How We Choose Our Elders

By Ron Kastens

When I arrived in October 2001, CrossWay Christian Church was still a very young church and I was able to help shape our elder process, role, and culture. I am grateful to the fellow elders with whom I have served during my time at CrossWay. One of the things I am most pleased with is our process for selecting new elders.

08_Kastens_JNWhen I was growing up, and during college, it seemed many churches selected elders by simple nomination and secret ballot vote. Yet as I read the New Testament, I see no example of this in the early church. For a movement that prides itself in restoring New Testament Christianity, it seems many churches select leaders based on the pattern of American democracy more than Scripture.

The Bible does not say much about how to identify new elders. As we studied the New Testament at CrossWay, it seemed to us that existing church leaders in the early church appointed elders (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). We felt the silence of the Scriptures on details left us free to craft a reasonable process. But we believed, in the end, the responsibility of identifying new elders rested with the existing church leaders.

Our desire was for the process to provide opportunities for our leaders to discern the leading of God about who should join the elder team. The entire process lasts about six months.

It begins with a 30-day period in which people in our congregation may nominate individuals for consideration as elder. The nominator is asked to first approach the potential nominee to ask him to pray about the proposed nomination. After a time of prayer, if he is comfortable with his name being submitted, then he is nominated.

After the nomination, the candidate is interviewed by a team of leaders from our church. This team usually includes a couple of existing elders and two or three small group leaders. The candidate is given a list of 25 questions that serve as the base for the interview, although follow-up questions are always asked. The questions focus on the candidate’s walk with God; his fit with CrossWay’s doctrine, mission, values, and strategy; his service in the church; and his family, work, and community life.

After the interview, if the team feels the candidate should continue in the elder process, he moves on to the next step. If the team decides the person should not continue, we sit down with him to explain our concerns. We desire that there be no misunderstandings, even as we discuss possible areas in which he can grow. When an elder candidate is merely voted down with secret ballots, there is no openness and transparency. There is no possibility for growth. The candidate knows only that he was voted down.

When a candidate moves forward in our process, the next step involves a period of training with our existing elders. This is a six- to eight-week process where we try to assess the candidate and his chemistry with our elder team. Is the candidate a good listener? Does he respect the views of others? Does he need to be right? It is important that any new elder be a good fit, as our eldership is a small group and we do things by consensus.

If the candidate moves on, after the period of training, the next step for a married candidate is an interview with him and his wife. An elder’s wife is crucial to the success of his ministry. If she is not careful, she can, even inadvertently, sabotage his effectiveness in ministry. In addition, we want to hear why she respects his leadership and why she feels he would make a good elder.

If things are still on track after this interview, we go back to our congregation. We say, “The elders are recommending that John Doe join our team and serve as an elder here. The people of CrossWay have 30 days to raise a concern about John serving as an elder. A person who questions a nomination can either go to John directly and discuss the concern with him or sit down with John and an existing elder to discuss the concern.” If no concerns are raised or substantiated during this time, the candidate is appointed by our existing elders to serve CrossWay as an elder.

This process provides an opportunity for the current leadership to listen to the congregation while maintaining the responsibility of selecting new elders for the church. The process is slow and drawn out, which gives plenty of opportunity to discern God’s guidance.

While I am sure the process is not perfect, it has served us well these last nine years, both in the new elders we have selected and the other candidates who grew through the process.

 

Ron Kastens serves as lead pastor with CrossWay Christian Church in Nashua, New Hampshire.

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12 Comments

  1. Administrator Author
    August 1, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    We received the following as a letter to the editor, and have chosen to post it in the comments section.

    ________

    I agree that churches should move away from the manmade tradition of voting and get back to the Scriptural teaching of an elder-led church. I have seen firsthand the damage a congregation can do to itself with the democratic process, especially with a secret ballot. Not only is this practice unbiblical, it can be very divisive.

    Yet it is very difficult for some people to give up the idea of democracy in the church. At the worst church meeting I have ever attended, a deacon angrily shouted, “The Bible says that the early church voted!” Of course, he had no Scripture to back up his statement.

