4 Reasons You Should Preach through Titus
“Who’s your church going to target?”
I heard this question many times before we started our new church. I was told about demographic studies, church consultants, and other sources of professional guidance that were standing by to help me best answer it. While I was tempted to give a snarky answer each time—“Well, we are hoping to reach the unicyclist millennials of Miami who are partial to electrolyte-infused water but refuse to do so with single-use plastics”—I opted for a more appropriate path. I simply pointed the inquisitive person to how that question would be answered by the churches in the New Testament.
I realize this question means well. People want ministry to be effective, but this concern is often overwritten by an insistence on pragmatic efficiency. It aims at reverse engineering. “Who will our church try to reach?” means “Who will we try to attract to our church?” Our answer to that question will then determine our ministry instincts as to what we offer—our style, décor, programming, beverages, etc. But outside of obvious localized languages and regional cultural expressions, doesn’t this reveal wrong thinking about the church? Wouldn’t this potentially start the church with a kind of partiality that James tells us to stay away from (James 2:1ff)?
This is why I’m so thankful for the book of Titus. We get to read the correspondence of one church planting pastor to another church planting pastor. The apostle Paul isn’t concerned about the preferences or distinctives of “Seattle Sally” or “Miami Miguel.” He wants to teach his friend Titus about the kind of churches Jesus wants to attend. Titus is to take the evident fruit from gospel preaching and “put what remained into order” (Titus 1:5).
Titus is a young pastor, and the book bearing his name is a compass that should set any church in the right direction. Whether you’re being sent out to plant a new church, raising up other men that your church intends to send out, or looking for a biblical audit of the church you’ve been shepherding for years, here are four reasons you should preach through Titus.
1. It emphasizes the priority of godly leadership in a church.
What an encouraging time it must have been to see people respond to the preaching of the gospel through repentance and faith. God evidently blessed the ministry of the apostle Paul and others on the island of Crete. As residents of this island off the mainland of Greece, the work in these new Christians’ gatherings had only just begun. And where does Paul want Titus to start? He wants these new churches to have qualified leaders.
Today you’ll read a lot about the value of having leaders that are dynamic change-agents who are also known for being thick-skinned and soft-hearted. While all that is well and good, it really is an incomplete picture of whom God raises up to lead his people. Paul tells Titus early on to assess and affirm qualified men to lead these new bands of Christians. These qualifications focus on character over competency (Titus 1:5–9). Even then when competency is addressed, it’s not assessed based on prior success in other areas of leadership—business, athletics, etc. Rather, the most vital competency is the ability to teach the Word of God, which includes having the discernment and the courage to call out other teachings when they don’t line up with the whole counsel of God. Our churches today could use a fresh audit of what men we are investing in to do the work of an elder. What “curriculum” of discipleship do you use as you pray for the Holy Spirit to raise up church leaders (Acts 20:28)?
2. It reminds us that leading the church takes courage.
“Think globally, act locally.”
This phrase, attributed to a Scot by the name of Patrick Geddess in 1915, has gained traction in recent years. Whether it’s trying to bring accountability to local corporations or teach personal responsibility to citizens, it has prompted people to realize what’s happening in their town and not just what’s going on in other parts of the country or the world. This same perspective can help local churches. Most Christians in general and pastors in particular would probably agree that false teaching and divisive leaders have been a problem in times past or in countries oceans apart. But what about their own churches today? What about in their own people’s lives? What about the books sitting on their own people’s bookshelves?
Paul breaks open some smelling salts and causes us to wake up to the reality that, at any given time, false teachers could be seeking to lead our members away from the truth once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). The elders mentioned in Titus 1:5 needed to get to work and deal with the rebels mentioned in Titus 1:10ff. The new officers were commissioned to active duty right away. False teachers needed to be silenced (1:11), and errant local teachers needed to be rebuked (1:13). Though such people appeared to be devout (1:16), they were in reality ungodly and divisive.
Later on, Paul tells Titus to exhort, rebuke (2:15), and call others to be submissive to political leaders (3:1). All of this requires courage. It requires fearing God greater than man. The letter to Titus reminds today’s church leaders to wake up, look around, protect God’s people from wolves, and call people to spiritual activity, not spiritual lethargy.
