Young Leaders in Pioneer Church Planting
Over time, we will explore some practical facets of the theology of missions. The first edition in this series explores the scriptural foundation for selecting church leadership in pioneer missions contexts.
It is easy, within the context of modern American Baptist churches, to interpret the Pastoral Epistles in accordance with present practices and situations. In perhaps no subject is this more apparent than in the oft repeated combination of the qualification lists of I Timothy and Titus without any reference to their historical context or completeness as individual letters to different men in different ministry situations.1
The two qualification lists are admittedly different, though they contain many similarities. The most glaring distinction is the absence of any instruction to Titus to avoid ordaining a novice as the pastor of a local church. Because this matter has great practical implications for churches and church planters across the world, this paper will address the reasons for this omission from the letter to Titus. In doing so, the authority and intention of the lists, the historical contexts of Ephesus and Crete, and the critical differences between the ministry of Timothy and that of Titus will be examined with the goal of presenting a practical and balanced biblical answer to the absence of not a novice in Titus.
What is a Novice?
The term translated novice is the Greek word neophutos, meaning literally “newly planted.”2 In Christian writings, it refers to a recent convert, newly planted in the church.3 Paul gives this warning because of the potential result: The new convert elevated too rapidly is lifted up with pride and falls into judgment.4
Why the Difference?
Several resolutions have been suggested for the difference between these lists. Some have suggested that the relative youth of the Cretan churches cause Paul to omit this requirement.5 Because all the believers were recent converts, the qualification would not apply.6 “In quite recently planted churches, such as those of Crete mentioned in Titus, it would not be possible to obtain persons for the presbyterate who had been long established in the Christian faith”7 Against this view it might well be contended that Paul could have suggested importing mature leadership from other existing churches, as many modern Baptist churches have done. That he did not do this indicates that there were other factors involved beyond a simple lack of mature believers.
Others have postulated that perhaps the omission is not properly an omission at all, but rather that the statement not a novice is intended to deal with specific problems at Ephesus.8 This view implies that Paul would not normally make this a qualification when selected church leadership. This view leads to the conclusion that this qualification may not be a part of church planting at all, but was rather given to address specific issues arising in mature churches. Both views contribute towards a better understanding of the omission, but are not complete. This paper intends to complete these views by developing the idea that Paul omitted this qualification because it was not necessary for the churches of Crete at the time he wrote the epistle to Titus.
In developing a practical approach to this subject, the first question that ought be addressed is “Did Paul intentionally omit this qualification from Titus, or was it accidental?” If Paul intended these lists to be generalizations, then it is safe to assume that these qualification lists have no real authority, and are only general suggestions provided to Timothy and Titus. If this is the case, it naturally follows that these qualification lists are only suggestions that may or may not be accepted by modern churches. This conclusion would make the list itself a moot point, since no church would be required to follow the qualifications.
Against this conclusion are the following points: First, Paul uses the Greek word dei (it is necessary) when stating that a bishop must be blameless. If the list is necessary, then it cannot merely be general suggestions. Second, the lists contain specific directions because Paul was seeking to counter the lifestyle and behavior of false teachers.9 Third, based on II Timothy 3:16 it may be concluded that no scripture is accidental, demanding intention on the part of Paul and the Holy Spirit.
The qualification lists must then be considered intentional and authoritative. The second question naturally is “Why then did Paul intentionally omit not a novice from Titus?” The answer is simple: He knew that different situations demanded corresponding measures. “It is now commonly acknowledged that these lists are indeed ad hoc qualifications that are intimately tied to the situations of both Ephesus and Crete.”10 Although Paul seems to have used some elements from contemporary leadership qualification lists, the characteristics in these lists are especially relevant in the situations addressed.11
Paul made both lists intentionally, understanding the differing situations faced by Timothy and Titus, and knowingly instructed Timothy to avoid novices while at the same time intentionally avoided making any statement to Titus on the matter. It is illogical to assume that Titus was supposed to fill in the missing instructions from the letter to Timothy; rather it is safer to conclude that Paul considered his instructions to Titus sufficient in themselves for Titus to effectively carry out his ministry task.