    As long as the church by-laws outweigh the Bible and the church constitution overrules Christ, many congregations will continue to struggle with the most important decisions that are before them. I applaud the churches that are restoring New Testament principles of how to govern the local congregation.

    —Tom Cox, Vanceburg, KY

  2. Administrator Author
    September 3, 2013 at 8:27 am

    We received the following as a letter to the editor, and have chosen to post it in the comments section.

    ________

    I was appalled by the article (in the August 2013 issue) “How We Choose Our Elders” . . . “We don’t vote.”

    The reasoning behind this proposition shows a lack of careful study into the manner of choosing an elder.

    Ron Kastens states, “As I read the New Testament, I see no example of this [voting] in the early church.” How so very wrong. Scripture does give examples, however these examples are obscured because of poor translational work. This has occurred because of doctrinal differences between denominations.

    The text (Acts 14:23) Mr. Kastens uses to prove elders were not elected actually proves elders were elected.

    This verse reads in the King James Version: “And when they had ordained them elders in every church.” The word in question is “ordained.” This came to my attention several years ago when I was doing a comparative study between the New International Version and the KJV. I found the NIV used the word “appointed” instead of “ordained” with a footnote saying that “ordained” or “elected” were sometime used. I wondered why three words with different meanings are suggested alternatives. This led me into a word study in which I found the original Greek word meant “to select with a show of hands.” There is no reason why Paul and Barnabas would be voting among themselves. This would mean the church was doing the voting while Paul and Barnabas oversaw the process.

    Strong’s Concordance shows the Greek word translated as “ordain” in Acts 14:23 is used five times in four verses in the New Testament.

    While I suppose a group may select any means they wish for choosing their leaders; to say Scripture does not support election of elders by the congregation is simply wrong. Our church considered the proposition of having elders appointed 30-some years ago. After a careful scriptural analysis, we decided congregational voting for selection of elders was the proper method.

    Below is a partial list of commentaries dealing with the correct understanding of Acts 14:23.

    In his commentary (1857, 1866), Joseph A. Alexander writes: “The meaning of the word ordained has been the subject of protracted and vehement dispute between Presbyterians and Episcopal interpreters.”

    And so it seems even yet today.

    Commentary by Frank Allen (1931):

    “A . . . fact worthy of note is that the elders seem to have been chosen by the members of the church. The word, ‘ordained,’ means to vote by stretching out the hand. The meaning as used here is to elect, to appoint or create. The idea evidently is that the members of the church elected the elders and they were ordained by Paul and Barnabas with fasting and prayer. We conclude from the example of the apostles that, according to the divine plan, it was intended that the members of the church should vote for the elders whom they thought were best fitted for the office, and then that they should be ordained with fasting and prayer.”

    Some try to change the original meaning of the word translated as “ordain” to mean “laying on of hands.” Henry Alford (1810–71) addresses this in his commentary: “The verb means, appointed by suffrage (voting) . . . the strict meaning is to be retained. The word will not bear the sense of ‘laying on of hands’ . . . nor is there any reason here for departing from the usual meaning of electing by a show of hands.”

    William Arnot (1873): “The term translated ‘ordained,’ etymologically signifies election by a show of hands . . . the original root remains as a fossil evidence of the liberty that prevailed in the primitive church.”

    Barnes Notes (1885): “Probably all that is meant by it is that they (Paul and Barnabas) presided in the assembly when the choice was made. It does not mean that they appointed them without consulting the church; but it evidently means that they appointed them in the usual way of appointing officers, by the suffrages (vote) of the people.

    And a list of the commentaries goes on and on.
    —Ronald V. Tanner
    Francesville, IN

  3. September 5, 2013 at 5:21 pm

    Hi Ron,

    Great article!

    would you ever consider sharing the list of 25 questions you use? It would be an invaluable resource.

    Thanks!

  4. Ron Kastens
    October 24, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    Hi Dan,

    I would be happy to share them. Please send me your email address and I will happily send them.

