The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint[a] elders in every town, as I directed you. An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe[b] and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.
– Titus 1:5-9
“Let us watch that we do not slide imperceptibly to a state where the women do the praying and the men run the churches. Men who do not pray have no right to direct church affairs. We believe in the leadership of men in the spiritual community of the saints, but that leadership should be won by spiritual worth.
“Leadership requires vision, and whence will vision come except in hours spent in the presence of God in humble and fervent prayer? All things else being equal, a praying woman will know the will of God for the church far better than a prayerless man.”
– Rev. A. W. Tozer, We Travel an Appointed Way
CONTROVERSY ALERT: I have no intention of taking swings at this gender controversy. My daily dose of Tozer went into this topic, not as a reason for raising the women-as-leaders issue, but to encourage those who are leaders of the church to pray.
Yet, it brought back this argument of the women praying and the men being prayerless to my mind. I was born near the time that Tozer penned this quote. I grew up in a church that only had men leaders: Pastor, elders, deacons. Some churches still have those rules. We presently belong to a denomination that allows women into those positions.
But as I was growing up, there was the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, the counter culture, and the women’s lib movement. Turmoil everywhere, but I felt safer then, than now. The argument that the women pray and the men do not was a constant shout from many women within the church.
Odd thing, the men just shouted back. I don’t know of any male leader in the church that heard the angry shouts of the women and went to their knees. I am sure many did so in private, but the visible reaction was to only shout louder.
It’s odd. After serving the latest time on the ruling body of the church for five consecutive years, I have been asked to serve on the service body, the Deacons, but never as an elder again. Once an elder, always an elder, but by church rules, for our church size there can be no more than 21 elders. They serve three-year terms, only allowing them to renew once before taking a break. There have been those that took a one-year break before going right back for another six years, then again, then again. The church rules allow that.
Yet, I look at the Titus requirements and those in the Timothy epistle, and I find myself lacking. Ask any member of my household who gave Eve the apple, it was me. Okay, that’s a stretch, but I have been blamed for everything. Only if a fraction of that blame is true, how can I be blameless? I have an itchy trigger finger when anger comes along. I abhor violence, but I make my opinion known. That is probably why I have not been invited back to the ruling body. The answer would be “no” if they invited me anyway. As for the violence, drunkenness, and dishonesty, I do not participate in any of that. But isn’t this an all or nothing deal? Then when I was asked the first time, the preacher said that none of us meet the Titus qualifications.
As for the outbursts of anger at church business meetings, I usually was lamenting that no one who had spoken before me had ever mentioned the word “faith.” To all prospective church leaders, you cannot run a church by certainty. A church is run by Faith. That is until broken humanity takes over the leadership meeting.
Back over twenty years ago, I spent a one-year stretch on a different church ruling body. The ruling body consisted of nine women and three men. The ‘women pray and men don’t’ argument was in full force, but then reality set in. The elected women weren’t prayer warriors either. The highly liberal preacher, who admitted that he did not pray other than the pastoral prayer during worship, told them how to vote on each issue, and they voted as directed. It didn’t become any more obvious than on one meeting when an issue arose.
The issue was that one of the female leaders had a daughter who had taken a vacation in an impoverished location south of the US. She knew that we gave money to buy pencils for an orphanage there. She went to the charity’s leader who collected our check each year, and she asked to see the orphanage. She thought it would be great for our church to have photographs. Instead, the charity organization leader took her on the Heart Tug Tour. They visited clinics filled with people of all ages dying of AIDS. They visited the slums where children were playing in a ditch that was contaminated with human waste, animal waste, and every bacterium known to mankind. The woman repeated the request each time. She never saw any hint that an orphanage existed or that a school existed.
Through her mother, she presented her experience to the ruling body. We all suspected the charity of being a fraud and that the money should go elsewhere. Everyone agreed. All twelve people agreed to not send the money. Then the preacher spoke, after the voting was complete. He said, ”I disagree. Everyone should vote to send the money. It may be years before this can be investigated, and those children will be without pencils.” He called for a show of hands. Eight women raised their hand instantly. Then the woman whose daughter started the issue raised her hand while frowning. The other two men finally grunted and growled, but they raised their hands. The preacher then turned to the clerk and said that we voted unanimously to send the money.
I spoke up. “I abstained!” I thought that not sending the money might speed up the investigation.
The clerk had no idea what ‘abstain’ meant or how to spell it. The preacher and I argued. He told the clerk to enter that I voted “No” but the motion carried anyway. I suggested that the preacher explain to the clerk what ‘abstain’ meant, meaning that I simply refused to go along with this mockery of procedure, and then record the vote accurately.
Then the preacher turned to the clerk and said, “This is what you will do for all future votes by this ruling body. You will mark all votes to be in agreement with whatever I say. And you will show that we have one vote against every time. He (pointing at me) never agrees with a word I have ever said, but we don’t need a unanimous vote anyway.”
I said that he was almost right. He might have said one or two things in a couple of years of listening to him that I agreed with, but on subjects that really did not matter. I mean, if you asked him where the bathroom was, he wasn’t going to point to the closet door. But by the time the meeting was over, my mind was miles and miles away, and it stayed there. Four months later, I got a call from the clerk stating that they were replacing me since I had missed three consecutive meetings. To be honest, since the meeting was a complete sham, I had totally forgotten that the meetings were on the calendar.
A few years later, that church closed its doors for the last time. It was a pity for the elderly that had grown up in that church, but a church that ceases to pray and act upon their convictions has lost its ability to seek direction from God.
All of this over a few pencils? No, all of this over deciding whether we trust God and God speaking through the body of believers or trusting in a single man, educated, but broken, who admitted that he did not pray.
So, what do I want to get out of this story? We need to pray. We need to pray for our church leaders. If you are a leader, you need to pray that much more. As Tozer said above, the person who does not seek guidance from God through prayer has no business leading the church. We may all fall short of the Titus definition of a leader, but spending hours each day in prayer can compensate for our brokenness.