Who Selects Leaders in the Church?

When it’s time to add to the group of elders or deacons, who makes the selection? I’ve observed at least three ways: (1) Elders select whom they think would do the best work and submit the list to the church to evaluate. (2) Elders ask the church to make suggestions, but make the final decision as to those selected. (3) The church selects. The elders or preachers ordain.

A few years ago, I noticed there was a difference in the selection and appointment of leaders in the church. I’d always thought of those as the same thing. Who is to select leaders in the church? Notice what the Bible tells us about this.

  1. Paul told the elders at Ephesus the Holy Spirit had made them overseers. The word, made, means “to assign someone to a particular task, function, or role—‘to appoint, to designate’ ” (Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.). New York: United Bible Societies). It’s my understanding the Holy Spirit makes elders by converting, instructing, and maturing men to be leaders God wants them to be and by giving Christians qualities to look for in selecting these men to serve in leadership positions.
  2. I find passages telling me preachers appointed elders. Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in churches they established on the first missionary journey (Acts 13:23). The word means “to formally appoint or assign someone to a particular task” (Louw, Nida). Paul left Titus in Crete to appoint elders in every city (Titus 1:5). The word there means “to assign to someone a position of authority over others —‘to put in charge of, to appoint, to designate’ ” (Louw, Nida). Nothing is said in these verses about who selected the elders. Paul, Barnabas, and Titus appointed men as elders.
  3. In Exodus 18:25, we read, “Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people.” But, when we get to Deuteronomy 1, Moses tells us how he chose to choose leaders. Moses was speaking to “all Israel” (Deuteronomy 1:1). Moses said to all Israel, “Choose wise, understanding, and knowledgeable men from among your tribes, and I will make them heads over you.’ And you answered me and said, ‘The thing which you have told us to do is good’ ” (Deuteronomy 1:13, 14). Moses said, “You (all Israel) choose. I’ll appoint.
  4. In Acts 6, when the apostles said they could not leave their tasks in the ministry of the word and prayer, they told the multitude to seek out seven men to serve the widows. The multitude chose. The apostles appointed. If any leaders should have been smart enough and wise enough to pick the best men to be appointed, it seems those whom the Lord selected, taught, and trained should have been the best selectors. However, the apostles told Christians in Jerusalem, “You seek out men. We’ll appoint.” The multitude chose. The apostles appointed. The apostles oversaw the process. They set structure. But the multitude selected. The apostles appointed.
  5. The scriptures I’ve found instructing or giving examples of elders selecting elders or deacons:


In the next post, I’ll share a process to implement this principle.

What are some things you’ve seen that did or did not work well in the selection of leaders?


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Jerrie Barber
Servant of Jesus, husband to Gail, father to Jerrie Wayne Barber, II and Christi Parsons, grandfather, great-grandfather, Interim Preacher, Shepherd coach, Ventriloquist, barefoot runner, ride a cruiser bicycle

9 Responses to “Who Selects Leaders in the Church?

  • Roger Leonard
    5 years ago

    I have seen elders choose an elder or elders who “think like they do.” And I don’t mean just on doctrinal matters. It had to do with how the church continued in certain programs, etc. They caught a lot of flack over it from certain church members and were accused of “cloning.” While that is an impossibility, it showed a lack of flexibility and actually removed the church from the selection process except for offering prospects. While I believe the elders should have the final say, it is a dictatorial/lordship approach to leadership to overlook qualified men just because they might want to change some things. It would be upsetting to the church for new elders to make radical changes, but some traditions may need to be changed so long as they don’t go against biblical teaching. And there was a head elder for a long time. The other elders would deny that it was so but it was quite obvious to many in the church.

    • Marty Pepper
      5 years ago

      Unfortunately in the Lord’s church there are, so called a head Elder in some churches . We should all keep in mind that in any position we hold especially in the Lord’s church, we should always be humble and remember we are all servants of God ! Meaning a servant is a very humble position! Marty Pepper, An Elder, a servant of the Lord !

  • Mike Raine.
    5 years ago

    I believe it is very healthy that leaders have different views on matters. “Iron sharpened iron….” if it’s just a good Ole boys club, where is the challenge to become better shepherds of those who belong to Christ? As godly men, they learn the Christian grace of cooperating with each other for the good of the body. If they can’t co-operate, seems like that would disqualify them. I find three cases just in Acts, where there were both elders and apostle, the the church was told to select. I believe it is a sacred duty that belongs the the church as to whom they will submit themselves to.

  • Hi Jerrie,

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  • Ken Bradford
    5 years ago

    When some members have recommended people for consideration as elders they seemed very unaware of scriptures talking about the qualities that should be present so some teaching before hand is important. Have also seen people recommended who are not members.

    • Jerrie W. Barber
      5 years ago


      I plan to address some of these issues in the next post when I share a plan for the members to select and the leaders to ordain in a way that makes good selections and improves trust and accountability.

      I appreciate all the comments.

  • Surely, there will be some general disagreement here because our general practices are sometimes laden with our own wisdom. I have taught for years that the Holy Spirit is the One that actually points them out to us (as you quoted, “made” them such). It is our duty – the body – to take notice of them, selecting and recognizing them as shepherds worthy of our following. As for the actual physical process of selection and appointment, do you see a difference in expediency between the way the first deacons and elders were appointed in the life of the infant church (re: Acts 6, Titus 1), and the way they are appointed in the established, perpetuating church? I suspect this is why the process has evolved to what is generally practiced today. The established eldership seeks to protect not only the flock, but also the eldership. And I’m not saying I disagree with the practicality of that, necessarily. There may be occasions where members of the fold are simply not well-informed enough to make wise decisions as to her leaders. Are the shepherds right to seek protection of the eldership in an instance such as this? It seems to me that the eldership is tasked with exercising wisdom in this regard, and that means, in practical terms, the actual appointing of elders is a matter of expediency, left to the discretion of each congregation. For certain, no process will be happily engaged by every member. There will always be dissent as to the process selected. But including the congregation in some way is a precedent that God obviously set, and when people are not given an opportunity to engage, it quickly creates an “us” and “them” mentality, that is nearly impossible to shake, almost like a cheating spouse. Just thinking out loud, and looking forward to your next article.

    • Jerrie W. Barber
      5 years ago

      You raise interesting questions:
      1. If members can select leaders in an infant congregation, after elders shepherd and teach for years, is the maturing congregation less able, after maturing, to select leaders than the infant church was who selected the present elders? What does this say about the teaching and leadership of the present elders?
      2. How do you prevent the “us”—”them” when “them” can control “us” by the ones they accept and reject without scriptural objections. “Us” can reject a person who is a dishonest drunkard if he is nominated. “Them” can do the same thing if any one of “them” would act as one of “us” and go to that person individually. It is harder to act individually as one of “us” than it is to act as a group as one of “them.”

  • Since we see many ways in the scripture that laeders were appointed, we can in some ways determine that it was a means of expediency. The context in each case was different than it is today. In Acts, the church was in its infancy. Also even though Paul and Barnabas were ministers, they too were apostles. In Titus, we can’t necessary draw the conclusion that it was the way to ordain elders, but who was commanded to be in charge of getting the ball rolling. We don’t know how Titus went about it.

    Now, the more important thing to keep in mind is that no matter the process, it’s vitally important that the men are qualified by the scriptures. The first being that a man must desire to serve in that position. Many desire the position, but many also fail to qualify. No matter the process, it must not be taken lightly and it must not be a rushed process.

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