A friend emails informing you he has met some families and wants to start a church. “We do not know where to really begin. We know a church is a body of people, not a building, but what five or six things should we focus on at first?”
Of course you know this blog will answer this question, but before reading ahead I encourage you to answer the question. Then compare notes. Our answers often reflect either biblical training or presuppositions. These presuppositions can come from culture, experience, or philosophies. Knowing how you answer this question can help evaluate and insure shaping a biblical mind-set regarding “What the church should do.”
The question, “What should we focus on?” could be reinterpreted “What should the church do?” What is our daily activity? Every truth of Scripture is important, but when organizing, where do we start and continue. Discerning this helps a church plant focus on what God thinks important. It benefits an old church too by allowing us to keep focused on His will for a church.
Paul answers this question specifically in Titus. Paul tells Titus why he is in Crete, “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you,” (Titus 1:5). Often we draw attention to the “appoint elders” in this verse. However look at the first half of the verse. “Appoint elders” is the second command given, the first command is “set in order.” Both commands deserve equal attention. Paul tells Titus “set in order what remains.” Paul’s instruction directs Titus to set up, establish, and organize the church. The context and historical background are not well known. Reading the book, we can gather Titus had to help organize the church, establish it, and get it running in a biblical manner to honor the Lord.
So Titus needs to set in order what remains. Well, what remains? This is the million-dollar question and Paul tells Titus precisely what he needs to do. In fact, the entire book of Titus answers this question. Titus 1:5 is the thesis sentence to this personal letter. Paul’s command can be systematized into six categories. All of these will make more sense if we remember God calls the church to make disciples (Matthew 28:19). (By the way, this blog will read better if you open Titus and read it along with this post).
First, Titus needs to “establish elders” (Titus 1:5-9). Leadership is important in a church, in fact, a friend of mine once said, “You cannot have a church without a elders” (Tom Patton). This observation serves the church well. It needs qualified men who can shepherd the flock of God (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:1-5). A disciple making church must teach “sound doctrine.” This requires wisdom and discernment to not only teach and lead the truth, but defend the church from error. Elders are to “hold 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).
Two additional observations: first, Paul left a qualified man to organize the church. A church plant honors God when it starts with a qualified man to lead the church. Naturally all of us think we’re qualified. But will another church and body of elders support this man? Vet the man starting the church. Call his previous church and see if they recommend and would lay hands on him for ministry. Even if his former church is a “bad church,” his testimony should be respected and above reproach. Paul laid hands on Titus. He worked with full weight and support from Paul. The Cretans knew Titus was vetted and not a lone wolf dressing up like a shepherd to design a church after his own preferences and false doctrine.
Second, Titus needs to develop and appoint leaders. There is no timetable on this. How long should a church plant wait? Wait until God clearly reveals men who meet the characteristics of 1 Timothy and Titus. Titus needs to develop and appoint multiple men to lead. The elders should not be one man, but a plurality of men. Once elders are established, continue to train and develop leaders, never stop. May we develop leaders until every man is qualified to be an elder. Is your church plant developing leaders if there is only one elder? Is anyone welcome to attend? This charge should be honored by intentional devotion to developing leaders.
Second, prioritize discipleship relationships (Titus 2:1-8). Titus directs older men and women to pour into and develop younger men and women so that those younger people can have godly character and later be older saints whom disciple younger saints. It is common to think pastors educate the church. But Paul says everyone, specifically mature believers, disciples one another. Paul describes the ideal older man and woman (2:2-5). Gray hairs should accompany dignity, perseverance, sensibility, love, sobriety, fidelity, and purity (to name a few). So how does a young mom learn to love her children and spouse? Not just by sitting in sermons, but by having older women in the church train her (2:2-5). Organize the church in such a way for older mature believers to train the younger believers.
One problem I have with age segregated Bible Studies and Sunday Schools are the neglect given to the Titus 2 structure. Senior citizens are essential for high school and college students. Why deprive our young generation the benefits of a man or woman who’s walked with the Lord fifty years? Paul defines the ideal saint to Titus then provides his or her role in the church and the disciple making process. Retired, looking for more to do? Go talk to the youth pastor, he needs your help!
