Choosing Elders (VII)

The Logistics Of Choosing And Ordaining Elders

By Randy Blackaby

Who Chooses And Appoints Elders?

Once the work and qualifications of New Testament church elders are fully understood within a local congregation, the next task usually involves the appointment or ordination of men to this office. Several questions immediately arise. One often involves who is to be involved in the selection.

Some have seen this as the role of the local preacher. This usually is based on the Apostle Paul’s instructions to Timothy and Titus, both gospel preachers. Titus was told, “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you—”

Others look to Acts 6 and the selection of men for non-elder duties as a model. There, the congregation did the choosing of men, based on qualifications set forth by the 12 apostles. The Jerusalem church was instructed to “seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business (Acts 6:3).” The church selected and the apostles appointed.

And in the case of appointing additional elders, some see this as the responsibility of the existing elders.

While it must be admitted that the Scriptures do not concretely set forth a precise logistical method for choosing and ordaining pastors, the strongest case today seems to favor full congregational involvement in the similitude of Acts 6. The preacher certainly will be greatly involved, from teaching about the qualifications and work to perhaps the actual presentation of the new elders as their work begins. But the evangelist may be much newer to the congregation than most other members and less knowledgeable of the true character of those being considered. He also may be quite young in both age and the faith and not best suited for making these judgments. If there are existing elders, they certainly should be helping the congregation make the selection, assuring that the process doesn’t become a mere popularity contest but rather a selection based on biblical criteria.

The congregation is under obligation to honor and obey the overseers selected (Hebrews 13:7, 17). Therefore, the congregation needs to be involved in the selection of men it feels it can follow and defer to in matters of faith and judgment. Several of the qualifications for a bishop can best be assessed by a broader number of local saints, rather than by one preacher or a few existing elders. This approach also can help produce a stronger eldership. Elders may be tempted only to select other men with similar personality types, avoiding men who might actually bring new strengths to the eldership.

Is There A Process To Be Used In Selecting Elders?

A thorough reading of the New Testament does not produce any inspired selection process. Therefore, it would seem that the methodology to be used is left to the individual congregation, so long as the men chosen possess the God-ordained qualifications. The size and general demeanor of the congregation will dictate the particulars of the process.

What follows is a general process that has been successful in a number of congregations.

1. Pass out forms to the congregation so that members can put forth the names of men they believe to be qualified. Ask that members speak to the prospective elder before submitting his name to be sure he is willing to serve and believes he is qualified. This will reduce or eliminate embarrassing challenges to a candidate later. Ask that forms be signed.

2. Once all names are submitted and it is ascertained that these men are willing to serve, place these names before the congregation. A designated period of time (perhaps two to four weeks) can be allowed for members to consider all these men and their qualifications for the office. Additional forms can be distributed on which scriptural objections to an elder candidate can be noted. Signing of these forms is useful.

3. If objections are received, a process for determining the validity of the objections needs to be established. Whether this is done by all the men in a business meeting or addressed in some other manner is probably best left to the local congregation. Some questions may inquire investigation. No man being considered for this important office should resent inquiries into his character and behavior.

4. Once qualified men are identified, many congregations take a few minutes during an assembly to present them, appoint them, ordain them or otherwise acknowledge the beginning of their service as elders. Many preachers view this as the “ordaining” work that Timothy and Titus did, as opposed to the actual selection.

Again, the process described above is merely a suggestion.  A very small congregation may not need to use forms. A very large one might have to utilize a more complex process and involve several men in the collection of all the information.

What is imperative is that the selection process not become political, that it not be a popularity contest with a counting of ballots being the primary determiner of selection. While 100 percent agreement may not be possible that certainly is the ideal.

Brotherly Love Should Overshadow The Whole Process

Care should be taken so that the raising of objections doesn’t unfairly wound brethren whose names have been put forward. This is the value of presenting objections on forms, with citations of scriptures and the like, as opposed to an open forum where brethren just bandy about their opinions about brethren. When a person is asked to write out their objection, potentially more thought is applied. When a scriptural qualification not met must be identified, there is less likelihood that mere opinions are set forth. But nothing will make the process work better than simple brotherly kindness and love.

Sometimes, after weeks or months of teaching and discussion about the need for elders, the qualifications and work, a congregation almost naturally sees the men who are ready for this work. The process flows by nearly unanimous consent. When this happens, a congregation is blessed.

But in many congregations, where knowledge of God’s word and spiritual maturity vary greatly, the teaching about elders may not have been absorbed and some may present very secular ideas about who would be the best elders. When such conflicts arise, mature Christians need to be patient yet firm in standing for a scriptural approach to appointing overseers.

No group of potential elders will be individually identical. Each man will have areas of greater or lesser strength. The objective is not to find perfect men but men who meet the qualifications. Our judgments should largely be limited by what the scriptures set forth.

The job of appointing elders can seem daunting, but with the Bible as our guide and brotherly love as the tempering factor, God’s will can be done and a church duly organized and guided.

Next: The Work And Qualifications Of Deacons

Randy Blackaby
Randy Blackaby lives in Medway, OH and preaches for the New Carlisle church of Christ. He also serves this congregation as one of its elders. He has preached full-time for about 18 years and part-time for that many more. During the period from 1971 to 1988 he was a reporter and later managing editor of The Xenia Daily Gazette in Ohio. He preached for 14 years in Kokomo, IN and has written a number of newspaper columns as a preacher, including Bible Q&A and op-ed pieces on current issues from a biblical perspective. He is a staff writer for Truth Magazine and writes monthly columns for the New Carlisle Sun, the Knollwood Messenger and this magazine. He has written a host of workbooks on Bible texts and themes, including recent ones on the book of Galatians and the Life of Moses. Currently, he is working on another on what the Bible teaches about “Money and Possessions.” After the fall of the Soviet Union, he made five preaching trips to Lithuania between 1994 and 2000. He can be contacted at

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