The Discipling Church
Updated: Nov 18, 2022
In the book of Titus, this pastoral epistle, Paul instructs Titus to “set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city…” within the region of Crete. (Titus 1:5)
Paul was Titus’ father in the faith (Titus 1:4). The two of them had been together in Crete evangelizing the area. As a result, many Cretian people were converted to Christ, but they needed to be discipled. They needed to be taught the Word of God. They needed Godly guidance to grow. Paul wants Titus to teach them how to live a life that reflects the gospel which is at the heart of true discipleship.
Titus was tasked with setting in order discipling churches in Crete. Paul directs Titus to prioritize the church’s pastor, the church’s teaching program, the church’s affirmation, and the church’s caution.
1. The Church’s Pastor (Titus 1:5-16)
First, consider a discipling church’s pastor. Titus 1:6-9 lays out specific qualifications for a pastor (bishop/overseer) while contrastingly, Titus 1:10-16 describes unqualified individuals whose mouths need to be stopped. We will consider both groups.
Paul tells Titus to ordain a pastor with Biblical fidelity in his home (vs 6), his heart (vs 7-8), and his head (vs 9). This type of pastor is well-suited to lead the church into disciple-making.
The word “elder” in verse five is a reference to an individual who presides over an assembly of believers. The term “bishop” means “overseer” which refers to an individual in charge of a church family. In order for a pastor to oversee a church family, and have that church’s respect, he needs to have been effectively leading his own home.
Titus 1:6 explains that the pastor must be “blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.”
The type of pastor that Titus should seek to ordain is an individual who is blameless, in the sense of without neglect to his reputation and free from valid accusations directed at him. He should seek to ordain a man who is the husband of one wife and has tempered children.
In a parallel passage, Paul writes to Timothy and explains, “For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?” (1 Timothy 3:5)
The attributes listed in verses 7-8 are essentially issues of the heart. “…not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate.”
Being self-willed comes from a self-important heart and each of the additional attributes find it’s source in being “self-willed.” “Soon angry” comes from a volatile heart. “Not given to wine” comes from a heart that’s rooted in escapism. “No striker” is a hostile heart. “Given to filthy lucre” is a heart that loves money. (Consider 1 Timothy 6:9-12)
Each of these heart attitudes describes an individual that is failing to live a life that reflects the gospel. However, the pastor of a discipling church is to be “a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate.” (vs 8).
Still, these are dispositions or affections of the heart. A lover of hospitality implies loving to help people by hosting them in his home. In the first century, this was more than just an afternoon of fellowship but often it was a significant personal sacrifice that could’ve been days or even months of hospitality but it was rooted in a love for “good men.” (vs 8)
The pastor is to have a heart that is “sober,” (serious, not emotionally unpredictable), “just,” (fair) “holy,” (set-apart) and “temperate” (self-controlled).
And, all along the way, the pastor is “as the steward of God,” (vs 7) which reminds him that his heart is not to be possessive of what has been entrusted to him. He is not the owner of the church family nor of his personal family, although he is the overseer of a local church and the leader of his family. This “steward of God” is to be a manager or a governor. It’s the idea of being an employee serving in a specific capacity. The “steward of God” is responsible for the people that the Lord “hath purchased with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28) Since the people are the Lord’s, the steward of God is entrusted with a great responsibility but pastors are not to be “lords over God’s heritage…” (1 Peter 5:3).
The steward of God is to communicate spiritual truths which will cultivate Christian discipleship. Specifically, the pastor is to preach the gospel, the implications of the gospel, and unapologetically teach the Word of God. He is to preach Bible truth to the church which is the “pillar and ground of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15) The “steward of God” is also the under-shepherd of the church. As he serves the church, he should be constantly recognizing the potential of divine accountability, because one day soon, “the Chief Shepherd shall appear.” His heart is not to be possessive nor self-serving but he is to minister to the people of God humbly and willingly. (Consider 1 Peter 5:1-4).
Titus 1:9 describes the pastor’s intellectual or mental responsibility. “Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.” (Titus 1:9)
Titus has been taught the truth of the Word of God, enabled by the Spirit of God, through Paul and he needs to hold fast to those faithful words. The pastor needs to have studied the Word of God diligently so that “by sound doctrine,” he is able “to exhort and to convince” those that deny or contradict the Bible’s truth.
Secondly, as we think about a discipling church’s pastor, consider leaders to avoid. There are some men that Titus should not ordain. They crave religious authority but for all the wrong reasons. These are men who would not cultivate Christlike discipleship among these newly saved believers. Paul is telling Titus to beware of their mouths, their motives, and their defiled mind. (Titus 1:10-16).