    Blessings,
    Ron

  5. Ron Kastens
    January 9, 2014 at 10:17 am

    Reply to Mr. Ronald Tanner –

    As Mr. Tanner points out, careful study of the Bible is very important. Word studies are a part of interpreting Scripture well. It is important one consider the range of meaning and how it is used in context. The word cheirotoneo can be used to mean “to select by the lifting of the hand.” This action can certainly mean to vote, in the sense we think of voting. Plato used is this way. But when standing at the souvenir counter at a Red Sox game, I can also lift my hand to point to, or choose, one shirt over another. In both cases I select by the lifting of the hand. The word can also mean to appoint someone to a task or duty. Josephus used it this way. For example, I can lift my hand to point to my middle child to take out the trash as opposed to selecting my youngest child. It can also mean to ordain someone with the laying on of hands, usually accompanied with prayer. Joseph A. Fitzmeyer says the word, “came to mean generically ‘choose, appoint,’ as here” (The Acts of the Apostles, 1998). To limit the cheirotoneo’s meaning to only “a show-of-hands vote” is not accurate.

    Mr. Tanner also suggests that voting would be more evident in Scripture were it not for poor translation work. In the verse discussed, Acts 14:23, the NIV, ESV, NASB95, NRSV, and the NET all translate this word as “appoint.” Are all of these faulty translations?

    In addition to the meaning of words, it is important to consider the grammar of a passage. The implied subject of cheirotoneo is Paul and Barnabas. The personal pronoun “them” (autois) is the indirect object. In other words, “them” did not do the appointing/selecting by the lifting of the hand. Paul and Barnabas did the appointing/selecting “for them.” Mr. Tanner suggests, “There is no reason why Paul and Barnabas would be voting among themselves.” True, but they could select/appoint the elders. Mr Tanner states, “This would mean the church was doing the voting while Paul and Barnabas oversaw the process.” Grammatically this is not possible in the Greek text. Paul and Barnabas did the appointing/selecting “for them.” In J.B. Polhill’s commentary on Acts (1995) he states, “The NIV text follows the most natural rendering of the Greek construction: Paul and Barnabas appointed the elders (v. 23).”

    When one considers that many people in these new churches were new Christians, many of them coming from pagan backgrounds, it would make sense for seasoned church leaders to appoint these new elders. If the churches had been full of mature believers, perhaps they would have held a vote among all the people. For even if Paul and Barnabas did appoint leaders as I suggest, it does not mean the Bible forbids voting. We should be careful in basing too much on this one instance since Paul and Barnabas were dealing with new Christians.

    The truth is, we have very little evidence and instruction as to exactly how church governance was carried out. My contention is that existing church leaders are responsible for the next leaders who will serve the church. If existing elders in a church think voting is the best way to select elders, they have that prerogative. But the responsibility for having solid, in-coming elders rests with existing church leaders and should not be merely abdicated to a political, democratic process.

    If the existing church leaders think voting is the best way to choose elders, it seems to me the vote should be public, with a lifting of the hands. Secret ballot voting makes it very easy for people to vote against someone for silly reasons. It can become merely a popularity contest based upon personal preferences, not a process of discernment based on prayer and the leading of the Holy Spirit.

    In addition, if voting is the desired method, it seems to me those who are voted down should be told the reason(s) why they were not selected so they know what they need to work on in order to grow from the process. Too often people are simply told, “No.” They walk away wondering the reason why or if it is personal. Not knowing why offers no opportunity for growth.

    At the end of the day, the existing church leadership, the elders in established churches, are responsible for the health of the church. Future elders have a tremendous impact on the ongoing health of a church. I do not believe Scripture mandates how future leaders are selected/appointed. Nor do I believe our 200+ year immersion in American democracy should be the lenses through which we read the Bible nor should it mandate how we select/appoint elders. Churches can be free to move away from voting. It’s okay to not vote. It is up to the elders to think through and decide on a process that provides opportunities to hear from God as to the person God wants to serve as an elder for that church.

  6. Doug Hansel
    June 20, 2014 at 9:10 am

    Hi Ron. Our church is currently establishing our process for placing new elders. I really enjoyed and appreciated your description of your process. I would love to take a look at your list of 25 questions you review with your elder candidates. Would you consider sending those to me?

