Whenever a discussion about leadership in the church arises, invariably Paul’s first letter to Timothy and his letter to Titus are referenced. It is right to do so and therefore should be encouraged. In doing so, many have devised methods, plans, and devises for leadership as they wrestle with the advice of Paul to his protégé. Indeed, many books have been penned on the very subject.
In writing his letters, Paul was addressing two men in whose close proximity he had worked for several years. Paul attest to this 1 Corinthians 4:17 explaining to the church at Corinth why he sent Timothy, “…my beloved and faithful child.” Paul and Timothy were practically family. Paul’s letter to the Philippians (Philippians 2:22) expresses a parallel sentiment, “…you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served me in the gospel.” Paul’s letter to Timothy was written as a tender letter from a father to a son exhorting familial expectations, giving fatherly advise, and encouraging likeminded leadership development.
While Paul did not convey as much attention to Titus, he certainly taught Titus along a similar pattern. 2 Corinthians 8:16 says, “…thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you.” Is it any wonder that Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus are synoptic in many regards?!
Putting together Paul’s view of the church in regards to familial language, and Paul’s relationship with Timothy (and Titus), it is time to take a fresh look at his first letter to Timothy (the synoptic effect of Titus is kept in mind) particularly the portion dealing with qualifications for leaders in the church.
When the understanding is reached that Paul had a close relationship with Timothy his letter becomes an instrument of leading, encouragement, and instruction from a father figure to and adopted son. In that light Paul’s words about leadership underscore his familial expectations of church.
1 Timothy 3:1-7 is easily recognized as the classic proof text for church governmental structures. From this passage titles such as bishop , overseer, and elder (depending on the particular denominational structures) are given to persons given leadership responsibilities. As noted before, varying degrees of success have been enjoyed with this hermeneutic. Viewing the text as a letter from separated family, in the adoptive sense, another and perhaps better perception is seen.
As Paul communicate to Timothy (1 Timothy 3:1-7) it is seen that he uses familial language extensively:
• Husband of one wife (compare to Ephesians 5:22-33)
• Manage his household (supports 1 Timothy 3:15)
• Keeping his children submissive (compare to Ephesians 6:1-4)
When they are seen in combination with Paul’s other dictates – not being quarrelsome, being gentle, not a lover of money, able to teach, respectable, hospital, sober-minded, above reproach – it becomes not an instruction for a pattern of hierarchical leadership but rather one of a father figure. To suppose hierarchical standards goes against the intent of Paul’s instructions to Timothy (see Titus as well) specifically and Paul’s overarching tone of address in all his letters in general.
With family, intimacy of relationship is maintained. Communications is simplified thereby making it easier to teach – hence keeping doctrine pure. Hierarchical styled leadership tends to separate, thereby decreasing relationships. Teaching is relegated to the impersonal address once or twice a week. With Paul’s emphasis of leadership from a family perspective, issues with church discipline become manageable (compare with Matthew 18:15-20). Hierarchical leadership can become oppressive and tyrannical in effect and perception, even if well meant in conception.
Paul’s structure of family leadership for the church is preferable. It brings a manageable scale. It gives a clearer scope. It gives reality and practicality. It answers the question asked, “How then to lead the church?”