How, then, did the context and ministries of Timothy and Titus differ? To begin with, Timothy had been assigned to Ephesus to address the problems of a single local church.12 This church had been established at least ten years, and “sufficient time had passed for the heresy to form after Paul’s final missionary journey.”13 By contrast, Paul had recently left Titus in Crete to organize numerous local churches that were recent church plants. “The organization of the Cretan church was unfinished due to the brevity of Paul’s visit.”14 This seems to mirror Paul’s normal method of church planting, which indicates that Titus was working in essentially pioneer territory with newly planted churches.15 The work, then, of the recipients of these epistles was substantially different.
There were also significant contextual differences. In the days of Paul, Ephesus was the chief city of Asia, with a population exceeding 250,000.16 The cult of Artemis was extremely strong and the temple of Diana considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.17 The city was located excellently, testified by its continued existence and prosperity for more than 1000 years.18 As the cultural and commercial center of Asia, the beautiful marble Arkadiane market of Ephesus drew large numbers of people from all over the known world.19 While Ephesus was at the peak of civilization, Crete was nearly its polar opposite.
Until 1400 B.C., the Minoans of Crete were the leading civilization of the Mediterranean. The culture had been in a state of decline, and then collapsed catastrophically.20 After centuries of anarchy and shifting balances of power, Crete fell under the rule of Ptolemy in 305 B.C. It was still under the foreign power of Rome in the time of Paul.21 Epimenides, a Cretan living about 600 B.C., is thought to be quoted by Paul as accurately describing the Cretan people: “The Cretians are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies.”22 “The character here given of the Cretans as a people is abundantly confirmed by Livy, Polybius, Plutarch, and Strabo, who testify to their mendacity, brutality, avarice, and idleness.”23 In modern terms, the churches of Ephesus and Crete might be said to stand in the same relation as an established American suburban church is to brand new village churches in a third world setting.24
With this context in mind, it seems clear that Paul’s intentional omission of not a novice has very practical implications for church government and church planting today. Whether Paul included the proviso for the sake of Ephesian problems, or left it out of the letter to Titus because it was not necessary, the application is the same. The primary reason for not appointing a novice in Ephesus is that the expected result is pride.25 To lead a large church in a wealthy city where the church had substantial influence would be a heady endeavor. Social and economic standing would be expected, since Paul expected church leadership to be supported.26 Therefore, keeping with the established simile, established churches in America or other similar settings should closely adhere to the qualifications list in I Timothy.
By contrast, in Crete serious young believers would be forced to immediately stand out against the boorish and ramshackle culture. Appointing them to positions of leadership in the church would not endear them to the community nor enhance their reputation. Rather than risking pride, these new believers would be asked to make serious sacrifices of reputation and social standing. Their simple faith, founded on diligent study of the Word of God, would carry them through to effective local church ministry.27 The similarity between the Cretan setting and third world pioneer fields is striking. In these cases, it is appropriate to consider the list given to Titus as the de facto standard.28
Applied to Church Planting
Practically, Paul’s exclusion of not a novice from Titus has definite ramifications for church planting strategies. Church planting should not be seen as a single all-encompassing event, but as a series of practical stages that are related to the context in which they take place, and which have the ultimate goal of producing a mature, reproducing, autonomous local church.
Three stages29 of church planting may be identified from Scripture. The first might be called pioneer church planting. This is the stage typical of Paul’s initial visits to each city, and that which is apparently the background of the epistle to Titus. In this stage, the emphasis is the establishment of a Great Commission assembly: Baptized believers who are giving the gospel and are studying the Bible. At this stage it is taken for granted that most, if not all, of the believers in the assembly are new Christians.
The second stage is proto-organization. This stage is not necessary for the mere existence of a biblical church, but is essential for its continuing function as an autonomous body.30 This is the setting of Titus: numerous Great Commission assemblies needing to be organized. The qualification list given to Titus reflects this stage of church planting: Thus, not a novice is irrelevant to Titus. This stage typically took place less than a year (often a few months) from the beginning of the church planting process in Paul’s ministry. National leadership was considered essential to the continued growth of the church. However, these leaders were often still considered “novices” as far as their length of time as believers was concerned. They were not chosen because of experience, but because they stood out from the rest in terms of faith and rate of spiritual growth. This did not take years to determine, but must have been readily apparent from the early portion of the first stage. When this stage is finished, the church is considered an fully and functionally autonomous local church.
