What the Bible Says About Selecting Church (Servants) Leaders
Due to what Christ taught in Matt. 23:10 we shall use the phrase servant where most churches today error by calling them leaders of the church. The Teacher and Lord of John 13:13 says He is the only Leader in the church. Therefore men of wrong character traits are given power instead of works in the church today. This article is an attempt to glean from the New Testament what it says explicitly about the manner in which selection to various offices (servants-works) of the local church should be made. It will search primarily in two ways; an examination of the methods used in specific instances found in the NT, and an article of the words used in the original text of the NT to describe that process. Our search is aimed, not at the qualifications for leadership (servanthood) that is taken for granted, but at the procedural methods of a local church in making a selection. A side issue to be considered is the relation of those selected to the question of authority in the church.
CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS (PRE-CHURCH)
Of course there is no selection of local church officials found in the gospels. But some of the teachings and practices of Jesus may serve as an important background for our article. We will look at four instances.
THE SELECTION OF THE APOSTLES
After Christ called men to become His disciples (Matt. 4:18-22, Mark 1:16-20, Luke 5:10-11, John 1:40-51) He then from this group selected twelve to be His apostles (Matt. 10:2-5, Mark 3:13-19, Luke 6:12-16). They were His sovereign choice, thus totally separate from any human selecting process. Yet even Christ spent the whole night in prayer (His Father was His Head) before He made those choices. That certainly ought to say something to us about selecting workers for His church. Prayer must be part of the process.
THE FOUNDING OF THE CHURCH (Matt. 16:13-17)
From this we learn that Christ is the builder; He must be involved in every decision which has to do with His church. That fact must be a conscious part of every selection process. His selection of Peter, the "rock", teaches us something we must not miss; the sequel of this passage makes crystal clear that Peter's choice was not based on his great personality and moral strength -- Jesus needed to rebuke him most severely ("Get behind me, Satan") for his selfish "this-world outlook," and challenge him to denial of self, even to the point of death ("take up his cross.") James' and John's seeking first place in the Kingdom (Matt. 20:20-28, Mark 10:35-45; cf. Luke 22:24-30)
This story calls attention to a radical difference between the expectations and practices of servanthood and greatness in the world, and in Christ's kingdom. "The princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister [servant, slave]." This is an important truth to keep in mind when selecting servants in Christ's church. What the world looks for in its leaders is the precise opposite of what Christ's church must look for.
THE APOSTLES TO SIT ON THRONES IN GOD'S KINGDOM
(Matt. 19:28, Lk. 22:30; cf. Rev. 3:21, 4:4, 11:16, 20:4)
Not one of the twelve ever sat on a throne, but that promise certainly must have been a support and encouragement throughout their lives of trials and suffering. It comes to us as a precious reminder that there is reward and blessing ahead. When we select servants in the church, it may well be for the present a call to suffering and pain; but the end results are enormously worthwhile. After the cross comes the crown.
OUR LORD'S GREAT COMMISSION
(Matt. 28:18-20, Mark 16:15f, Luke 24:47-49, John 21:15-22)
The task which the Lord left in the hands of His apostles and His disciples was nothing less than the carrying of the good news to the whole world, including the good news to the lambs and sheep that He wants them fed and cared for (last reference above). The commission came from Him to Whom all authority in heaven and earth has been given. He made no assignment of that authority, He assigned only responsibility, and therefore those that look for leaders should be looking for servants – two different character traits. But He promised to be present always with His authority, even to the end of the age. Christ has not turned over His authority to the Church; He reserves that to Himself, but when we need it He is there to supply it. Christ is not a far-off absentee leader, He is Himself with us. The church's servants are not left with the responsibility of running the church, He expects His servants to be subservient and obedient to Him. (Matt. 23:10 NASB)
LEADERSHIP IN THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH
THE SELECTION OF A SUCCESSOR TO JUDAS
The first instance of selection of servants faced by the early believers was the choosing of a successor to Judas (Acts 1:21-26). The process they followed was as follows: (1) Vs. 23: They put forward two men who met the requirements (he must be one who travelled with Jesus from His baptism, and was a witness of the resurrection). How did they choose these two? We are not told; perhaps they were the only two who met the requirements. The wore translated "put forward" NASB, "appointed" KJV, is in the original Greek a form of the verb "to stand" (esthsan); they "caused them to stand", they placed them before the group. It has no significance whatever as to how they did it; it certainly does not mean that they "appointed" them (KJV).
(2) Vs. 24: They prayed, "Lord ... show us which of these you have chosen." The choice they wanted was not the choice of the persons present, but the will of the Lord.
(3) Vs. 26: They cast lots. How they did it we are not told -- did they reach in a hat? or pass straws? or throw dice? It doesn't matter. God had said in the OT, "the lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord" Prov. 16:33. The method they used guaranteed that the Lord's choice was made.
Is this the way our churches today should make their choices? It is never recorded in the NT that it was ever used again. This was before Pentecost; the believers had not yet received the Spirit. As we shall see later, there were other ways used which permitted the Spirit to guide their decisions, and certainly believers are held responsible for obedience to the Spirit's guidance. We should not try to avoid that responsibility by using mechanical by-pass. Casting lots will bring about God's providential will, but not necessarily His desiring will.
THE SELECTION OF DEACONS
The second incident of choosing servants in the church is the case of the neglect of certain widows in the Jerusalem church, and the beginning of the office of deacon in the church, Acts 6:1-6. This is the first account of the exercise of local church government, and by far the fullest. Apparently it was intended as an example which may be applied to other offices also.