They are “vain talkers and deceivers…” (vs 10), and their “mouths must be stopped…,” because they are “teaching things which they ought not, ...” (vs 11).
Paul is not just speculating about these “vain talkers,” but he proves his characterization by quoting one of the Cretian’s own prophets (Epimenides), who said that the “Cretians are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies” (vs 12).
They are using their mouths to lie. They are verbally reckless like “evil beasts” and have “slow bellies” which is to say that they are feeding their faces and are greedy gluttons.
Paul substantiates Epimenides’ assessment by saying, “This witness is true.” (vs 13)
Their mouths must be stopped, and the way to stop their mouths is for Titus to “rebuke them sharply.” (vs 13)
Their mouths must be stopped because Paul does not want to see these newly converted Christians “giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men that turn (these young believers) from the truth.” (vs 14)
Clearly Paul cares deeply about these young Christians and he knows the corrupt motive of these unqualified religious leaders. Verse 11 explains that they are “teaching things they ought not for filthy lucre’s sake.” These “vain talkers” love money and they have figured out ways to fleece the flock of God.
“For the love of money is the root of all evil…” (1 Timothy 6:10)
Paul calls out their wicked self-serving motive but also explains his motive for why Titus needs to rebuke them.
“… that they may be sound in the faith.” (vs 13)
Paul does not want Titus to rebuke them for rebuke’s sake. Titus is to rebuke them sharply because if that rebuke is received well, there is a potential that even they could become “sound in the faith.” (vs 13) Paul’s motive is rooted in selfless love but their motive is sourced in selfish gain; money.
Paul continues to caution Titus about ordaining these unqualified individuals. He explains that “their mind and conscience is defiled.” (vs 15)
These “profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.” (vs 16)
Paul is essentially saying to Titus, “Beware of teachers like this because they are self-centered emotionally and intellectually. Their heart and mind are defiled. These guys will hinder the newly saved Cretian Christians from growing in the Lord and being appropriately discipled.”
2. The Church’s Teaching Program (Titus 2:1-3:2)
If individuals are constructing a teaching program, they would ask questions like “What curriculum are we going to teach?” and “What type of character must our teachers possess?” and “Who’s going to teach the teachers so that they themselves are constantly learning and growing?” In other words, “How are we going to further develop our teaching staff so that they can challenge the students long term?” All of those questions are answered in Titus 2:1-3:2.
Paul wants Titus to set up discipling churches in Crete so he makes it clear that the curriculum must be “things which become sound doctrine.” (Titus 2:1)
Specifically he tells Titus to “speak thou the things…”. The word “thou” is a direct address to Titus. Paul wants Titus personally to speak (teach) “the things which become sound doctrine” because that will influence the rest of the church family; the aged men, aged women, young men, and young women, to avoid teaching fables and other unbiblical ideas which are unprofitable and vain.
The theme of the curriculum for a discipling church is to be the gospel and the implications of the gospel. (Titus 2:11-15; 3:3-8)
Churches accomplish this well when they have a pastor and Sunday School teachers who systematically and deliberately teach and preach through books of the Bible.
The idea of “sound” doctrine is to describe spiritual health. Paul wants these young Cretian believers to be nurtured in a healthy or “sound” way so that they experience spiritual vitality. (1 Peter 2:2; Hebrews 5:12-14)
In a similar passage, another pastoral epistle, Paul explains to Timothy how to cultivate spiritual maturity among believers. Paul knows that spiritual health and confidence is directly related to a consistent diet of the Scripture.
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, (spiritually mature) throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
The curriculum for any discipling church must be sourced in the God-breathed, inspired, and profitable Word of God.
This approach will “perfect” or fully equip young disciples of Christ. As they learn the Word of God, they will learn how to live a life that reflects the gospel.
Having established that the curriculum will be “sound doctrine,” we must be sure that our teachers are people who model the implications of the gospel through a godly character.
This is not to say that the only way to teach is from behind the podium in front of an assembled class. But, in actuality, every person within a discipling church is influencing or teaching those around them by the way they conduct themselves.
A biblical curriculum should not just be taught, but the gospel and it’s implications should be modeled through a Christlike character.
Christians are to behave how they believe. We are to practice what we preach. Paul is explaining to Titus that generations upcoming need to see how our faith has impacted our daily lives if we hope to disciple them effectively.
Harry Ironside points out that “men will forgive a preacher (or teacher) if he is not eloquent or highly cultured. They will forgive him if he lacks in personal attractiveness, or even in wisdom. But they will never forgive him if he is insincere. He who handles holy things must himself live in the power of them.”
