Appointing Elders

In this lesson, we review the few passages that shed light on how elders should be selected, and look at passages that describe the elders' wife.
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Let's review the material we have covered so far:

  1. Different people have specific roles to which they are appointed based on ability and character. In the post apostolic period these roles are elders, deacons and preachers.
  2. In the discussion about elders we have said the following:
    1. Jesus is the only head of the church but His leadership is exercised in the local congregation through the eldership.
    2. Elders are men who possess general and specific qualifications, described in the Bible, to a degree where these are recognizable by others.
    3. The Bible says that the main work of elders is threefold:
      1. Protect against false teachings and teachers.
      2. Promote and direct sound teaching, good works, unity and peace.
      3. Provide an example of leadership as mature Christians.

In this chapter I would like to finish the section on elders by looking at the different ways elders are selected, and review some ideas about the wives of elders.

Appointing Elders

Most of the Scripture references in the New Testament referring to elders describe their character, their work or a situation where they are already serving in this capacity. There are only two passages that deal with how a man becomes an elder: one passage is an example, the other is a command.

The first is when Paul and Barnabas were on their first missionary journey through Lystra, Iconium and Antioch. The Bible says that they appointed elders in every church.

When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
- Acts 14:23

The second passage is in Titus 1:5 where Paul instructs Titus to appoint (raise up) elders in each city according to Paul's teachings (probably the information contained in I Timothy).

For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you,

No other passage give us any information about this matter, and so based on what we have, here are some conclusions and directions regarding our own selection of elders:

  1. Elders are not voted on or volunteered by the congregation. It is not a democratic exercise of the church selecting a man by majority vote.
  2. Elders are chosen, appointed (raised up), or ordained (means to set alongside) by the existing leadership that has itself been appointed.

    In a church where there are no elders, the preachers raise up elders (Titus 1:5). In a church where there are elders, the elders who appoint preachers (I Timothy 4:14) can also seek out and appoint other elders. (Note the cycle: elders raise up and appoint preachers who in turn appoint and raise up elders.)

    Of course, the new elders are established according to the qualifications and guidelines already set forth in the New Testament.
    1. Leaders are responsible to seek out, train and appoint other leaders.
    2. Those who aspire to be elders, even though they may have refused in the past or feel they are too young or doubt their qualifications, need to express this desire to the elders nevertheless.

When qualified men seek the eldership and express their desire to the preacher or the eldership, it is the first step in the process of adding elders to God's church.

The Wife of the Elder

I think that many elders will tell you that a good part of the success in the work of eldering belongs to the wife of that elder. Many men do not aspire to this great task because their wives are either not suited to the demands of this ministry or are not spiritually mature enough to work with a husband who is an elder.

The Bible does not deal specifically with elders' wives at any great length. There are the general ideas that if the elder is sober-minded and a good husband, etc. his wife should be of like character.

There is also a specific reference in I Timothy 3:11 about women:

Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.

This passage is sandwiched between instructions regarding elders and deacons, so the conclusion is that the wives (in the Greek the word is wives) refers to elders' and deacons' wives. This passage is repeated and amplified in the book of Titus where Paul gives greater detail about the necessary character of older women in the church, characteristics and responsibilities that should be part of the elder's wife.

Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands,
- Titus 2:3-5a

Paul says three major things about the "elder women."

Their conduct is reverent

Their behavior should be such as befits those who lead holy (reverent) lives.

This passage makes us think of the Old Testament priests. The priest offered sacrifices before God in the temple, the Holy Place. Since he came before God, his conduct among the people reflected his duties before the Lord. The idea was that the conduct should not contradict office.

All Christians are priests before God offering their praise and service each day in Christ (Romans 12:1-2; Revelation 1:6).

A mature woman's conduct should have the same spirit as this. Her conduct should reflect her responsibilities as an elder's wife, a priest of God.

He then mentions two things you will not see in her behavior:

1. Not malicious gossips

Gossip is usually the revelation of others' faults with the intention to ridicule, cause problems or frustrate. The Greek word used is "diabolos" meaning devil. Gossip is the devil's work for he accuses us before God night and day. Christ is our defender with his blood.

Gossip divides, destroys and displeases God. We should realize that the faults of others are covered by the blood of Christ, as are our own. When we gossip, we refuse the blood of Christ for another, we become the devil's workers and we are uncovering what Christ has covered.

2. Not addicted to much wine

Wine was a common drink of the people at that time. A godly woman is neither addicted to wine nor any other thing. Godly women are in control of themselves and nothing controls them except Christ.

Paul now mentions what you do see in their lives

Teach what is good (excellent).

When she speaks it is not to gossip or complain but to teach what is good and noble. A godly woman is able and busy teaching the younger women, not the men.

Paul also describes the things that these women know, practice and now teach the younger women. Older women are teaching how to:

1. Love husbands and children. Not just the fact that they should, but how. Teaching those things that will help a younger woman to more love her husband and children.

The older woman who has succeeded in maintaining a happy marriage, satisfied husband, well brought up children should be preparing younger women to do the same (even those who fail have something valuable to share through experience).

2. Sensible and pure. Balanced thinking, not frivolous, or foolish, but sober minded (II Timothy 3:16). Not carried away by false teaching, temptation to impurity, infidelity.

3. Workers at home. The Bible is not against women working outside the home. The point here is that women are not sluggish about the work that has to be done at home. The responsibility for the home (not the housework) is the woman's. Older women are to encourage the younger women to this task, teach the things necessary to fulfill this ministry properly.

Women who love their children and husbands will maintain a proper home whether it is a one or twenty room house. This is a first priority, everything else is extra. Do not do the extra if this part is not done.

4. Good and kind. First to husband and children (it is easy to do good to everyone else and leave these for last). People remember a woman's goodness and kindness long after they have forgotten her success or failure in the world. Eleanor Roosevelt was the president's wife, but she is remembered for her kindness. Older women teach by example here.

5. Submitted to husbands. A woman submitted to Christ is submitted to her husband first, before her parents, job, friends, etc. Of course, this is easier when her husband is a faithful Christian.

In the final verse Paul says that this kind of behavior and teaching will honor God

5bso that the word of God will not be dishonored.

The world judges the church by the character that the gospel produces in its people. Paul reveals the character of a godly, reverent, older woman and how she has become this way as well as what she is doing with her life. There should be no confusion about what older women ought to be doing with their time.

God has given the leadership role in the church to the men who lead as elders. He has described the kind of woman who can complement that leader in doing a good job in serving the church and honoring Him.

  • A woman who respects God and lives honorably, discretely and soberly.
  • A woman who is not afraid to go against the grain of the world to retain her central position in the home and her special position next to her husband and children.
  • A woman who can teach other women how to serve God, family and community.

I pray for all elder's wives that they might continue in their good work and example, and I pray that God will move other women to grow and follow their husbands into a greater life of service for the Lord. The elder's wife can be the greatest single encouragement or obstacle in her husband's ministry.

Discussion Questions

  1. Consider a situation in which you are asked to give input on how to select elders. Provide your thoughts on the following questions:
    1. What process would you recommend and why?
    2. What character traits would be most important and why?
    3. What determines the appropriate number of elders in a congregation?
  2. Provide your thoughts on the following questions regarding the wife of an elder:
    1. Summarize the role of an elder's wife.
    2. What is the relationship of Titus 2:3-5 and the role of an elder's wife?
  3. How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?