Third, direct the church to pursue godly conduct in the world (Titus 2:9-3:2, 3:14). This pericope begins urging slaves to be well pleasing to their masters in everything (2:9). The way the Cretan church works for their employers defends the Gospel. This church represents the Lord to the world. Everywhere they work, the churches’ reputation is on the line. Work hard, do not pilfer or argue with the boss so others will, “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect” (2:10).
Paul’s exhortation, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, (Titus 2:11-12). The way the church lives in this world matters. Our conduct should honor the Lord in every way. When we proclaim the Gospel, our lives had better imitate the hope we have in Christ through our conduct and love. How important was the conduct of the Cretan church to Paul? He exhorted Titus to proclaim this (2:15). “Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, [to President Obama], to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed” (3:1). Our conduct and service matter!
But it isn’t just the world we’re to serve; it’s the church too! We should be “zealous for good deeds” (2:14). The church is a family filled with broken sinners who minister to other broken sinners. What kind of testimony do we have if we say Christ loves us then show no love for one another? In fact, at the end of the letter, Paul reminds Titus a second time of how important conduct and serving are to the local church, “Our people must also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful” (3:14).
Fourth, emphasize the Gospel (3:3-8). Titus is a believer. A strong believer trusted to start a church. Yet Paul reminds him of the Gospel. He reminds Titus of our former life (3:3) and the kindness of God to save us, declare us righteous, and make us heirs (3:4-7). “This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things speak confidently” (3:8). “These things,” what is that a reference too? The Gospel. Speak the Gospel to your church regularly. Romans is the Gospel written to believers. Believers need to remember the Gospel. Conflict usually exists among believers because the Gospel is forgotten. Speak the Gospel with confidence! Practice the Lord’s Supper to unite the church around Christ’s death and help them remember their common bond! We are not united because we see the jots and tittles the same way; we are united because Christ brought us into the family making us an heir.
Point three and four go together. Point three can only happen when we understand point four, Paul gives the purpose and result for declaring “these things . . . so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men” (3:8). Church make the Gospel central in every way. It is not milk, ever, but solid food to be served and consumed.
Fifth, die on the right hills. Oh that music style, paint, chairs, pulpits, or pastor’s lack of tie wouldn’t be the hill we die on. Paul tells Titus to “avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife . . .” (3:9). What hill do you want to die on? It seems Paul says to Titus, die on the hill of leaders, purpose [discipleship], godliness, and the Gospel. Someone in your church has a different eschatology? Okay, great. Not a hill to die on with him or her. Someone has a special prayer language? Okay, not a hill to die on. Someone wants you to teach anything but Scripture? Die on that hill. Know your hills and die on them, but please let those hills be sparser than a mountain range larger than the Rocky Mountains. Those who die on every hill are probably pugnacious. Some do / don’t see a tripartite law? Not my argument, preach Christ!
In fact, when a factious man comes into the church and begins to create division, warn him once, then a second time, and then remove him (3:10). Unity is too important to be gracious by allowing him to stir up trouble and create division. Those who want to drum up minor doctrines and turn them into Mt. Kilimanjaro are not helping the work; they’re hurting it. Protect the sheep and remove him. Die on the right hills.
Finally (6th), doing these five points protects and exalts the Word of God. Biblical leaders teach in accordance with the word . . . exhorting in sound doctrine (1:9). Biblical discipleship training younger people are fitting for “sound doctrine” (2:1). Young women learning how to love their husbands, children, and walk in godliness “so that the word of God will not be dishonored” (2:5). The young mother’s actions exalt the Lord and honors His word! Young men are to have “purity in doctrine” (2:7) “so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us” (2:8). Slaves service helps “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (2:9).
Churches strive to protect, honor, exalt, and live by the Word of God. It is the authority in discipleship, worthy of protection. Speak when it speaks, be gracious where it doesn’t. Preach and teach it in season and out of season (2 Tim 4:2). Each individual believer should meditate and live by it, so that our teaching is honored, respected, and adorned. Neglecting the Word cripples ministry and our walk with God. Live by it.
Pray our churches would emphasize what God’s word emphasizes and show grace to one another in our preferences. Pray future church plants would begin by faithful, qualified men, who emphasize and focus on being faithful to the Lord’s clear teaching. Pray our churches show fidelity to our calling.