Summary: The role of church elders is to pass the baton of gospel truth from one generation to the next
Being the 15th of September 2002, today is the 2nd anniversary of the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games. I was fortunate enough to be there at Homebush that evening – I have here my little yellow suitcase to prove it!
What a spectacle it was, from the time the lone horse reared up in the centre of the Stadium, to the wonderful sights and sounds of the presentation that followed, to the parade of athletes, the arrival of the torch in the stadium and that grand moment when Cathy Freeman lit the Olympic flame and it slid up the railing to its spot high above the arena. Boy was I proud to be an Aussie that night, and so privileged to have been there.
I was privileged to be out at the Olympics many times over that fortnight and saw some wonderful things. I was there when Cathy won her race and an Olympics record crowd of 112,000 people sang Advance Australia Fair like it’s never been sung before! Later that night I saw perhaps the greatest race ever run at an Olympics when Haille Gebrsellasse won the 10,000m by a narrower margin than most 100 m sprints. I saw Michael Johnson run, I saw Maurice Green and Marion Jones race, I saw Grant Hackett beat Keiran Perkins in the 1500m, I saw the closing ceremony when we all cheered as Samaranch declared Sydney 2000 to have been the best Olympic Games ever.
I was also there at the stadium to see a moment that wasn’t so great. It was one of the morning sessions near the end of the fortnight and the heats of the 4 x 100m relay were being conducted. The Australian women’s team had high hopes of making it to the final of that event, but right in front of where I was sitting those hopes were dashed. As the first runner met the second runner at the top of the back straight they made the mistake that all relay teams dread – they dropped the baton. They got no further than the first runner completing her leg; I can still see Melinda Gainsford-Taylor standing all alone at the top of the home straight as the other teams’ final competitors took off for the run to the tape. There was no point in her running – the baton had not reached her, the race had passed her by.
Passing the Baton of Christian Leadership
Those of you who were here last week might recall that I used “baton passing” as an analogy for the work of Christian leadership. The apostles were the first runners in the race that started with the ascension of Christ to heaven and will finish when He returns in glory. They passed the baton of gospel work to leaders like Titus and Timothy, who in turn were charged with the responsibility of passing it on to others.
As in any relay, the runners change. In this race the track they run on also changes. The early runners took the baton from the middle east into Europe and down into Africa; later runners took it further to the west and up into England; then others took it to the furthest reaches of the world, even a little spot called Padstow in the south-west of Sydney. But the baton they carry must be unchanged or they are disqualified from the race.
This is why the task that Titus was given was so important - this was the first baton change! The first generation of Christian leaders was at this time handing over to the next generation. Paul knew how important it was for the gospel message to be handed over properly. He didn’t want it to turn out like that first baton change for the Australian women at Homebush 2 years ago – he wanted the race to go on.
That’s why in every church that he started Paul appointed suitable leaders. And this was one of the main tasks he assigned to Titus:
“The reason I left you in Crete,” wrote Paul in 1:5, “was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town.”
The “straightening out” bit refers to some key teachings about Christian life and belief that are covered in chapters 2 and 3, that (were the subject of sermons by another preacher at our church). The rest of chapter 1 is about the “appointing elders” bit.
Appoint Elders in Every Town
The word that we have translated “elder” is used often in the Bible, in both Old and New Testaments, to describe someone who has a senior role in leading a congregation within the overall people of God. For example, right back in Moses’ time the leaders of the tribes of Israel were the “elders”. In the New Testament, the leaders of churches in different towns were also called the “elders”. Another word that is used – it appears in this passage in vs 7 – is “overseer”. Elders and overseers are essentially the same – one word seems to refer the status of seniority that these people have, while the other refers more to their task of leadership, of oversight of the congregation.