The Selection Process
Download: Elder/Deacon Selection Sheets
In this chapter we will discuss the selection process for elders and deacons. I mentioned before that these lessons were not solely academic exercises, but rather a preparation for churches to actually choose and put forth those who could possibly serve in these roles.
So let us review some of the qualifications required, and various ways to select elders and deacons.
I want to start with deacons because we have a clearer picture in the New Testament concerning their tasks, selection and qualifications.
As far as qualifications we said that:
- They were to be men.
- They were to have "charge" or responsibility over certain tasks (once defined by elders, deacons were to take over).
- They were to be men who:
- Had a good reputation.
- Were spiritual in nature.
- Were talented in various areas.
- Were respectable, honest, sober, not greedy, faithful to the word.
- They also were to be men who had experience in church work, not novices.
- Married only once, and managing their own homes well.
I also said that we looked for these qualifications in these people to be present to a positive degree, not a perfect degree. In other words, we realize that no one is perfectly honest, faithful, etc. but we want someone who exhibits these qualities to a positive degree, where we can see that they are actually there.
The New Testament provides us with a clear example of how to deacons were chosen in Acts 6.
- The congregation looked among themselves for men who were qualified and put these names forward.
- These people were then approved by the Apostles (leadership).
- They were commended/ordained into service by praying and the laying on of hands by the Apostles.
We know that this system was perpetuated because Paul gives further qualifications for deacons to Timothy in I Timothy.
This means that today, in our time, we can follow this pattern for selecting deacons. Let us imagine that we are doing this now in our own congregation:
- Look among the congregation for men who are qualified to serve in this role. Provide worksheets so members can review the qualifications and keep track of names.
- Explanation of worksheet: A check mark means that you know this about them, and, in your opinion, they qualify. A question mark means that you are not sure or have no knowledge in this area. X means that you know that they do not qualify.
- Worksheet available at: https://bibletalk.tv/selection-sheets
- A list of those put forward by the congregating is then made and presented to the elders for their approval.
- Those approved would be given their charge and commended to service by prayer and the laying on of hands by our elders once the process is complete.
So, to review, you would use the sheets on the deacon side to make your selection and return them to the elders for their consideration and approval. Remember that an X in one area or so does not automatically disqualify a person. Let the elders decide this when they interview the candidate. Also, make sure to fill in all the boxes with either a check mark, a question mark or an X.
The selection process of elders is not as straightforward as that of deacons, and we will deal with that in a moment.
As far as qualifications, we said:
- Elders are men.
- They exercise the leadership of Christ in the local assembly.
- They love the church, they work well with others, they can make decisions, they are dependable and can share their love with the church.
- They are married only once, manage their households well, and their children (whatever number they have) are believers.
- They are able to teach, and are faithful to the word themselves.
- Paul mentions a number of other qualifications in I Timothy and Titus that refers to their character:
- Moderate, prudent, sober, and gentle.
- Respectable, hospitable, good reputation.
- Not argumentative, violent or greedy.
- Someone who is just, devout, a lover of what is good and right.
Of course the idea of possessing these qualities to a positive degree and not a perfect degree is the same here as with deacons.
The Work of Elders
Deacons' work changes, but elders' work stays the same. The work of elders is threefold:
- They protect the congregation against false teaching and false teachers. This is why we have elders in various classes, and elders who oversee the children and adult education programs.
- They promote and direct sound teaching, good works, unity and peace.
- They provide leadership and example for sound teaching and good works.
The difference between elders and deacons is that elders are charged with shepherding the flock by ministering the word to them and by providing examples of leadership and mature Christian living. Deacons are charged with carrying out works of service towards the church and the community.
There are several ways and thinking that have developed in the church about the selection of elders. Here are the three major views and why they are held.
Only the evangelist/preacher selects the elders.
The Boston, Discipleship or International movement uses this method. The argument is that in the only examples where elders are appointed, the Apostles or evangelists are doing the selecting. If we were to use this process in my congregation for instance, I (the preacher) would select men and appoint them to the eldership as Timothy and Titus did.
The church selects the men and the elders approve their choice.
Many churches do this by having a committee select names and submitting them to the elders. The argument for this procedure is based on two things:
- The word "appoint" in Acts 14:23 sometimes translated "ordained," comes from a Greek word that meant holding up or stretching out one's hand as in to vote or signify with the raising of one's hand a choice or approval. Some scholars say that this shows that congregations approved of elders by holding up their hands, and the choice was made in this manner.
- Some early writings from the second and third centuries describe churches selecting and rejecting elders by vote. This was a usual pattern in Jewish synagogues and, it is assumed, was continued in the Christian church.
If we were to use this method, you would do the same procedure as that for deacons; select men according to qualifications and submit them to the elders for approval.
The elders and evangelist select a man who desires to serve as an elder, and the congregation confirms his selection by affirming that he does indeed qualify according to scripture.
Here are the arguments for this procedure:
- It follows the New Testament example for selection. In Acts 14:23 the Apostles, who served as elders in the beginning, selected. In Titus the preacher selects. There is no example, command or inference that shows that the congregation chose, but we have two examples where the leaders and evangelist select.
- It includes the congregation in the process according to I Timothy 3:2. Being above reproach and hospitable, able to teach etc. can only be determined by the people he has contact with, the congregation. Sheep do not choose their shepherd, but they can choose if they will follow or not.
- It bases the selection process only on Scripture, not on commentaries, traditions or historical writings.
The third procedure is the one that I recommend to follow so that when men will come forward and are selected to serve as elders, their names would be put before the congregation and the members would have a worksheet to help confirm if these men are biblically qualified. If they are, they will be commended to service through prayer and the laying on of hands.
Fasting is optional because it was optional in the New Testament. Sometimes they did not (Acts 6:6 - deacons; I Timothy - Timothy, elder), and sometimes they did (Acts 13:3 - missionaries; Acts 14:23 - elders), and sometimes we do not know (Titus 1:5 - elders). What we do know is that they prayed, laid hands to commend and sometimes some of them fasted. Our elders are free to choose if they wish to fast before they appoint new elders by prayer and the laying on of hands.
We would use the same type of worksheet to evaluate the qualifications of those men put forth for consideration.
In order to minister to a growing congregation everyone needs to dedicate themselves to finding ways to serve the church: men and women, young and old, experience and inexperienced.
The church needs godly men who are willing to sacrifice themselves on the altar of service by taking on the responsibilities of elders and deacons, and the church needs to know how to select and appoint these men to roles of leadership and service.
- Read the qualifications for deacons as outlined in I Timothy 3:8-13 and discuss the following statements:
- Summarize the qualifications of deacons mentioned in this passage and restate them in your own words.
- Review Acts 6 and discuss how this can be applied in today's congregations to select deacons.
- Read the qualifications of elders as outlined in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 and discuss the following questions:
- Summarize the qualifications of elders and restate in your own words.
- How do the qualifications for elders prepare these men to serve in this capacity?
- From a practical process perspective, if you were appointed to a committee to choose deacons and elders, what process would you recommend and why?
- How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?