  7. March 1, 2015 at 6:26 pm

    Hi Ron. Our church is a new church we are currently establishing our process for placing elders. I really enjoyed and appreciated your description of your process. I would love to take a look at your list of 25 questions you review with your elder candidates. Would you consider sending those to me? Thank you.
    John H.

  8. Chuck Marshall
    July 20, 2015 at 8:11 am

    Ron, Great article and comments (especially your follow-up) Would you please send me your list of 25 questions you review with your elder candidates? Thank you.

  9. March 31, 2016 at 12:51 am

    Thank you for the article. I believe how we get our elders is a very important issue because there are certain ways of doing so that is honoring to God and others that are not and are directly against biblical principles. I am currently serving in a church which uses a secret vote to elect elders and deacons. I have for years tried to persuade our leadership to move away from this unbiblical way of selecting church leadership, however I have had no success as of yet. The whole issue goes to the secret vote and unity. There are variations of selecting church leadership that I think is God honoring, however doing things in secret is not a Christian principle and it is neither condoned by God. We do know who does things in secret and that is the prince of darkness. The secret vote does not offer any accountability between Christians which is clearly a biblical principle. Also, when a vote it taken in such a way there is normally a percentage by which an elder needs to be elected. In the church I serve in if a perspective leader gets 75% of the vote then he is then elected as a church leader. This means that 25% of the church could not want the leader which then causes disunity. Disunity is not a Christian principle either. Jesus’ prayer in John 17 wasn’t that there would be disunity, but complete unity so that the world would know that God sent Him.
    In our last elect process we had one ballot turned which had derogatory remarks made about every person up for church leadership. The leadership put it off as a joke, but I ask is this process a joke or is it serious? I believe it is serious. These leaders have the spiritual wellbeing of the body of Christ in their hand, a great responsibility. I also ask about the person who wrote those remarks, wouldn’t it be wise to address that issue with that person in order to help them understand the seriousness of church leadership? I think it certainly would be however that is impossible because the vote is secret with no accountability. Also, when someone does vote no and even if they give a reason why for voting no there is no way to engage that person in conversation to find out the validity of the reason for their no vote. The secret vote only promotes unbiblical, unGodly principles and doesn’t not support God’s way of accountability or Christian unity.
    People can argue whether a show of hands should be the way and about word studies and the different meanings of Greek words, but does that really make a difference if we know plainly that the process of getting new church leaders does not support sound biblical principles? I like the way Ron established in the church in which he serves. I’m not sure I would do it exactly the same, but in his method there are not biblical or Godly principles violated.
    The whole matter for me comes down to, is Jesus the Lord over the body of Christ or is He not. If He is the Lord then we must not do things in secret and promote disunity in the body of Christ. Also any by-laws written by church leaders which go against the Word of God ought to thrown out immediately. When we follow man made rules rather than the Word of God, in my opinion it makes God look weak to the world around us. This is actually an issue I have and continue to consider leaving my current ministry over.

  10. Bob Acre
    November 14, 2016 at 1:42 pm

    I too am very interested in the Interview Questions. Very good discussion, just what I was searching for…thank you very much…bob acre

  11. Ron Kastens
    November 15, 2016 at 11:51 am

    Hi Bob,
    Please email Riani Martin at rmartin@crosswaycc.org and we would be happy to send you this information.

    Thanks,
    Ron

  12. Kyari Sheri A.
    January 4, 2017 at 3:40 pm

    Ron, I thank you. The article and the entire views of the others have made my day in my quest to understand biblical choices of Church elders.

    I wish I can be put through if there are any areas in the Bible where balloting is supported for choosing elders in the church. I believe volunteering and balloting can settle many issues associated with open or secret voting.

    Balloting where offices are written on pieces of papers and enveloped and prospective elders are required to pick openly after weeks or months of prayers. This, God will reach for those who will work for His church. This will move people away from campaigning with its associated evils.

    I hope I am making sense here. Thank you. Elder Kyari.

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