Six ‘Yeses’ to Selecting Leaders in the Local Church

In the New Testament, elders were never elected by the people but appointed by apostles. Some maintain that a democratic form of selection is meant in Acts 14, when Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in every city.  The Greek word for “appoint” cheirotoneo can be translated as to stretch forth the hand as to select or appoint.[1] Consequently, some claim this was done through an election process. The contextual authority would hardly allow for such a translation. It is Paul and Barnabas who are stretching forth their hands as in the order of “laying on of hands” for the ordination process.  That is far from the common modern-day order of electing elders. “In Acts 14:23, therefore, we are simply told that Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in the recently founded churches of South Galatia, but the verb itself tells us nothing about the method of appointment. To insist, as some scholars do, that Paul and Barnabas followed the procedure of Acts 6:1-6 [ordaining of deacons] when appointing elders is unjustified. The congregations’ involvement is simply not revealed in this passage.”[2]

Elders were never voted out of office in the New Testament.  They served for the remainder of their life unless they left that church, became disqualified through a moral failure, or resigned, or died. Elders are called by God and proven through time and service as worthy to be ordained in a particular local church.

This process of selection includes the following essential elements. Six yeses are needed to fully discover those who are ready to serve the local congregation as shepherds.

1)  YES TO GOD: A personal response to the call and gift of God.  The individual must know personally that God has called him or her to one of the five gifts of Ephesians 4:11.

2)  YES TO PEOPLE: A demonstrated willingness to care for people.  Discipleship and care for others is a must for an elder to earn the authority needed to give oversight. A less mature individual may declare, “I have the gift to pastor, God has called me, why doesn’t anyone appoint me to lead?”  That is a complete misunderstanding of how the process works. Apostles are looking for those who are already serving. No one makes someone else what they are not. To lay hands upon an individual before they have proven themselves worthy will only result in a rejection by the people. It requires submerging oneself in the care of others before true authority will be released. A true shepherd will smell like sheep.  He will be among the people. It is not a position that should be sought, but a care for the sheep.

3)  YES TO THE VISION: A willingness to accept the vision of the local church. In order to be given a place of leadership as an elder one must submerge oneself in the vision of that local house. Without fully embracing the direction and values of the local church then division will develop. When one embraces the same vision and direction of the church then authority will be given to them through service.

4) YES TO AUTHORITY: A willingness to work and submit under someone else.  In order to have authority, one must be under authority. It is important that an individual who is to serve as an elder be submitted to others and not to his own agenda.

We see a team of elders serving the churches of the New Testament. This requires a submissive heart to flow together with others. Jesus established this principle when he spoke of the steward who must first be faithful to that which belongs to another, before God will give him his own.[3]  Though no church belongs to an elder, the principle of faithful servanthood is meant here.

5)  YES THROUGH A CONFIRMING WORD:  Confirmation of their gift through prophets and apostles. In a church that embraces the full gifts of Ephesians, there will over time, be opportunities for God to reveal before others what an individaul’s gift is in that church.  This confirmation may come before or even after there is evidence, nevertheless, evidence of the gift must be received by others before one is ordained an elder.

Apostles have a key role in this selection as we see Paul and Barnabas ordaining elders in every church. Often times there will be a conformation through the prophetic words of prophets. [4]  It has been our practice to have one or two foundational gifts (apostles or prophets) join the presbytery at each ordination. These are individuals who are outside of our local congregation, yet very much in relationship to the church, so the people have confidence in a broader counsel of ministry.

6)   YES THROUGH RESPECT:  A level of respect and authority among the people.  An elder must be able to stand before the people with spiritual authority of his or her own so that when he speaks he stands as a representative of God. It is imperative that one be received by the congregation through respect given to him.  “Before Paul appointed elders at Thessalonica, he wrote to the church, exhorting the congregation to know and esteem those who labored among them.  Presumably, Paul planned to return on a later occasion and officially appoint those who were known and esteemed by the assembly for their labor.”[5]

This aspect of ordaining elders is crucial. Too often, someone is ordained because they are close to the lead elder/senior pastor.  The fear may be that if they are overlooked that the embarrassment will be too great, so pressure is placed upon the other elders to ordain someone before their time.  That is why Paul urged Timothy to not “be quick to lay on hands.”[6]

If an “elder to be” is operating in delegated authority only from the lead elder, then he is not ready to stand alone as an elder in his own right. It is not until the people receive an elder as speaking for God in agreement with the eldership, is he fully received and ready to be ordained.  It has been my experience that when an elder is ordained and the congregation declares, “We could have done this some time ago, because he has already been serving as an elder,” then the timing is probably correct.  However, if one is ordained too early the people may enquire, “What makes him an elder?”  Great confidence is lost if an elder does not stand in respect before the people himself.  He must be a teacher and minister with spiritual authority in his own right.


[1]STRONG’S CONCORDANCE

[2] Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership, An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership (Littleton, CO: Lewis and Roth Publishers, 1986) p. 73

[3] Luke 16:12

[4] 1 Timothy 4:14

[5] Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership, An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership (Littleton, CO: Lewis and Roth Publishers, 1986) p. 76

[6] 1 Timothy 5:22

About the Author:

Glenn Shaffer is the author of Apostolic Government in the 21st Century, Christianity 101 and Discipleship 201. He has a Masters of Ministry degree in leadership studies from Southwestern Christian University and is working toward a Doctorate in Ministry at ORU in Tulsa.

Glenn and his wife, Ami have been married for 40 years with two sons, Matt and Daniel. Together, they co-see the elder pastoral care of Destiny Life Church, one church in two locations (Owasso and Claremore, Oklahoma) where they have been serving for almost 4 decades. It is a non-denominational church, based on a New Testament Apostolic form of church government. Together, they also serve as the directors of ATI- Apostolic Teams International, an emerging network of churches and ministers.


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