People Need Shepherds - Titus 1:5-9

Some years back, a prominent American pastor who is still very well known today was interviewed by a Christian magazine on the topic of leadership. This is a pastor who has written a lot of books and has a huge audience. In the interview he argued that the church should stop talking about pastors as shepherds. He reasoned that the word and the concept are irrelevant today because we don’t have shepherds all around us like they did in the first century. He says Jesus referred to shepherds because that was what was available at the time to make an example, and the pastor says that by the time of the book of Acts, the shepherding illustration was gone from the life of the church. 

People Need Shepherds - Titus 1:5-9

That actually isn’t true.  In Acts 20, Paul tells the elders in the church in Ephesus, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. Also Peter was still using the shepherd language long after the death and resurrection of Jesus. We read that earlier.

Back to the pastor in the article, he prefers to be thought of as a CEO, explaining his philosophy on church leadership in the same terms as a business. He even says there’s nothing distinctly spiritual about his leadership – it parallels the biz world.

So what do you think: did I title the sermon wrong?  Should I have called it, “People need CEOs” or “People need good corporate Leaders?” This pastor has a troubling view of church leadership, first of all because his view of the Scriptures is warped. The illustrations in the teachings of Jesus are not trapped in a window of history and therefore needing to be repackaged for the 21st century. We didn’t fail because we didn’t name this church “Good CEO Presbyterian Church.” The concept of shepherding is relevant, especially given the fact that:

Spiritually, we don’t think we need shepherds. We don’t naturally believe that, in our lives as Christians, we need someone on this earth the way a sheep needs a shepherd. We feel more self-sufficient than that. But this role in the local church is clearly important. And while there may be some similarities to the leaders where you work, it’s also very different. God has designed the Christian life such that believers should function together in a local community in which shepherds called elders give oversight, care, and protection.

And because God has designed life this way, we should embrace the role of these shepherds in our lives. So what roles do these shepherds called elders play in our lives?

You’ll see an outline on page 6 in your worship guide.  People need shepherds who:

1. fulfill the order God designed for His church. (v.5)

2. reflect the character God intended for His church. (v.6-8)

3. and uphold the truth God revealed to His church. (v.9)


Now first, people need shepherds who fulfill the order God designed for His church. (v.5)

This deals with the Biblical precedent for elders who are shepherds. Look again at verse [5], “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—“

  • “what remained” or “what was lacking” – This wording is used again in Titus 3:13, which says “see that they lack nothing.”
  • People had become Christians, but they didn’t yet have shepherds or overseers. They didn’t have those who fulfill the role of shepherding, ruling, and teaching that began with the apostles
  • But notice, like Titus, these men that will be chosen are not apostles, yet they carry on aspects of the office of apostle
  • In 1 Peter 5, the apostle Peter wrote, “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ.”
  • They were elders just like Peter.
  • See, without these shepherds, things are out of order.  Something is lacking.
  • Paul gives Titus apostolic authority for the task. Back in verse 1, Paul mentioned his own title of apostle.
  • “Elder” is the English translation of the Greek word “presbuteros”
  • To “appoint” means “to set over” or “put in charge of.”  It’s connected with what is also called “ordaining” or “laying on of hands” as Paul did in Acts 14 when he appointed elders in the churches he planted.

Acts 14:21–23

[21] When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, [22] strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. [23] And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

  • “church” is ekklesia, meaning congregation or assembly.  Local congregations with multiple elders is the Biblical model.
  • leaders to rightly govern the church were essential for the future of the church

This wasn’t a new concept. It had roots in the old Israelite Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was the council that condemned Jesus. Obviously bad leadership happens; doesn’t mean throw out the concept. Luke 22, “When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes.”  What we translate as “the assembly of elders” 

actually says “the presbyterion.” Paul then uses that exact phrase and terminology in 1 Tim 4 to refer to the council of elders that ordained or appointed Timothy for pastoral ministry.

  • The roots even go all the way back to Jethro’s advice to Moses in Exodus 18, where the father-in-law of Moses gave him advice to begin a plural form of leadership in Israel.
  • Moses did not need to carry the load by himself.

So throughout the Bible we see plural leadership. It’s sometimes argued that a “Moses-model” is good, where one man sits alone by himself at the top of the hierarchy. Moses was the mediator of the covenant, similar to but not exactly like Jesus mediates the new covenant. A pastor is not in the role of Moses. Multiple elders are needed.

John Acton, known also as Lord Acton, was a historian, politicians, and writer in England in the 1800s.  He discussed the tendency of people to put religious leaders on a pedestal such that the same moral standards didn’t apply to the religious leaders.  He wrote a few notable things. He said, “There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.” By that he meant that just because the person is the religious leader, that doesn’t make him less of a normal person capable of wrongdoing. And famously, he also said this, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” He meant that being autonomous, with no-one to tell you ‘no’ ruins a man.