Paul wants these discipling churches to have teachers, “aged men” that are modeling lives which are described as “sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience.” (Titus 2:2)
Also, churches are to have “aged women” who “be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things.” (vs 3)
Why? So that these aged women “may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the Word of God be not blasphemed.” (vs 4-5)
And, those “aged men” are to exhort “young men” to be “sober minded; in all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.” (vs 6a-8)
Upon further study, each of these lifestyle character traits can be, (and should be), broken down, understood, and pursued by members of a discipling church family.
Many of the character traits mentioned in verses 2-8 describe conduct in the home; wives loving their husbands and their children, etc. Also, these verses describe the personal heart pursuits of growing Christians, while verses 9-10 describe the importance of having a Christlike character in a workplace.
“Exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things; not answering again; Not purloining, (embezzlement) but shewing all good fidelity; that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.” (Titus 2:9-10)
Additionally, living a life that reflects the gospel requires responding to civil authority in a way that pleases the Lord. Paul tells Titus to “Put them (these newly saved believers) in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men.” (Titus 3:1-2)
Paul wants Titus to have teachers that model Christlike character in their country, in their workplace, in their homes, and from their hearts.
The teachers are teaching and the students are learning. They’re learning both from a Bible-based curriculum and the modeling of a Christlike character. All the while, the grace of God, through the Lord Jesus Christ, is teaching everyone within this discipling church.
“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,” is a description of Jesus. He is the One who brought salvation and hath “appeared to all men.” He is the embodiment of “the grace of God.” (vs 11)
Through His earthly ministry as revealed in His Word, and by His Spirit, He is the One who is teaching all of Christ’s disciples, at whatever spiritual stage of maturation, “that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.” (vs 12)
All the while, the discipling church should be “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.” (vs 13)
The soon return of Jesus provides both accountability and heavenly incentive to deny “ungodliness and worldly lusts” and to live in a way that pleases God. The discipling church is to be constantly “Looking for that blessed hope and (that) glorious appearing…”
After all, He is the One “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” (vs 14)
He is the One Who is able to teach the teachers, so that they are personally being developed and are therefore able to continually foster growth in these young disciples of Christ who are also being taught by the grace of God.
The “These things,” in verse 15 is primarily a reference to the content of Titus 2:11-14. The discipling church is to “speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority” the gospel and its implications.
This is the curriculum that impacts the conduct of the church. Chapter 2 concludes with the instruction, “Let no man despise thee,” which is to say that though they may criticize or condemn you, their criticism should be unfounded. Again, Christians are to genuinely live in such a way that reflects the gospel.
The idea of “aged men,” and “aged women,” teaching “young men,” and “young women,” is somewhat subjective.
Victor Hugo said, “Forty is the old age of youth; while fifty the youth of old age.”
As I am writing this, I am 42 years old. There are people in our church who view me as extremely old and at my age they cannot believe I am ambulatory, while there are also people who see me as their young and energetic pastor.
A few years ago, a member of our church passed away, but he lived to be 104 years old. He was blessed to be cognitively clear-headed and physically relatively strong, even in his final days.
Compared to this 104-year-old man, people in their 70s and 80s felt young. He was often an inspiration to them, and to all of us.
The point of this passage in Titus is not as much to emphasize the age of an individual but to emphasize the responsibility and potential impact Christians can have as we follow the example of Godly people who have lived longer than us.
A Christian in their 70s who has been saved and pursuing Christlikeness for many years can provide amazing help and wisdom to an individual in their 40s. While at the same time, the Christian in their 40s, who is pursuing Christlikeness, can provide needful counsel and instruction to someone in their 20s. Yet, the person in their 20s can have a significant impact on the children of the church. Often middle schoolers and teenagers think people in their 20s are extremely cool or inspirational, because they’re college-age and seemingly have a lot going for them. Their influence on younger children is often very significant.
In Paul’s writing to Timothy, he mentions the gospel’s potential impact on four generations of people, all in one verse.
“And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2)
The gospel is timeless and when taught and lived out, it has and will impact generation after generation.
This is not to say that older people do not learn from younger people. We should all be humble enough to learn things from other Christians no matter their age. No matter your age, life is a constant process of spiritual, mental, and emotional growth.
The benefit of a discipling Church is that the entire community of believers is to be actively involved in, “provoking one another to love and good works.”