The third stage is mature organization. This is the stage reflected in I Timothy, in which an established church is now being more firmly established and strengthened. Every church plant should aim eventually to be able to follow the qualifications of I Timothy, but no church plant should attempt to put the cart before the horse by attempting to begin at stage three. Church plants in Christianized areas have generally had the advantage of having mature believers already available. Because of this, many have presumed that this is normal, when in fact it appears to be an anomaly when compared to the biblical pattern.
So what does this mean for not a novice? Simply this: Church planters should base their leadership appointments on the qualifications list found in Titus when first starting a church made up of new believers. Rather than waiting for years to develop well trained non-novices, the church planter should be looking for people who are willingly following Christ in simple faith, studying their Bibles, and making conscious choices to live counter-culture. Later, as the church matures and grows, that church will then begin to use the I Timothy qualifications for leadership. In this way, the apparent discrepancy between the two lists is resolved, for indeed no such discrepancy exists. Paul knew what he was doing, and provided lists appropriate to the situation. Churches and church planters today would be wise to follow this Biblical pattern rather than depending on preconceived traditions.
1 Based off personal experience. The author has personally taken note of many sermons, lectures, and articles in which it is automatically assumed that both lists are intended to be combined as a single universal list.
2 William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1952), 538. This word is a hapax legomena. It is attested in LXX with this same meaning, translating the Hebrew פרי “seed, offspring” (Francis Brown and S. R. Driver and Charles Briggs. A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1951), 826),נטיע andנטע “plant” (BDB:642).
3 Cleon Rogers, Jr. and Cleon Rogers III, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament, )Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House. 1998), 492.
4 Patrick Fairburn, The Pastoral Epistles, (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1874), 144. Most commentators take εις κριμα εμπεση του διαβολου as an objective genitive, i.e. he falls into that condemnation which is reserved for the devil. This seems to best support the idea of pride or conceit indicate by the rest of the verse. Thus also Chrysostom in Homily X, addressing verse 6. Also John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, (Colorado Springs: Cook Communications Ministries. 1983), 737 and William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, Word Biblical Commentary, (Nashville: Nelson, 2000), 180.
5 William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, Word Biblical Commentary, (Nashville: Nelson, 2000), 155-156. This conclusion is well attested by many other sources, ancient and modern.
6 Donald Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles, (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1990), 38.
7 Fairburn, 143.
8 Merkle, Benjamin L. “Are the Qualifications for Elders or Overseers Negotiable?” (Bibliotheca Sacra 171 (2014): 172-188), 185.
9 Merkle, 186.
10 Ibid., 176.
12 Mounce, 181. See also I Timothy 1:3 “I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus…”
14 John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, (Colorado Springs: Cook Communications Ministries. 1983), 762.
15 Acts 14:21-23 describes how Paul first went through each city winning converts and starting churches, then returned back through those cities ordaining elders. There is no reason to believe that Titus was doing anything other than this pattern established by Paul.
16 Merrill F. Unger, Archaeology and the New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1962), 250.
18 Unger, 254.
19 Unger, 255
20 Will Durant, The Life of Greece, (New York: MJF Books, 1966), 21.
21 Durant, 585.
22 Titus 1:12
23 H. Harvey, Pastoral Epistles, An American Commentary on the New Testament, (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1890), 132.
24 Guthire, 206.
25 I Timothy 3:6. I;na is used with the subjunctive to emphasize result. Paul expected immature leadership to become a problem in Ephesus. Some suggest that it already was a problem at the time Paul wrote, thus the special instruction. Cf. Merkle, 185. Certainly the existence of a problem in one context (demanding action in that context) does not imply that the problem is universal to all contexts.
26 I Timothy 4:17-18
27 Titus 1:9
28 The author’s personal experience planting churches in a pioneer context corroborates this conclusion.
29 These conclusions are based on the pattern of Paul’s ministry in Acts 14 and the author’s perspective on the work of Timothy and Titus at the time of the epistles. This pattern is based on a pioneer missions context or largely non-Christian population context, which are most similar to the context of Acts. The American church planting context will be very similar, but may be able to start further down the road of organization because of the presence and availability of mature Christian workers.
30 See Matthew 18:18. Christ Himself designated the church as an assembly of two or three in His name.