When Selecting Elders, Do You Practice Legalized Gossip?

“Sign a letter and we’ll never tell who wrote it”

I am intrigued by rules (the way we do things — our habits), especially our rules for selecting elders.

We find qualities of elders (1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, 1 Peter 5:1-4).

We can observe or ignore the apostles’ principles for selecting leaders for God’s people (Acts 6:1-7).

But I don’t find procedures for vetting those being considered as shepherds and deacons.

My experience is that one rule is standard:

If anyone has an objection, you have two weeks to let us know.

I’ve never heard of a week or three weeks — aways two weeks.

Here’s where rules change.

One that concerns me is this:

Here are men we are presenting for your consideration. If anyone has a scriptural objection: write it, sign it, and give it to the elders. We will keep it confidential and we will never tell who submitted the objection.

I call this the Rule of Legalized Gossip. For two weeks, this congregation doesn’t have to obey Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 18:15-17:

Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector (NKJV).

Some respond, “Well he didn’t sin, I just don’t think he’s qualified to be an elder (deacon).” The word sin means to “miss the mark.” (To sin, to miss a mark on the way, not to hit the mark. (Zodhiates, S. (2000). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers).

In your view, he missed the mark of being prepared to serve in this capacity.

Jesus says if a person misses the mark, go to him privately (alone) and tell him where or how he missed.

Gossip, talebearing will produce conflict (Proverbs 26:20). It isn’t right for two weeks during vetting elder or deacon candidates.

Agrippa and Bernice came to Caesarea to visit Festus. Festus had heard gossip about Paul, who was in prison in Caesarea. He told them Romans had a rule not to make a judgment against him based on hearsay.

To them I answered, “It is not the custom of the Romans to deliver any man to destruction before the accused meets the accusers face to face, and has opportunity to answer for himself concerning the charge against him” (Acts 25:16).

We need to have better principles of fairness and justice than pagans. The pagan Romans would not deprive someone of meeting their accusers “face to face.” I like a statement in a process of leadership selection: “Members of the congregation are requested to go to the man before bringing an objection to the committee.”

I understand the reluctance to do what Jesus said.

I remember the dread and lump-in-the-throat fear of a Saturday night years ago. I put it off until the last night of the “two-week-rule.” Finally, I went to the house of the man and his wife being considered. With reluctance, I said, “I love and appreciate you. But I need to share my concern. 1 Timothy 3:4 says a bishop must be ‘one who rules his own house well.’ “

Looking at the couple, I said, “I often wonder who is the leader of this family — you (husband) or you (wife).” She (and he) assured me he was the leader of the family.

The man was appointed as an elder. But I did what I promised the Lord and myself nine years earlier when a man with similar leadership issues was appointed and I said nothing.

That was a fearful, reluctant, and satisfying victory in my spiritual growth.

Gossip isn’t right and helpful — even when considering elders and deacons.

(Visited 503 times, 60 visits today)
Jerrie Barber
Servant of Jesus, husband to Gail, grandfather, great-grandfather, Interim Preacher, Shepherd coach, Ventriloquist, barefoot runner, ride a cruiser bicycle

4 Responses to “When Selecting Elders, Do You Practice Legalized Gossip?

  • wtomhallW. Tom Hall
    5 months ago

    There is a lot to think about in this post. We do what we have always done.

  • While I agree that the way we go about vetting elders and deacons is often poorly thought out, I cannot agree with your use of Matthew 18. There are many kinds of “missing the mark” that are not being considered in the Matthew 18 passage. Look at it again. “…if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” The passage is primarily about a sin against an individual and known only to that individual. The passage is not addressing how to handle public sins or public false teaching. If it were, then Paul was wrong to rebuke Peter “in the presence of all.” So, while I agree with your concern about how this is often handled, I think you hurt your own point by the way you presented it. By the way, even with the best designed process, people will still gossip. I have even known of cases where people raised objections and stated that their objection was based on gossip that they had heard!

    • Thayer,

      Thank you for reading and responding.

      My observation is that many objections to men serving in leadership positions are the result of stored up grievances from the past, business deals that went bad, and negligence. Rather than following what Jesus said in Matthew 18:15, they waited until this person was considered for leadership. Then they “told on him” to keep him from being appointed. This has affected their relationship and had never been addressed.

      This is a good time to ask, “When you talked with him about that, what did he say?”.

      Some elders have said, “But we have people who are not comfortable with that.” The Christian life is not one of comfort but of crucifixion (Luke 9:23).

      This is a good time to coach people to do what Jesus said in times like these.

  • Great article. I wish the leadership was stronger in all churches.. I have been a member for many years and a deacon for a period of time at one church. We have finally found a congregation that has strong leadership , after 40 years.

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