Posts Tagged With: leadership

Titus 2: Be the Pattern

Preach the gospel always; use words if necessary.

These are the famous words of St. Francis of Assisi, and good ones at that.  Though not a Christian, Mahatma Gandhi said this:

Be the change you wish to see in the world.

Long before both of these men, Paul said something similar to Titus:

Make sure you present yourself as a pattern of good works.  Your teaching must be consistent and serious, in healthy speech that is beyond reproach.  That way, our opponents will be ashamed, since they won’t have anything bad to say about us. (2:7-8)

The world needs fewer sermons and more people who live the sermons they have already heard.  If Titus was ever going to be successful in fulfilling Paul’s charge to create strong churches on the sinful island of Crete, the revolution had to start in his own heart.  He could ask for nothing from those Christians and offer nothing to Crete he wasn’t able to be a pattern of.  He was to be the walking sermon.

So too with us.  We can rage on about the moral decay of our world, but until we are the change we are advocating, things will never get better.  Strong churches are composed of Christians with strong character who offer to the world by their very lifestyle an attractive alternative to sin.  

What did you see in this chapter about being a strong leader?

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Titus 1: Strong Leaders with a Strong Aversion

How should a church operate in a very sinful culture?  What most needs to be said to a group of Christians living in a place where the natives even say of themselves, “Cretans are always liars, evil animals, idle guzzlers” (1:12)?  As we read through the three short chapters of Titus this week, let’s concentrate on this question.  You can go back to this post to read a little bit about Titus, Paul’s letter to him, and the island of Crete where Titus was stationed.

Paul’s first point in this chapter is that a church in such a decadent place must have strong leadership.  This was Titus’ main charge:

This is why I left you in Crete: you are to set straight all the remaining matters, and appoint elders for every town, as I charged you to do. (1:5)

If a church is ever going to be true to Jesus in a world that woes away the Beloved with desire and wantonness, they must have strong leaders leading the way.  These leaders must be trying to seeking after godliness not selfish gain or they will never stand against the easy slide towards cultural accommodation.  They must be able to oversee a group and their ability for this is best seen in how they have led their own children.  Above all they must be people of character.

Secondly, a church surrounded by sin will only stand if they have a strong aversion to that sin.  By nature, sin is alluring.  Weak Christians will quickly cave into the temptation of sin and the work of the gospel will be frustrated if a distaste for sin is not fostered.  There is sin that tempts from within a church and without.  Paul wants these churches to be guard against both cultural decadence in a drunken, sexual immoral, unchaste society; but they must also be alert to the threat of doctrinal unorthodoxy.  For the Cretan churches Titus was ministering to, this meant be they had to be wary of the legalism of the “circumcision party” (1:10), likely a Judaizing version of Christianity.  For us today it could mean any number of teachings that pull us away from a core belief in grace (we don’t please God by our own merit) and good works (we can’t get lazy and believe there is nothing to do in a fallen world).

Only strong churches stand in the face of sin.  Strong leadership and a strong distaste for sin.

What did you notice about how a church can stay strong though surrounded by sin?

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1 Timothy 3: Godly Everywhere They Go

I am struck today in this section on qualifications for church leaders like elders and deacons that how these men are viewed in and interact with the wider public of a community is as important to whether they can be leaders as their ability, their church personas, their management skills, their intelligence, and their financial success.

In addition, he [an elder] must have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he may not incur reproach and fall into the devil’s snare. (3:7)

Those who serve you well as deacons, you see, gain a good platform for themselves to speak out boldly in the faith which is in King Jesus. (3:13)

Church leaders exist for the church, but who they are to a wider public must be considered as well.

What struck you today?

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BONUS: An Introduction to the Pastoral Epistles

We come now to three books that are typically called the Pastoral Epistles — 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus — because they are addressed to two men who were leading churches Paul had started and because of the attention given in these letters to ministry issues.

Paul wrote the Pastoral Epistles toward the end of his life.  As we read through the letters we will likely get the sense that these are the letters of a man who is about to hand his life’s work over to his protégés.  He is reflective and slightly anxious.  He pours every ounce of cautionary wisdom into his words.  Paul wants to push westward past Rome and on to Spain, however Paul seems to know with prescience that he may not even get that far.  Either way, it is time to entrust his work in Ephesus to Timothy and his work on the island of Crete to Titus.  By the time 2 Timothy, Paul’s last preserved letter, is being written Paul is, in fact, imprisonment in Rome in a cold dungeon (2 Tim. 4:13) unable to be visited by friends.  Tradition says Paul is killed by the Romans within a year.