A problem had arisen in the church in relation to the community of good practiced in the Jerusalem church to meet the need caused by persecution. Some of the widows felt they were being neglected, and the problem was taken to the apostles. Their solution included the following steps.
(1) Vs.2, 3: The apostles called together (proskalesamenoi) the congregation, and instructed them to "select (episkeyasqe de- look for) seven men from among you." It is not told how they did this, but they came up with seven names.
(2) Vs.5: The congregation approved (hresen) this plan and they chose (exelexanto) seven. It does not indicate whether they named more and then selected by voting, or simply approved the seven named. The point is that the approval was by the congregation. (Congregational rule – not board)
(3) Vs.6: The seven were brought to (esthsan, caused to stand) the apostles, and after prayer the apostles laid their hands upon them, an action which seems to suggest that they were being set apart to and given the assurance that the church was standing behind them in the task to which they were assigned.
In summary, after the apostles' part of the story is removed (their part is now supplied by the Scriptures) the basic procedure was (1) the church people decided what the solution should be and chose the persons whom they wanted to do it; (2) the persons selected were assigned the work, with the support of the congregation behind them.
THE APPOINTMENT OF ELDERS
Church elders (presbuterouV) are mentioned 18 times in the NT. In only two of the passages (Acts 14:23, Tit. 1:5) is anything said about their becoming elders, and even these do not specify the procedure. Probably the office of elder was taken over from the Jewish synagogue, which was a democratically organized society led by elders, or rabbis, who received their position by reason of completing a proscribed course of article and recognized by the laying on of hands of the other rabbis.
In Acts 14:23 we learn that Paul on the return trip through the region of Lystra, Iconium and Antioch (from the first missionary journey) "appointed elders for them in every church." These churches could not have been more than a couple months old, and the people in the churches were all recent converts. These new elders were not seminary graduates nor experienced Christians. The English word "appointed" suggests that Paul picked out some of these new Christians to act as spiritual servants of these new churches and assigned them to the office of elder. The word used in the original text may mean that (compare 2 Cor. 8:19, the other place it is used in the NT). Some have concluded from the etymology of the word (ceirotonhqeiV) that the meaning is "to select by raising the hand", i.e., by vote. We get our word chiropractic from that word. The word certainly is used that way, but some feel that the circumstances of this incident make that meaning unlikely. "Voting" is surely not the meaning in another passage where the etymology is the same (Acts. 3:20), where Jesus is said to be "appointed [as Messiah] for you"; cf. NASB).
The only other passage which speaks of the selection or appointing of elders is Tit. 1:5 -- Titus was left in Crete to "... appoint elders in every city." NASB. Here the word translated “appoints" is from katasthshV. Primarily it is a causative verb, to cause someone to be or to do something, often in the sense of to put in charge, to assign, to appoint. This strongly suggests that Titus was charged with the selection.
Does this mean that the selection of elders was a prerogative of some superior officer who had authority to do so, rather than the action of the “local church”? Let us examine this question a bit.
Who were these men who exercised this "appointing"? In the first instance it was the apostle Paul. As apostle he acted as the viceroy of Christ, His spokesman, with His authority. Christ was building His church through the direct mediation of His apostle. The authority to appoint elders was not Paul himself, but Christ. After the church was established and the apostles were gone, the authority they executed passed to Christ's written Word, the Scriptures. Today that means that the authority to appoint elders is based on the teachings of God's Word in the Bible.
What about Titus? Who was he? He is mentioned several times in Paul's writings, a friend and associate whom Paul used in handling some delicate situations (Gal. 2:1.3, 2 Cor. 2:13, 7:6, 13, 8:6, 16, 23, 12:18, 2 Tim. 4:10). In Paul's letter to Titus he states that he had sent him to Crete for the express purpose of organizing the churches there (Tit. 1:5). Hence Titus was exercising Paul's authority. Timothy is another similar example of this temporary apostolic authority.
The NT never indicates that Titus and Timothy were themselves elders, or that they had any church-assigned responsibilities. They were simply extensions of Paul's apostleship.
Who then today has the authority to appoint elders? I believe the answer must be, the church -- the local body of believers --, guided by the Spirit of God through the teachings of God's Word.
THE LAYING ON OF HANDS (1 Tim. 4:14)
The phrase "laying on of hands" is often associated with the ordination or induction into the eldership, but it has many other contexts. Most often it is used in connection with miraculous healing; by Christ (4 times), by Paul (1), even by Ananias when he was used to heal Paul's blindness (1). It was said of Christ when He blessed the children (2). Peter and John laid hands on the converts at Samaria and they received the Holy Spirit; so also Paul with the disciples in Ephesus (2).
Of special interest to our present article it was used in association with appointment to office -- of the deacons in Acts 6:6 and the setting apart of Paul and Barnabas by the church at Antioch in Acts 13:3. There is no example of its use in the ordination of elders; the references in 1 Tim. 4:14 and 2 Tim. 1:6 speak of the bestowing of some spiritual gift to Timothy "by the laying on of hands of the presbytery", but there the elders were the ones who did it, not the one who received it. It is never stated in Scripture that Timothy was an elder.
Perhaps it is a bit disappointing that the Bible doesn't give us exact instructions, but that is the way He saw fit to do it. He is the Builder and Lord of the churches. He wants His people to depend upon His leadership as it is ministered to us through the guidance of His Spirit. His way is best.