates [Get on Amazon]
Broken Trust: a practical guide to identify and recover from toxic faith, toxic church, and spiritual abuse by F. Remy Diederich. Independently published, September 14, 2017. [Get on Amazon]
Character Assassins: Dealing with Ecclesiastical Tyrants and Terrorists by Peter Hammond and Brian Abshire. [Get on Amazon]
A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture That Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing by Scot McKnight, Laura Barringer, and Tish Harrison Warren. Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale Momentum, 2020. [Get on Amazon]
Churches That Abuse by Ronald M. Enroth. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1993. [Get on Amazon]
Escaping the Maze of Spiritual Abuse: Creating Healthy Christian Cultures by Lisa Oakley and Justin Humphreys. SPCK, 2019. [Get on Amazon]
In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People by George K Simon, Ph.D. 2nd ed. Little Rock, AR: Parkhurst Brothers Publishers Inc, 2010. [Get on Amazon]
Narcissism in the Church: A Heart of Stone in Christian Relationships by David Orrison, PhD.. Independently published, January 10, 2019. [Get on Amazon]
Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power by Andy Crouch. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2013. [Get on Amazon]
Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church by Diane Langberg. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Pr, 2020. [Get on Amazon]
Rising Above a Toxic Workplace: Taking Care of Yourself in an Unhealthy Environment by Gary Chapman, Paul E. White, and Harold Myra. Chicago: Northfield Publishing, 2014. [Get on Amazon]
Something’s Not Right: Decoding the Hidden Tactics of Abuse–and Freeing Yourself from Its Power by Wade Mullen and Diane Mandt Langberg. Tyndale Momentum, 2020. [Get on Amazon]
Twisted Scriptures: Breaking Free from Churches That Abuse by Mary Alice Chrnalogar. Revised. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010. [Get on Amazon]
Unholy Charade: Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church by Jeff Crippen and Rebecca Davis. Justice Keepers Publishing, 2015. [Get on Amazon]
Vrbicek, Interview by Benjamin. “The Many Faces of Narcissism in the Church.” ChristianityToday.com. https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/march/chuck-degroat-narcissism-comes-church.html.
When Narcissism Comes to Church: Healing Your Community From Emotional and Spiritual Abuse by Chuck DeGroat and Richard J. Mouw. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP, 2020. [Get on Amazon]
Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft [Get on Amazon]