The Pastoral Epistles are highly instructive.  So much of these letters rotation around instructions about what makes a good leader, the threat of false teaching, the corruption that can easily come to church leaders when money is involved, and how to live as Christians in a decadent and immoral culture (idolatry in Ephesus, and sexual immorality and raucousness in Crete).

This Timothy was the same young Jewish man mentioned in Acts 16 who became Paul’s traveling companion and “son in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:2).  Six of Paul’s letters were co-authored by Timothy (2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon).  Titus is never mentioned in Acts, yet he does show up in various other places in the Letters as a loyal companion to Paul.  He evidently was an uncircumcised Gentile who Paul proudly took with him to the council in Jerusalem (Acts 15) to support his stand against attaching law observance to faith in Jesus (Gal. 2:1-3).  Titus was especially important to Paul in Crete and he is left there to ensure the churches stayed strong.

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2 Corinthians 13: True Strength

There has been a whole lot of talk about strength in the Corinthian correspondence this past month.  Strong leaders, strong reasoning and speaking skills, a strong tolerance for sin (though too strong for Paul’s liking), a strong sense of grace (again, too strong), strong pocketbooks, strong charisma and gifting, strong leaders, strong egos, and strong boasts.  Corinth was a culture of strength, and so was this church.

We have already seen Paul say there are other strengths to have that are far more important.  They need a strong sense of unity that bridges the many divides they have allowed to form in their church.  They need a strong love towards each other shown through character, not spiritual gifts.  They need a strong spirit of generosity so as to help those who have real need in the world.  Today, Paul ends these two volumes with one more kind of true strength the Corinthians should be sure to have in a culture that seems hyper-focused on strength.  They would do well to be strong in doing the right thing.

Test yourselves to see if you really are in the faith!  Put yourselves through the examination.  Or don’t you realize that Jesus the Messiah is in you? — unless, that is, you’ve failed the test.  I hope you will discover that we didn’t fail the test.  But we pray to God that you will never, ever do anything wrong; not so that we can be shown up as having passed the test, but so that you will do what is right. (13:7)

What big idea really stood out to you during this year’s reading of the Corinthian correspondence?

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1 Corinthians 4: Success Defined

Our American society defines a successful leader a certain way.  He is charismatic and charming.  She is an engaging speaker.  He has a strong backbone and can’t be railroaded by the people he leads.  She has a visionary spirit.  He projects genuineness and is authentically caring towards his people.  She empowers her reports and does not micro-manage.  In a post-Enron world, he must be virtuous and free from scandal.  She is available and open to input so as to elicit loyalty, but at the same time she is confident enough to make hard decisions.  He is a self-made man.  More often than not, successful leaders in our culture also have an attractive physical presence and have a lifestyle of affluence.  Bottom-line, a successful leader has power as our society defines power — the power of personality, persuasion, money, intellect, and respect or even fear if necessary.  (When you look at the complete list one almost has to be superhuman to be that leader.)

Is a successful leader the top dog . . . ?

The problem comes when we take this same paradigm and bring it into the church.  In this model, our preachers, pastors, elders, and teachers would be expected to be like the description above.  Consciously or not, we would then judge our leaders by this standard.  We should complain that this preacher is not dynamic or funny or a good enough storyteller.  That elder has not excelled in his own business career so surely he can’t help shepherd a church.  We certainly cannot abide a weak leader.  Nobody walks on a true leader and they have plenty of people to do the grunt work so they don’t need to get down in the trenches.  Successful church leaders get things done and win people over to their way of thinking and make it obvious that their ministry is achieving.  Church leaders need to make it known what they have done for the kingdom, so people will be impressed with them and slap their backs in approval and congratulations.  Successful leaders make sure churches have all they need, and their churches are not in want.  Ask yourself if any of this resonates with churches you know.  Do members you know have these expectations?

This seems to be something like the problem Paul is addressing in 1 Corinthians.  It seems the Greek culture of Corinth had similar views.  Power is good, and weakness is bad.  Strong leaders are articulate and persuasive.  They get things done.  They evoke esteem and admiration.  They achieve and do not want.  They are celebrated and served by others.  We can tell from today’s chapter that this thinning was also in the Corinthian church:

Some people are getting puffed up. (4:18a; c.f., 4:7-8)

Paul makes it clear that this is not the right way to define success.  Churches need to guard against exporting this sort of thinking into their community.  It is counterproductive to judge leaders by this definition of success.  Actually, a church should be concerned if its leaders have this sort of thinking, as a new group of self-imposed leaders in the Corinthian church seem to have  (we will hear more about this group later).