In the same way that we submit to God’s plan for redemption from our sins, and in the same way we submit to his purpose for the life of a disciple of Jesus and also his standard of how we should live, we should submit to God’s plan for our care in the church and the governing of the church. Do you sense your need for that?  Of course you have a mind of your own, you make your own decisions, you must be discerning and not follow elders blindly, but can you acknowledge that you’re naturally blind to things in your own life? We need shepherds to fill the role God created.


Also, People need shepherds who reflect the character God intended for His church. (v.6-8)

This deals with the qualifications of elders who are shepherds. What kind of men should we look for?  Paul provides the qualities or standards.

  • Consider first of all that without standards, shepherds do more harm than good.
  • “above reproach,” i.e. they should be blameless, free from accusation

1 Timothy 3 says, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” It’s a good task.  Of course no one is perfect, but the individual needs to be honorable.

  • “husband of one wife.”  Sexual immorality is out of the question.  
  • Also this is a role reserved for men.  It doesn’t mean that men and women are not equal.  They are equal, but “equal” does not mean “same.” This role of men in the church reflects the role of the man as the head in the marriage and is the family.
  • This is not meant to de-value women in any way.  Men and women are equal but are called to different roles in the church.
  • Also in verse 6, “children are believers,” i.e. faithful.  These are children still in his home (compare 1 Tim. 3).  So “faithful” in the “submissive” and “obedient” sense
  • “debauchery” meaning “reckless living”
  • “insubordination” meaning “unruly, rebellious”
  • “overseer” interchangeable with “elder.”  This is another name for the same office.
  • Some say that Phil. 1:1 shows that elders are not standard in the churches because Paul writes, “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons,” but v. 7 here shows that “elder” and “overseer” are interchangeable
  • God’s “steward” i.e. “manager”
  • their word for “arrogant” combines words for “self” and “pleasing.”  The elder can’t be self-pleasing.
  • An elder can’t be easily angered, can’t “fly off the handle.”  That phrase comes from when, while using an axe, the axe head flies off the axe handle. If that happens, watch out!
  • Then this long list of things that an elder cannot be. “Drunkard…”
  • This is not an exhaustive list.  We have the Scriptures; and we know what Christian character is.  We realize no one is perfect, but our hearts and behavior matter, especially in our leaders.

Obviously these should be characteristics of all Christian men, but elders should display these characteristics in an exemplary manner.

Hebrews 13:17, Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Interestingly, “obey” can also be interpreted “trust.”  Trust your leaders.  And for you to trust them, they must be trustworthy.  Why would God ask you to trust a man who does not demonstrate that he’s worthy of your trust?

Also, who do you know that had left the church and perhaps the Christian faith, not because of beliefs, but because of leaders who let them down?  The standards are vital to the life of the church.


And finally, People need shepherds who uphold the truth God revealed to His church. (v.9)

This deals with the purpose of shepherds called elders. Look again at verse [9] “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

  • without protection, people wander from the truth
  • “hold firm” – it’s not easy to cling to right doctrine, esp. when it’s not popular.
  • Obviously if a man can’t hold to it, he can’t instruct others in it.
  • You see there he must be “able to give instruction”
  • “ and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” The elders should refute things that are false.

And we do this under the authority of Jesus. Turn to Matthew 28 in your Bibles. Starting with verse 16.

[16] Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. [17] And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. [18] And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. [19] Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, [20] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

  • “authority” can mean “having the right” or “having permission.” Here the idea is that Jesus has the power to rule and govern and he’s charging the apostles with overseeing the building of His church
  • Christ has put them “in command” to shepherd, lead, and teach
  • In Titus 2, Paul tells Titus, “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority” (with “command,” or with the authority of Jesus backing you up)

The church needs shepherds who hold to it, because people don’t naturally hold to it.  People are swayed by various popular teachings. People can be swayed by teachings that stir their emotions, even if the content is way off base. Jake spoke a couple weeks ago about knowing and holding to the truth of the preaching of the apostles that came from Jesus. Elders must guard that truth.

This is a humbling message because is describes our great need. We all need shepherds. I need shepherds, and I have them in my life.  I don’t function autonomously here at GS. I am convicted that this is the Biblical model for God’s church. There is no adequate argument for another approach. Jesus didn’t simply come to earth and spout little sayings for us to follow. He established a pattern for assemblies of people all over the world, throughout the ages, who would be ordered in such a way that accounts for our naturally sinful ways and fosters sound beliefs and sound living.

As we go to this table today, we remember that he laid down his life to establish it.

Let’s pray.