How Should New Elders Be Appointed?

It is my conviction that the biblical ideal for church leadership is a plurality of biblically qualified elders laboring together to shepherd the church.

In the life of every church with a plurality of elders there comes a time to appoint new elders, but what is the process and who is involved? According to biblical example, I think there are three layers of overlapping affirmation that must be present in the appointment of any church leader.

God Sets Apart Elders

Acts 20:28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.

According to Acts 20, the Holy Spirit sets apart overseers to care for his church. Similarly, in Acts 13, the Holy Spirit sets apart Barnabas and Saul for missionary work. It is Jesus who builds his church (Mt 16:18). It is God who gives the growth (1 Cor 3:6). It is the Spirit who sets apart overseers (Acts 20:28). God shows himself to be active in the life of the church so much so that he leads by his Spirit when it is time to appoint leaders. We should, therefore, expect and seek clear spiritual direction when it comes time to appoint a new elder in a congregation. Such seeking should include intentional prayer, fasting, and meditation on God’s Word. As the whole congregation seeks the face of God, God will guide the congregation.

Congregations Set Apart Elders

One of God’s designed means for discerning the Spirit’s guidance is through the consensus of Spirit-filled people. The body of Christ is full of people who are full of the Spirit. If a congregation of people agrees together that an individual is qualified and called to serve in an office of leadership there can be greater confidence for the leader and the congregation moving forward in the work of the ministry. This, in a sense, is what ordination is. It is the corporate affirmation over an individual’s life that they are in fact qualified. It is, also, a corporate submission to an individual as the congregation recognizes the new elder’s God-given responsibility to lead in this way.

In Acts chapter 6 the apostles charge the congregation to  “pick out” from among them seven men to serve in what would be a proto-tye deacon roll. Acts 6:5 says this “pleased the whole gathering.” The congregation made their choices and brought them to the apostles. It’s hard to imagine that these seven were the only seven in a church of thousands that met the qualifications given, but somehow these men became the obvious choice for the role. We don’t know what the process was. We only know that the congregation was involved and that they gave their affirmation that these seven men were, in fact, “men of good repute, full of wisdom, and full of the Holy Spirit.” The congregation would be uniquely positioned to know the personal lives of men among their number in a way that the apostles may not have been. The final and sole authority for appointing these new leaders, however, was not in the congregation alone. There was another layer of affirmation necessary.

Elders Set Apart Elders

In Acts 6, the apostles publicly demonstrated their affirmation of the selected men by laying hands on the new leaders. There had to be a mutual affirmation of both congregation and apostles. If the apostles knew something about the men chosen, then they could pump the breaks. If the congregation knew something about the men chosen, then they could pump the breaks. Thus, we have a situation of overlapping authority that works together toward God’s leading.

Elsewhere in the New Testament, Paul told Titus to appoint elders in every town (Titus 1:5). Acts 14:23 says, “They had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” Paul warns Timothy not to be hasty in the laying on of hands in 1 Timothy 5:22. It appears that the New Testament model puts the responsibility of appointing new leaders into the hands of the present leaders. They are to appoint, commit, and lay hands upon those who will lead God’s church, but again, this is not without the consent and affirmation of the congregation. Leaders cannot appoint leaders if there is no one to follow. Congregations are the one’s who testify to the rightness and the fitness of a leader by their willingness to follow that leader and to affirm that he is in fact qualified and equipped for the task.

So How Does This Work Together?

One of the beautiful designs of God’s church is the overlap of submissive authority. Congregations are commanded to obey their leaders (Heb 13:17), but leaders are told they will give an account for how they lead (Heb 13:17). Leaders are commanded not to be domineering, but rather to be examples (1 Pt 5:3). Whole congregations, however, are held responsible for the health of the church. Paul confronts whole congregations when heresy has broken out in Galatia or when unrepentance sin is present in the church in Corinth. It is clear through his writings, that Paul holds very highly the position of church member and he expects all church members to be responsible for doctrinal integrity, member care, and even the quality of their leadership.

This is how the process of appointing new elders plays out at St. Rose Community Church. Any church member can make suggestions or make known their own personal aspirations to the present elders (or in this case the one elder). The elders seriously consider those conversations, suggestions, and their own observations. After serious prayer, the elders present the name of an individual to the congregation for their consideration. The congregation then has at least four weeks to ask questions, raise objections, or provide affirmations to the fitness of the person suggested. If general consensus appears to be made through those discussions and no new information is presented that disqualifies the candidate, the elders will then present the individual to the congregation for a final vote with confidence that the congregation is ready to accept them as an elder. Upon the congregational affirmation, the elders will then arrange for a service to be held where the public laying on of hands signifies the individual’s new role and responsibility as an elder of the church.

The Bible does not lay out for us a process, but the Bible does lay out for us principles and it is according to these principles that we try to build our process. May God be glorified and the body of Christ edified through our attempts at faithfulness.

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