This is how we [apostles] should be thought of: as servants of the Messiah, and household managers for God’s mysteries.  And this is what follows: the main requirement for a manager is to be trustworthy. . . . This is how I look at it, you see: God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession [a parade of prisoners of war, likely destined to fight to the death in the Colosseum], like people sentenced to death.  We have become a public show for the world. . . . We are fools because of the Messiah. . . . We are weak. . . . You are celebrated; we are nobodies!  Yes, right up to the present moment we go hungry and thirsty; we are badly clothed, roughly treated, with no home to call our own.  What’s more, we work hard, doing manual labor.  When we are insulted . . . persecuted . . . slandered. . . . To this day we have become like the rubbish of the world, fit only to be scraped off the plate and thrown away with everything else. (4:1-2, 9-13)

. . . or a servant-leader?

According to Paul, a successful, godly leader is first and foremost a servant and manager of God’s church, not their own.  They know there is no self-made minister and certainly no self-made church.  They may be very capable because of the gifting given them by God, but their greatest trait is that they are trustworthy of the great privilege they have been given to lead God’s people.  Their life is anything but comfortable, glamorous and affluent.  They roll up their sleeves and they do whatever it takes — nothing is below them — to advance the kingdom.  Their life is marked by sacrifice and they empty themselves of self, even to the point of putting to death their egos.  However, they are powerful, but in a whole new way.  It is the power of love, sacrifice, and the Spirit.

Now, that is a different way of view success.

What stood out to you?

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Romans 16: Phoebe the Deacon?

Let me introduce you to our sister Phoebe.  She is a deacon in the church at Cenchreae.  I want you to welcome her in the Lord, as is proper for one of God’s people.  Please give her whatever practical assistance she may need from you.  She has been a benefactor to many people, myself included. (16:1-2)

Phoebe was a deacon?

Yep.

Maybe that just means “servant,” like the KJV, the original NIV, the ASV says.

However, it seems there is something about the Greek word and the sentence structure that suggests the more formal words “deacon” or “deaconess” work better, as we find in the newest version of the NIV, the NLT, the CEV, and Wright’s KNT.  Also, her role as described in this passage above indicates this was more than just a great servant-hearted woman who worked behind the scenes to make the ministry of the church in Cenchreae work smoothly.  She was the “benefactor” of the Cenchrean church, likely meaning the church there met in her house.  She likely also provided a room for the many traveling missionaries; Paul indicates he had been privy to her hospitality.  All indications are that Phoebe was a well-to-do lady, maybe a business woman like Lydia the seller of purple cloth.  It was possibly this business that took her to Rome — no little expense — and Paul was taking advantage of that agenda.  Phoebe would have been carrying the letter to the Romans to the church there (depicted in the picture above even).  As was custom, she would have read the letter aloud to the church in Rome and been available to answer clarifying questions given that she had just been with the author.  Altogether, Phoebe was an esteemed leader in the early church known for her servant heart and at least this active effort to advance God’s kingdom.

This may be a realization that does not fit with what we have been taught in the past.  That is another perk to a comprehensive reading plan.  But this is an especially fitting way to end a letter that has focused on unmerited grace to all based on God’s love and calling, not one’s identity or status.

As we finish Romans today, what one major theme has really struck you this year as we read through this wonderful book?

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Romans 1: Those Perverted Gentiles

Imagine you are one of the Jewish Christians in this ethnically divided, prejudicial church and you hear Phoebe read the last part of this chapter aloud.  You know Paul can only be talking about Gentiles.

They knew God, but didn’t honor him as God or thank him. (1:21)

They swapped the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of the image of mortal humans — and of birds, animals, and reptiles. (1:23)

They dishonored their bodies among themselves. (1:24)

Men performed shameless acts with men, and received in themselves the appropriate repayment for their mistaken ways. (1:27)

They were filled with all kinds of injustice, wickedness, greed and evil. (1:29)

They know that God has rightly decreed that people who do things like that deserve death. (1:32)

Andrea Mantegna, “Bacchanalia with a Wine Vat” (c. 1500)

If you are one of the Jewish Christians who had started this church in Rome after returning home from Jerusalem after that first Pentecost of the Church (Acts 2), who then had been expelled from Rome by Claudius only to return to a very different, Gentile church, what are you thinking?

See, we were right!

Look what they come from.

Sure, they are Christians now, but can anyone really reform that much?

Their heritage is riddled with perversion, idolatry, and revelry.

We are so much better than they are!

Get rid of circumcision?  What comes next?  Some pagan festival like the Bacchanalia?

We should be the leaders in this church.  You can’t trust people like this.

If you are a Jewish Christian in this Roman church, you are liking this new letter from Paul, a fellow Jew.  Preach on, brother!

What grabbed your attention in this chapter?

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