Appointment of Elders
The New Testament gives very little information as to how the elders of each local assembly were chosen. Luke records that Paul and Barnabas appointed elders but gives no details as to how this was accomplished. Titus was left in Crete to appoint elders. Paul lists specific qualifications for an overseer but gives him no explicit instructions as to how this was to be done.
First Timothy 3:1 teaches that one important aspect of the appointment of an elder is that it is a position that he must desire. This does not mean that all men who desire the position will be appointed. There are many other issues and qualifications that must be considered. But if a man does not desire to be an elder he should not be appointed as one. God may call a man to be an overseer but it is up to God to move a man and change his heart. Many times the best elders are those men who already spend time and energy shepherding the sheep. This is because they already have a desire to shepherd the flock even though they no have official recognition or a title.
A Spirit-given burden for oversight demonstrates itself in action and deed. It cannot be held in. The person lets others know his desire to be an elder, and there is nothing wrong with that. But more important, the person who desires to be an elder devotes much time and energy to caring for the saints. There is no such thing as a Spirit-given desire for oversight without corresponding evidence of sacrificial, loving service. The reason for this is that eldership is a strenuous, shepherding task - not just another position on a decision making board. In fact, the stronger a man’s desire for eldership, the stronger his leadership and love for the people. So, the first step to be an elder is a Spirit-given desire that manifests itself in sacrificial service to the congregation (1 Timothy 3:1; Acts 20:28; 1 Thessalonians 5:12).45
Some believe that elders should be appointed by a popular or majority vote of all members of the congregation. They attempt to buttress this view by claiming that the word “appoint” (xeirotonew) means to vote by stretching out the hand. This is reading something into the word that is not necessarily implied by context. Although the word in classical Greek can mean “chose or elect by the raising of hands”, most Greek lexicons claim that the term in Acts 14:23 “does not involve a choice by a group; here the word means appoint, install, with the apostles as the subject.”46 There is actually no place in the New Testament where the word (xeirotonew) means to vote by the raising of the congregation’s hands.
Kelley writes regarding Acts 14:23:
If any voted by the stretching out of their hands, it was apostles only…The true meaning is that the apostles chose elders for the disciples in each assembly (not the disciples themselves).47
Proof that elders were not elected by popular vote comes from Titus 1:5. In this passage the word “appoint” is the entirely different and unrelated word (kaqisthmi), which means to “make, order, or appoint.” It is unlikely that this verb indicates that Titus ordered elections and then tabulated the votes. The congregation did not have exclusive authority to appoint elders.
Since apostles are no longer present to appoint elders or delegate their appointment for us, it seems ideal that both the current leadership and the congregation agree on those individuals whom the Holy Spirit has raised up to be shepherds. The congregation should not have ultimate voting authority but neither should the elders “lord it over” the congregation (1 Peter 5:3). If elections are held too much emphasis is placed upon the congregation. Especially since there is no biblical basis for congregations voting on leadership for the local assembly. Likewise, the current elders should be careful not to appoint men whom godly members have valid biblical reservations. There is a danger of self-perpetuation of elders which can degenerate into political favoritism. In light of the lack of clear teaching on the method of appointing elders, it appears that the selection of new elders should be made by the current elders with approval of the congregation. All this must take into consideration the qualifications listed in 1 Timothy and Titus and the leading of the Holy Spirit for each congregation.48
45 Alexander Strauch. Biblical Eldership, p. 79.
46 Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 889.
47 William Kelley, Lectures on the Church of God (London: W. H. Broom, 1873) p. 217.
48 Kenneth Daughters, New Testament Church Government, p. 49.
Copyright 2008 by Joe Fogle. All rights reserved.