Godly older men and older women have a lot they can teach younger men and women. Godly older men and women should be valued by the younger generation for their wisdom and life experience. (Consider Leviticus 19:32: Proverbs 16:31, 17:6)
However, just because an individual has lived a long time does not necessarily mean that they are godly. And, just because someone is young does not necessarily mean they are ungodly or spiritually immature. Paul told Timothy, “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, (and) in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12)
Paul is saying, “Timothy, even in your youth, be godly and God will use you to teach people that are older than you.” (Consider also 1 Timothy 4:12-5:2)
This is the church’s teaching program. Everyone in the church is a learner and to the degree that an individual is Christlike, that individual can be a helpful teacher to someone else. Together we are all learning from one another as we each learn from Christ by His Spirit and through His Word.
3. The Church’s Affirmation/Creed (Titus 3:3-8)
In Titus 3:8 Paul explains to Titus that there are “things I will that thou affirm constantly…”
This constant affirmation is to guide Titus and these Cretian believers into further understanding and appreciation for all that God has done for them through Christ.
At the college I attended, they would regularly have the student body publicly recite the University Creed. It was our constant affirmation.
I am suggesting that the content of Titus 3:3-8 is a “faithful saying” and in order to have a healthy discipling church, these are things that need to be constantly affirmed by all believers.
The general idea of this passage is that Christian disciples must never forget what we were before Christ. Sometimes being privileged to teach the Word of God to others can appeal to our pride. This constant affirmation is rooted in humility and gratitude toward Christ.
“For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:3-7)
“This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God (these newly saved Cretian believers) might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.” (3:8)
Christian disciples, old or young, who pursue holiness and Christlikeness with hearts of humility and gratitude are good and profitable to one another but even unto the people outside the church walls. (Consider Matthew 5:13-16) In other words, well-discipled churches are profitable to the culture/society around them in whatever generation they’ve lived, or whatever geographical location the church resides.
We must never forget who we were and where we were headed without Christ. This is the discipling church’s constant affirmation.
4. The Church’s Caution (Titus 3:9-11)
“But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain. A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject; Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.”
This caution is motivated by Paul’s desire for Titus to cultivate healthy, vibrant, Christ-centered church families throughout Crete. These “foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings… are unprofitable and vain,” and therefore inhibit spiritual vitality. (Titus 3:9)
If an individual persists in sowing divisions, (heretic) “after the first and second admonition reject.” (3:10)
This seems strong and short and maybe not compassionate but in reality, it reflects a loving and long-suffering nature. Instead of immediately rejecting an individual, lovingly admonish them. Hopefully, that concerned admonishment will bring about change, but if not, admonish them a second time. If they persist in sowing divisions, you reject them from the assembly. (Consider also Matthew 18:15-17)
It is better for the health of the church to discipline a man who is a divisive cancer, out of the assembly, then it would be to keep him around and have him hinder the Biblical discipling of the rest of the church family.
Proverbs 22:10 explains, “Cast out the scorner, and contention shall go out; yea, strife and reproach shall cease.”
After the church has been patient, loving, and long-suffering with the goal of winning back the brother, if he persists, the church concludes “that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.” (vs 11)
In other words, he is doing this to himself. Matthew 18:17 says, “if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man…”
This is the caution in a discipling church. If any individuals within the church are not interested in the curriculum of sound doctrine, refuse to pursue a character that reflects the gospel, and shows no loyalty to that which should be affirmed constantly, beware because eventually there will be accountability.
Every church should have programs within it that cultivate discipleship and spiritual growth. The reason our church has a Sunday School is not just because Independent Fundamental Baptist churches like ours typically have Sunday School. It’s not because of social expectation. Our age and stage-appropriate Sunday School classes meet for the sake of Christian discipleship and personal growth. For us, Sunday School is not primarily monologued but often includes dialogue. Preaching is typically monologue but within a Sunday School setting, individuals that desire to grow can ask questions of their teacher and offer input. Together that class can search the Scriptures and read and learn God’s answers to the questions of life that they are currently facing.
Our church also has an Awana ministry which is primarily about discipleship. Young people gather and are incentivized to memorize Scripture. Additionally, the evening Bible lesson provides children an opportunity to listen attentively as they’re taught the Word of God.
Even the pulpit ministry of our church is primarily a discipleship ministry. As our church’s pastor, I am systematically and deliberately teaching through the Word of God with the desire to see our church family understand, apply, and obey the teachings of Scripture.
The local church is not to be a social club although it has social elements. The discipling church is very different from a social club because it has as a main goal to “teach them to observe (obey) all things whatsoever (Jesus has) commanded (Matthew 28:20).
The discipling church endeavors to teach Christians how to deny themselves, take up His cross, and follow Christ. (Consider Mark 8:34)
If this is to be accomplished, the discipling church must prioritize the qualifications of the church’s pastor, the church’s teaching program, the church’s affirmation, take heed to the church’s caution, and do all of this, for His honor and glory!