The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. (Titus 1:5 NIV)
We don’t have a biblical record of Paul’s work in Crete. We know he stopped there on his way to Rome in Acts 27. But we aren’t told of an evangelistic work, with the exception of his influence on his shipmates. Therefore, either Luke chose not to record Paul’s ministry on the island, or it took place later, following his imprisonment in Rome.
Since the book of Acts ends with Paul’s Roman imprisonment, we are reluctant to assume anything after that point. However, a plausible theory is that Paul was released from his incarceration and was able to travel and share the gospel. If this is true, then he could well have visited Crete, begun a work and left Titus behind to develop a sustainable leadership. The book of Titus would have been written later.
This seems to me to be a good sequence of events. As an aside, most who hold to a post Roman ministry by Paul, also believe he was eventually recaptured and martyred in the same city. Also from non-biblical history is the thought Titus became the first bishop of Crete.
We don’t know the full extent of the things Paul left “unfinished” in Crete, but one obvious task was the appointing of elders in every town. The word used here for “elders” is “presbuteros”, which refers to an older man or an office of leadership, with experience implied. There are other words used for elder in the New Testament, such as “episcopos” which is translated “overseer” or “bishop”, and “poimen” which is translated “shepherd” or “pastor.” Of course, all three can be translated “elder”, but the three terms demonstrate the three fold role of an elder: an experienced man who shepherds the flock of God and oversees its resources.
It has always been a challenge for elders in a given church to stay focused on people, in light of the practical, physical issues of church life that must be addressed (budgets, buildings, etc). The Bible suggests elders should appoint others to share in their ministry so they can focus on spiritual leadership. Yet, an elder is, by definition, ultimately responsible for both the people in a ministry and the logistics of the ministry. The secret, I believe, is to continue to develop and/or hire leaders who can serve with them so they don’t become consumed by either. And since Jesus came to save people, not things, people should always trump things.
You may have made an interesting observation in this morning’s passage. Titus wasn’t asked to have an election to choose elders. He was told to “appoint” them. I am not saying there is anything wrong with an election process, but it is good to realize how we place leaders in office sometimes has more to do with our cultural norms than biblical models. Anyway, we don’t have any apostolic protégés to appoint elders, so the system of presenting names for consideration by the current eldership, to be confirmed by the church family at a meeting makes sense.
Something tells me Titus would have liked to have had an established system of selection to fall back on, and some experienced elders to help him. Imagine being left on the island of Crete to finish what the Apostle Paul left unfinished.
Dear God, help us finish the work we are given. In Jesus’ name, Amen.