What Is the Scriptural Procedure to Appoint Elders In A Local Church?
God designed and planned His church from all eternity before time began (Ephesians 3:10-11). God also designed the organization of His church so that each local congregation would appoint an eldership (a group of two or more qualified, spiritual mature Christian men who have and maintain certain qualifications of 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–12; Elders are also known as shepherds/pastors, Ephesians 4:11, bishops/overseers, Philippians 1:1; Acts 20:28, and stewards, Titus 1:7, indicating the importance and extension of their work). If there are not two or more men qualified, it would be unscriptural for the church to appoint such men; yet the church can still function scripturally without elders, striving to develop and eventually appoint elders. There is no indication of elders in the Jerusalem church of Christ until Acts 11:30; yet they were scripturally functioning as the church of Christ. Also, most of the churches did not have elders until Paul and Barnabas were encouraged to begin the process in Acts 14:23; yet these churches of Christ were functioning scripturally until they reached the point of having qualified men of God.
What is the scriptural procedure for a congregation to appoint qualified men into their respective leadership roles as overseers of the local flock?
The short and simple answer is: the local church is authorized to appoint qualified men as elders, but there is no exclusive pattern of procedure as to how to go about appointing elders. There are, however, some guiding principles that should help churches who are ready to proceed in appointing elders. And so long as none of the principles of God’s word are violated, any procedure adopted by a congregation is authorized based on the authorization to “appoint elders in every church” (Acts 14:23).
(1) Acts 20:28 – Paul stated to the eldership of Ephesus: “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”
How does the Holy Spirit make these men elders? In the 1st century church, the Holy Spirit worked in a miraculous manner to help the churches of Christ become spiritually mature enough to produce and appoint elders (Ephesians 4:7-16).
Today, however, the Holy Spirit works through His inspired word (2 Peter 1:20,21; 2 Timothy 3:16,17; 2 Peter 1:3). The Bible equips us unto every good work and helps us build up and mold our character to be more like Christ, eventually resulting in men of God maturing to the point of being qualified as elders. Almost every qualification of an elder (except for being the husband of one wife and the father to child/children who are faithful, mentioned in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-12) is a character trait that all Christians are to possess (desiring good works in general, blamelessness, self-control, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach. not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; not a novice, and have a good testimony among those who are not Christians). Therefore, the Holy Spirit is at work in the Christian’s life through the agency of the powerful word of God as a Christian seeks to be more like his Master. It is so important to train the young men of today’s church to seek the desire of one day serving in the eldership so that they can help the church of the future.
(2) Acts 14:21-23 - “And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” The “they” in this passage refers to evangelists Paul (the apostle) and Barnabas.
(3) Titus 1:5 - “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.” Paul refers to the evangelist Titus in this passage.
(4)Acts 6:1-8 - “Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.”
This passage is not about appointing elders, but it does give us some principles that can be applied to the appointment of elders. The church is to look out (literally searching) and pick the men who are of the qualifications that are mentioned in Acts 6:3. The apostles confirmed the men who were sought out by the church.
The first step of a local church seeking out elders is to educate themselves on what the Holy Spirit requires as far as the qualification of elders (primarily found in the lists of 1 Timothy and Titus). This can be done through a series of sermons and/or Bible classes.
Second, the congregation should carefully, prayerfully and wisely search out from among the local congregation those Christian men who fit the qualifications.
Third, it might be a good procedure for the preacher (or the one giving Sunday announcements) to announce that the members are asked to submit the names of men they believe meet the qualifications of the Scriptures to be elders for the next couple of Sundays.
Fourth, the men of the congregation ought to get together in a private meeting and go over each name submitted by the church.
Fourth, have some of the men of the church ask these possible candidates if they “desire the good work” of an overseer (1 Timothy 3:1). Those who not desire the work are not qualified until they develop that desire (encourage them to do so considering the principles of godly desire found in such passages as Galatians 6:10; Hebrews 6:10-12; James 4:17; 2 Timothy 3:12; 1 Peter 2:2).
Fifth, once a list of potential candidates has been confirmed, the preacher/announcer reads the list of candidates. If any member has a scriptural objection to one or more of the men on the list, the preacher/announcer needs to encourage the member(s) to follow the principles found in Matthew 18:15-17 and first go privately to the brother in question (the sin would not necessarily be something the brother is committing/has committed, but it would be the fact that he does not meet one or more of the qualifications). Hopefully, the issue is resolved (perhaps a misunderstanding) and the matter is dropped. If the matter is not resolved and the brother is not willing to withdraw his name (many will when they are confronted with a legitimate concern), then he/she needs to take two or three other witnesses and confront the brother again (it is better if a genuine issue is addressed before an unqualified man assumes the work of an elder than after he assumes the work), etc.
Sixth, if there are no objections after a deadline of two to three weeks, then, the following Sunday have the men stand before the congregation and have the preacher/announcer state that these men have been appointed into the eldership. Prayers should be offered for these men who love the Lord and His church and who are willing to sacrifice their time and effort to shepherd the church of Christ as men who must give account (Hebrews 13:17).
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