But the question remains, “What does “faithful” mean?” There are several different lines of thought about this.
First, is that in order for a man to be qualified to become an elder he must have all grown (age of adulthood) children and they must all be faithful Christians to the Lord. This is likely a preferred position held by many because it is a “safe” position; meaning, it is clear and obvious a man is capable of managing his household (and also the household of God) if all the children have turned out to be exemplary Christians. And this would likely be so if he was the leader of their souls. (It must be recognized; however, that all the children may be faithful despite their father, not because of him (but rather because of the spiritual leadership of the mother or others (II Timothy 1:5; 3:14-15)). But is this the only scenario of having “faithful” children according to the text?
A second line of thought is that a man must have his children grown and some (half or more) faithful to the Lord. This accepts that a man may have done his duty in managing his household while being gracious for his “failings” (any unfaithful children). But is that the case? Is the unfaithful child always the result of a “failure” of parenthood? No. Sometimes it may be, but certainly not always. We must use wise just judgment (John 7: 24) in determining why a child “raised in a ‘Christian’ home” would go astray from the faith. Did Moses keep all of the children of Israel faithful to the Lord? Was He still a good leader? Was Jesus a failure (and unqualified) as the Chief Shepherd because he couldn’t keep all 12 apostles faithful? How can we hold a man to a higher standard than the Lord Himself? What about us as God’s children? If we are unfaithful as God’s children, is the Lord at fault for that? (Romans 1:20; II Timothy 2:13) The Lord could not be more clear on who is ultimately responsible for a grown child’s sin.
"The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father's iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son's iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.” (Ezekiel 18:20)
Which leads us to the third position - “a man must have at least one grown child faithful to the Lord”. Again, people are even more “gracious” for the failings of the father here, but hold to the fact that at least one child must be faithful. After all, “How could a man who did not shepherd at least one of his kids to salvation, shepherd a church to such?” But again, is this always a just conclusion? Have we ever seen parents who faithfully and dutifully raised their kids in the Lord, yet when the children left home they did not remain committed to the Lord? Certainly we all have. The text seems to say much less about being “perfect parents” and certainly speaks more to being a parent (as opposed to not parenting - teaching, training, disciplining, etc.) which is a concept communicated in both context and harmony of (I Timothy 3:4-5; Titus 1:6). After all, a man can still be “above reproach” as a parent if it can be shown/proven that he did parent.
While the above three positions are a “faithful” interpretation of the word “faithful”; does the context bear out this as the proper usage/interpretation as it relates to shepherd qualifications?
The Greek word “pistos” is the word translated in Titus 1:6 as “faithful” in KJV and NKJV and “believers” in NIV, NASB, ESV and most modern translations. When you consider the context of the verse there are two things that stand out: 1) “faithful” or “believers” is defined by its contrast, “not unruly” (KJV / ASV), “not accused of rebellion” (NASB), or “not insubordinate” (YLT / ESV), or “disobedient” (NIV) 2) this corresponds to the “rebellious” (v. 10) in the church that will need to be taught and disciplined accordingly. A man must prove in the home he will be have the knowledge, wisdom, and fortitude to properly address insubordination/rebellion within the church.
This also harmonizes with I Timothy 3:4-5 where the word “faithful” or “believers” is NOT used, but the idea is the same, that a man must have children “submissive” (ESV), “in subjection” (KJV), “obedient”, “under control” (NASB), “obey him (earthly father)” (NIV). Again, this is directly tied to the responsibility of “managing” the church. This faithfulness (obedience, submission, subjection) must be related to the father’s parenting in the proper way (“with dignity” - not through “abuse” or “bad example”).
There is no indication from context and harmony that demands the term “faithful” be interpreted as “faithful Christians to God”; but rather, both context and harmony indicate a “faithfulness” to their earthly father in his role as a leader as a parent and head of the household.
Consider this scenario. A man is converted at age 50 and already has 3 adult children outside his home. At age 60 he is “not a new convert” (I Timothy 3:6) and meets all of the other circumstance and character qualifications of being selected as an elder. None of his kids are faithful Christians, but all three were faithful to their father’s authority in the home because he managed his household well with all dignity in fulfilling his duty as being a parent. Would this man be qualified to serve as an elder?
The work of an elder is to be a servant-leader, teacher, and guardian of souls. Do elders “make” Christians? No. Do elders “make” Christians remain faithful to the Lord? No. Are elders responsible if someone leaves the faith? Possibly (if they have neglected their duty they may share some responsibility with the sinner). Can an elder “make” someone be unfaithful to the Lord? No. Each adult person is ultimately responsible for their own choices/actions, but an elder can influence a person, or church, towards apostasy. Ultimately; however, every Christian is responsible for their own soul. (Ezekiel 18:20)