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8 Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain . . .11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.

1 Timothy 3:8, 11 (ESV)

2 Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.

Titus 2:2 (ESV)

The United States Armed Forces teach leadership traits along the lines the Marines capture with the mnemonic acronym, “JJ DID TIE BUCKLE” – Justice, Judgment, Dependability, Initiative, Decisiveness, Tact, Integrity, Enthusiasm, Bearing, Unselfishness, Courage, Knowledge, Loyalty, and Endurance.1 These are essentially virtues that inspire glad cooperation and high achievement in the unit. Of course, the military has its specific and vital rules, but these 14 character traits shape the leaders who must frame, interpret, and apply those rules.

They apply also to the Church, for Paul honored them in his writings – not surprising, since first-century Christians well understood the life-or-death challenges to their fellowship and the crises of spiritual warfare they faced daily. Hence, military imagery was particularly useful to them, as in 2 Timothy 2:3-4 (“soldier of Jesus Christ”) and Ephesians 6:10-18 (“whole armor”).

In two, and only two, of his letters – an epistle to Timothy (3:8, 11) and one to Titus (2:2) – he uses a form of the Greek word semnos. The classic King James translation is “grave,” but newer translations prefer such expressions as “dignified,”2 “reverent,”3 and “worthy of respect.”4 All connect, because the root word implies both manner and substance.

Among the Marines’ leadership marks listed above, semnos tracks most closely with “bearing,” which they define as “the way you conduct and carry yourself,” reflecting “alertness, competence, confidence, and control.” Unfortunately, the KJV’s use of “grave” can be a bit misleading, for it suggests a morose, even sour disposition. But Paul did not mean for his deacons, their wives, and older men in general to be unsmiling and perpetually somber. Rather, he intended that their demeanor both signal and elicit maturity.

In a classic statement of British military standards, naval officers are admonished, “Be smart and alert in your bearing, and always be meticulous about your dress.”5 The linkage between bearing and garb is instructive. Whatever the culture, some ensembles are linked more closely to adolescence than to adulthood, and when a grownup tries too hard to hold on to his youth or ingratiate himself to young people by assuming their dress, it can be awkward.

Of course, one can fall short of dignity in many other ways – in the excessive use of slang, gratuitous name-dropping, cultivated eccentricities, off-color humor, emotional fragility, histrionics, chronic hyperbole, risky friendships, reckless driving, gossip, and whining. These are things that make friends and neighbors want to cry, “Grow up!”

A final word for pastors and other Church leaders: Even if it might work to boost numbers on “high attendance day,” please refrain from agreeing to do something ridiculous if the church reaches a certain goal. Yes, they may turn out in mass to see a man of God preach a sermon from the rooftop, be wrapped like a mummy in toilet paper, or have his head shaved, but he will surrender too much of the dignity Paul requires of his office. Neither war nor church is a game, and leaders in both sectors should communicate this with their bearing.


See “Marine Corps Leadership Traits,” Air University Website, (accessed June 18, 2010).








The Royal Navy Officers Pocket-Book, 1944 (London: Conway, 2007), 15.