Where to Look for Elders

What This is About

I did a quick survey of the NT to see how they chose elders. The survey was from Acts to Hebrews plus some other passages. There was a consistent pattern of selecting wise men of character from within the congregation. People they knew very well. We should probably look for (or develop) qualified insiders.

Survey of Examples in The Word

Moses was overwhelmed with making all the decisions for Israel. Following Jethro's advice in Exo. 18:21-22, he appointed a bunch of people to help him with that. The main criteria were ability and character.

Jesus picked people as disciples for unknown reasons, spent a lot of time with them, invested heavily in training them, and made the eleven that made it into His Apostles.

In Acts 1, they replace the twelfth who fell away. The replacement had to be someone from within the group who been with them from the beginning and had seen the risen Jesus. It said "they," probably the church, put forward two who met that criteria. A tie. After prayer, they decided between them by chance. Also, notice they had 120 people praying consistently for God to make all that work out.

Acts 2:42-44 describes believers coming to Christ, studying under the Apostles, and the people in the group "were together and had all things in common." Close-knit with strong discipleship.

In Acts 6:3-6, the Apostles asked the whole church to pick seven men "of good repute, full of the Spirit and wisdom." Then, they appointed them.

In Acts 9, our Lord Jesus Christ personally chooses Saul with miraculous means to confirm that to others. He's seemed to be an outlier. However, Saul was an expert in Scripture with a strong commitment to holy living. Once with Christ, he kept applying both in his new life. Reproducible aspects: knowledge of God's Word and proven commitment.

In Acts 15:22-26,  it says "the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, picked... Barsabbas and Silas." It's ambiguous about the picking. It does say they were in the congregation, highly regarded, and risked their lives for Jesus. The last point meant the church knew they were all in before the election even started.

In Acts 16:1-3, Timothy is well-spoken of by believers in his own congregation. Then, Paul appointed him for his duties. There was one, extraordinary condition mentioned elsewhere. These are the reproducible parts, though.

If we stick to reproducible examples, we have Jesus' apostles, Matthias, Basabbas, Silas, and Timothy. It seems like the churches only nominated people they knew really well. They'd know what they were fit for after watching them grow for months to years. Looking at the world, teams in high-stakes situations often put their trust in people they know really well over one they don't even when they look more qualified on paper. There's consistency in methods and results in and outside of the Word.

The elder requirements are in 1 Tim. 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9. Except for doctrine and gender, these are also all elements of peoples' character. They're also traits that take a long period of close observation to be sure about.

Applying the Word

The Safe Path

If you believe these readings represent the Biblical position, and assuming I didn't overlook something critical, it suggests churches should start with a list of current and former members who are similarly upstanding.  A pastoral candidate should be someone they know so well and believe in enough that they barely have to question them. The church body probably has one or more lists of top candidates. Collect those names with their justifications. Start the search right there.

If no current or former insiders are qualified, then they might be up for a challenge. Start praying and fasting on it. Maybe God will raise someone up. If not, they could source candidates from nearby churches who are close to trustworthy members of their church, whose work they've followed closely, and maybe whose congregation they've visited or partnered with many times. Essentially, they'd know these candidates about as well as people in their own church. Again, only if they have to.

The Perilous Path

I'll warn that churches that have to go outside their network might have problems somewhere. Let's say a church says there are no good candidates within their church or nearby churches whose members they know well. To be sure, first ask: are there any political factors or extra-Biblical requirements in your church that might have filtered good candidates? Now or in the past? Is your church prioritizing attributes that the Bible didn't prioritize? Are you dismissing candidates over perceived weaknesses that God didn't disqualify people over in His Word? Pray and think hard about it.

Maybe it's a new church in the making. Ask this question: are you sure God even wants your church body to be an independent church vs a group within an existing one? The common failure here is individuals or groups splintering off from churches to do their own thing for human-centered reasons. Alternatively, planting churches with no evidence the Holy Spirit was moving toward that. If God wants a church, He'll supply whatever they need. That neither talent nor money lined up might mean God doesn't want that group to become a church, or at least not yet. Before joining, outsiders should also carefully assess the Christ/Word focus, the presence of the Spirit, and godliness of the leaders. Use that order to quickly spot problems.


God's Word appears to tell churches to start with people they know really well, not outsiders. Pick men with the best character along with solid ability. Easier to train people on skills than character. The shepherd of the flock should be as much like Christ as possible. They should've been there long enough for your congregation to already know it, too.

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