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  • Writer's pictureTom Marshall

The First Leadership Qualification

by Tom Marshall, Academic Dean, Maritime Christian College

I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your

mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5, NIV).

I would like to suggest this verse provides an excellent framework for understanding church leadership.


Unfortunately, I have noticed whenever the topic of church leadership arises the average church leader will turn to 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 and jot down the list of 16 or so qualifications in each passage and begin the process of checking them off. The list of qualifications makes for a quick and easy list to assess an individual as a potential elder or deacon candidate. But is it the best starting point?


Dr. Robert Lowery, PH.D. from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland and was the New Testament Professor at Lincoln Christian Seminary who authored Revelation’s Rhapsody.  Dr. Lowery stressed in our exegesis class the necessity of understanding context for sound exegesis. He would often ask three questions:

  • What comes before the passage you are studying?

  • What comes after the passage you are studying?

  • What would happen if the passage were removed from its current context as if it did not exist?


Context began with the word and moved outward like concentric circles to the sentence, the paragraph, the chapter, the section, the book, the other writings of the author, the New Testament and ultimately the whole Bible. The Bible is one giant story of God’s love made up of multiple books of diverse genres, literary styles, and vocabulary.


Take for example the context for appointment of elders on Crete. Titus 1:5 states, “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” (NIV).


Paul writes to Timothy, “As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies(1 Timothy 1:3-4a, NIV).


In each case Paul is performing task theology. Each church needs qualified leaders and Paul lists the qualifications needed. Simply put, there is a problem and Paul is providing the

fix in his letter. The problems in each church are individuals who have rebelled against sound teaching and are spreading false teaching. “They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain” (Titus 1:11, NIV).


The context provides the occasion for Paul’s letter and his no nonsense approach to fix the problem. But could it be possible that if Paul had time, he would have provided more guidance? Or is it possible Paul is also assuming a certain level of spiritual maturity among the recipients?


I think there are clues in the immediate context and the wider context. For the immediate context in Titus 1:9 Paul adds this packed sentence, “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 (NIV). The first part of the verse, “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message fits into one of the qualifications of a church leader. But the phrase “as it has been taught” is the context to everything required by leaders.


As it has been taught” is a reference to the many witnesses who have passed along their account of Jesus’ resurrection. Take for example Paul’s recounting of the eyewitnesses in his letter to Corinth.

"Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised

on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born" (1 Cor 15:3b-8, NIV).

This is not a list he came up with but received “as it has been taught.” He states, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance” (1 Cor 15:3a, NIV).  He used the same phrase earlier in reference to what he had been taught about the Lord’s Supper, “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you (1 For 11:23a, NIV).


Paul was not one of the twelve apostles selected by Jesus early in his ministry. On the contrary, Paul, or Saul of Tarsus was a Pharisee zealous for the law and actively sought out followers of the Way and imprisoned them (see Acts 6:8-9:31). He was not present for Jesus’ ministry. But how did he come to be known as the Apostle Paul?


Before the day of Pentecost, when the Church officially began, Peter stood up among Jesus’ followers and laid out the reasons why they should select one to take the place of Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:15-26). They selected Matthias. It’s the first and last time we hear of Matthias as an Apostle in the New Testament. I believe Jesus had someone else in mind for the position—and his name was Saul of Tarsus.


The resurrected Jesus appeared to Saul on the Damascus Road. Paul recounts this in Galatians 1:11-24 about how Jesus revealed to him personally what he must do. He states, “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ (Gal 1:11-12, NIV).


Paul is adamant his gospel was received from Jesus and not from men. Paul points out in Galatians 2:7-10 how the leaders in Jerusalem accepted Paul’s gospel and extended the right hand of fellowship to him. “they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised (v. 7) and “James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised (v. 9, NIV).


It is clear from Paul’s writings how he received the gospel, either by what was passed to him like the Lord’s supper and the resurrection eyewitness accounts (1 Cor 11 & 15) “as it has been taught” or by direct revelation from Jesus.


On the one hand the “as it has been taught refers to disciple-makers passing along the gospel message and practices of the Way. Take for example Priscilla and Aquila discipling Apollos, (Acts 18:24-26). Paul must have also received invitations like theirs, “they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately (NIV).  On the other hand, Paul is also receiving discipling from Jesus.


Now let’s go back to the framework statement at the beginning of this post. I quoted from 2 Timothy 1:5, I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (NIV). This passage is still from a larger context of Paul’s qualifications of church leaders.  Note how, it too, falls within Paul’s reference “as it has been taught” in Titus 1:9.


Timothy received instruction from his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. Paul identifies Timothy’s faith as a “sincere faith” which is also found in Lois and Eunice. This would be classic family disciple-making in practice. Lois and Eunice shared with Timothy from the Old Testament. How many Bible stories did they tell him about God blessing all people through Abraham? How did they correct and rebuke Timothy as he grew?


One thing is clear, Timothy had his own faith as Paul reminds him in 2 Timothy 1:5. If I was to develop an elder training program, I’d flip 2 Timothy and 1 Timothy. The latter is practical theology as I stated above. While the former is Paul’s reflections, his last words to Timothy about what is essential to know and act as a believer.


There is no concise nice list in 2 Timothy like there is in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  There is much more; 2 Timothy contains the framework, if you will, for everything the elder and deacon qualifications rest upon.


Paul has a different purpose in 2 Timothy—though some can argue it is still task theology—but the context is different. The problem is how can someone who has sincere faith carry on the task at hand? Paul is speaking about character just like Jesus spoke about what it means to be a disciple in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7).


Before anyone desires to become a leader within the Church, they must first be a follower of Jesus-a disciple of Jesus who lives out the Sermon On the Mount within their own lives to the best of their ability. Jesus has called his followers to take up their cross and follow him and Jesus has commanded us to love one another and obey his commands. These are foundational principles which identify a follower of Jesus from the average person on the street. When the Jewish officials examined Peter and John following a miracle, they noted this about Peter and John, “they marveled and took note that these men had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13, NIV)


Too often our practical side overrules Jesus’ kingdom context—to select able bodied people who fit the criterial of Timothy and Titus’ elder lists without asking the obvious question: Can we tell they had been with Jesus?


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