3. It tells us why a culture of discipling in a church is so important.
I have a skate tool that I use to adjust my skateboards. It does it all. (Skaters know the tool I am talking about.) From adjusting the trucks, to removing the wheels, to replacing the pads, I use it for everything.
This is how a lot of Christians look at their Sunday gatherings. It’s their one tool to do everything for them in the Christian life. Have a friend who needs to hear the gospel? Bring them to church. The pastor will tell them the gospel in his sermon. Looking for some Christian friendships? Come to church. You can sit around some new people and maybe learn a few names. Need some help with some life-dominating sins in your life? Come on Sunday. You never know. The pastor might touch on that topic, directly or indirectly. While I hold Sundays in high esteem, God doesn’t intend that to be the only “tool” a Christian needs. In fact, a lot of what God is doing in people’s lives happens through people who aren’t pastors/elders—and it’s not happening only on Sundays. Paul wants to make sure Titus understands this.
Men and women, old and young, ought to be in community together to help each other grow in Christ. While Paul leaves so many questions unanswered—how many? with whom? how often? doing exactly what?—he does intend these new churches to have a culture where other Christians love, lead, care for, learn from, and pursue one another (2:2–6). This isn’t a feature unique to the churches on Crete—it’s not just “an island thing.” It’s a church thing. Paul tells the Ephesians that this ought to happen in their church as well (Eph. 4:11–16). Churches today should be known for more than the classes they offer or the books they recommend. They should be known for humble fathers and mothers in the faith who gladly receive and invest in the lives of younger Christians who are new in the faith.
4. It teaches us what the fruit of the gospel looks like with street clothes on.
The letter to Titus has one of the most concise and awesome statements about the gospel in the New Testament (Titus 3:3–7.) I will sometime tell Christians who are struggling with how to tell “their testimony” to read those verses and then give the autobiographical illustrations to fill in the color.
However, as great as that summary is, it’s far from all that Paul wants these Christians to know. In fact, he wants Titus to teach these Christians how to go public with their professions of faith. A major theme of Titus is good works (1:16; 2:7, 14; 3:1, 8, 14). God wants these Christians to not only know what he has done for them and in them, but also what they are to do as they testify about God’s grace with their lives.
Christians should be more than merely willing to do good works. They should want to do them. Look at the descriptions for yourself. Not only is Titus to be “a model of good works” (2:7), but the people are to “devote themselves to good works” (3:8, 14).
We all own tons of clothes. We store them in our dressers, closets, and bins under our beds. But the only clothes people will know that we have are the ones we wear in public. So it is in the Christian’s life. People can identify as Christians all day long. But the world will only see the gospel’s power when they see how we relate both to each other and to others. Maybe it’s a changed attitude toward government (3:1). Maybe it’s a newfound self-control in our conversations with each other (3:2). Or maybe it’s generous charity to those in need (3:14). The good works that flow from our belief in gospel should be undeniable and noticeable.
So, what should new churches focus on? What should their priorities be in their early years? A dynamic webpage that’s easy to use? A social media presence that’s waiting to be double-tapped, retweeted, and shared? A fresh dark roast that will open the eyes and the ears before the sermon begins?
As it turns out, biblical ministry is refreshingly more simple and surprisingly more profound than that. Today’s churches should proclaim the gospel faithfully, raise up leaders appropriately, seek to live for Christ publicly, and address the hard issues that come eventually. This describes a church that Jesus would want to attend. Don’t take my word for it. Read and preach Titus yourself.
George W. Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles (The New International Greek Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992). This commentary provides keen exegetical insights. While challenging to some who have not been trained in Greek, it offers a depth of understanding to those who can appreciate the language.
John Stott, Guard the Truth: The Message of 1 Timothy & Titus (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1996). Stott’s work is brief but helpful as it comes from a man who pastored and did so with his hand faithfully in the text. Today’s reader will find its contribution insightful as certain topics in antiquity are addressed and applied to today’s audience.
John MacArthur, Titus (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary; Chicago: Moody, 1996). This work teaches the reader about cultural context in which Paul was writing, and models for today’s preacher ways in which the text can be presented homiletically. I recommend reading this after doing your own work in the text—lest you lean too hard on it.