the weblog of Alan Knox

Recognizing Elders

Posted by on Jul 14, 2009 in elders | 11 comments

For the last several week, the church has been talking about elders. Yesterday, we nominated four more men to be recognized as elders. Over the next few weeks, the church will officially recognize some or all of these men.

How should a church recognize or appoint elders? That’s a good question, isn’t it? There are many different answers to this question, depending perhaps upon your background, tradition, and interpretation of certain passages of Scripture.

I don’t think there is one way for a church to recognize or appoint elders. I don’t think Scripture gives us a specific set of steps or rules to follow in finding elders. However, I do think there are certain guidlines that Scripture gives us.

First, we should recognize that it is actually the Holy Spirit that appoints elders (Acts 20:28). I wrote about this in detail in a post called “The Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” In fact, I would say that this is the most important point in the recognition of elders.

Also, we should acknowledge that individuals should recognize their own “appointment” as elders, perhaps through a desire to take care of (“oversee”) people (1 Timothy 3:1). While a person may be disobeying God in refusing to be recognized as an elder (since the Holy Spirit actually “appoints” them), the person should be given the right to accept or deny that recognition.

Finally, the church should recognize that the Holy Spirit has appointed someone as an elder in order to care for the church. Church leaders can certainly help with this, but it is also the responsibility of the whole church.

We have known the four men that the church is considering as elders for several years.  We have had opportunities to learn from their teaching and to examine their service to others. We know whether or not they practice hospitality and if they are faithful husbands and good fathers.

In fact, we know these men well enough that we know that they are not perfect. We know their strengths and their weaknesses. We know where they are continuing to grow in maturity. We know how God is working in their lives, and we know how God is using them in the lives of other people.

I have been part of churches who have hired pastors before. Usually, the church knows very little about the person that is being recognized or appointed as an elder (pastor). They usually only know whether or not the person can teach (preach) because the person has taught once or twice. They may have an opportunity to ask questions, but they have not had an opportunity to actually observe and learn from the person’s life. The process we are going through now is completely different.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we have all the answers. I’m not suggesting that we won’t make mistakes. We could recognize and appoint someone who the Holy Spirit has not appointed. There are obviously other ways to recognize or appoint an elder other than the process that we’re going through.

So, I’m not encouraging anyone to change the way that they’re currently recognizing their elders and to begin to recognize elders the way we do it.

I do hope, however, that people will begin to think seriously about the people who they recognize or appoint as elders. Do we really know them? Can we recognize how God is already using them? Do we know if they are hospitable or good fathers? Do we know how they react to conflict? Do we know whether or not they are servants?

If we do not know these things about them, then how can we recognize whether or not the Holy Spirit as appointed them as elders?

If we an


11 Comments

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  1. 7-14-2009

    Thank you for your thoughts. “They may have an opportunity to ask questions, but they have not had an opportunity to actually observe and learn from the person’s life.” Since the Bible emphasizes character as a mark of an elder’s life, it would seem imperative to have opportunity to actually know someone beyond an interview or “test-sermon.” An elder’s life should be known by a church!

  2. 7-14-2009

    Alan,

    You bring up some really good points brother. I really like the fact that you say that the “Holy Spirit” recognizes elders. You also said we may appoint someone who the Spirit has not appointed but I also think the opposite may be the truth, maybe we don’t appoint someone who the Spirit has.

    Next we have created elder categories, so we have “teaching” elders, elders who sort of provide business vision and then elders who sort of do what the deacons in Acts did just on a permenant basis. This category allows us to hire the “teaching” elder because we enjoy consuming the sermon as it is central to the Christian meeting.

    Finally to do such a thing (hire) someone seems to be well.. out of charachter (since people don’t like the term unbiblical) of the bible. There is no contemporary in scripture. It seems from Acts, Timothy and Titus that these men were already providing care, nurturing and protecting the flock by the gifting of the Spirit ,who is the real protector of the church, and Timothy and Titus were “sent” or “left” to set aside in some form or fashion.

    Anyway I really like your thoughts and your model, but I disagree with one thing, maybe people “should” follow your example and stop recognizing elders the way they do :o)

    PS: Why are all the churches that are “elder led/ruled” have I never saw a man who flips burgers at McDonalds, or who works at Wal-Mart as a cashier, or a man who is a janitor , or a man who picks up trash as Elders. Every group of elders I have ever seen were well educated and great businessmen. I always wondered why.

  3. 7-14-2009

    Lionel,

    We can’t have men that work in the service industry as elders! That would be scandalous. Before you know it, church folk would be trying to emulate those elders. That could lead to all kinds of silliness. You might even end up with people trying to serve others.

    -jeff

  4. 7-14-2009

    Alan,

    I’m looking forward to finding out who the church understands that the Holy Spirit has called to be elders at Messiah.

    I also hope we can manage to visit sometime in the next few months.

    Eric

  5. 7-14-2009

    Mark,

    I think its impossible to recognize if someone is a good representative of the standards we see in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 without actually knowing the person and sharing our lives together for a while.

    Lionel,

    There were four men nominated last Sunday. One works for UPS and runs his own lawn service. Another is a helicopter mechanic. Another is in construction. And the fourth is the director of sports and activities for kids (similar to the YMCA).

    Jeff,

    I love your sarcasm. But, you know what? You’re right. It is difficult to have servants as leaders, because in order to follow them, we have to serve also.

    Eric,

    We would love to see you again. I think we’re going to be coming your way in October. I’ll talk to you about that later. Also, call me, and I’ll tell you about the four men.

    -Alan

  6. 7-14-2009

    It seems to me that a person “imported” from another city could not meet the qualifications of an elder (pastor, overseer, presbyter, bishop) until after the passing of considerable time (at least for months, maybe for more than a year). Some issues:

    1. They have no local reputation in the at-large community, but this is a requirement

    2. The saints have no way to determine their character/habits/lifestyle. You can test for knowledge in a few hours, but testing for character takes time and interaction.

    3. An elder has no “positional” authority (at least, it seems Jesus meant that to be verboten among the saints); he has only relational (personal) power. That must be earned over time and interaction in every day life and in a variety of situations.

    4. For these reasons, doesn’t it seem an elder can only come from within an assembly/church?

    5. Shouldn’t a man be “eldering” a good while before he is recognized as an elder? Recognition is that he HAS been made an elder, not WILL become one. The Holy Spirit did it, then afterwards men recognize/affirm it.

  7. 7-14-2009

    Art,

    I think I’ve come to the same conclusions.

    One question: if we consider 1 Tim 3 and Titus 1 to be “requirements”, then will anyone pass all of the requirements? I mean, is anyone “above reproach”?

    Because of that, I tend to think of them as standards, and the church should recognize those who best approach those standards.

    -Alan

  8. 7-15-2009

    Art said:

    “1. They have no local reputation in the at-large community, but this is a requirement”

    I once found myself as chair of a staff selection committee having to consider suggestion for criminal background checks by the local PD for a candidate who had spent time working in other states while at the same time praying for the Lord to guide us to “the right one He has called” (you know, out of those 15+ resumes we had of men “called” to leave their “family”). Part of our reputation check was going to be an out-of-state police computer. The prevailing logic is “we can’t be too careful”.

    Of course, being careful to follow Scripture was not considered. It would make things so much better for all concerned. Hiring a stranger was one of the defining events for me in questioning our practices as Southern Baptists and comparing them to Scripture. We were following protocol – the traditions of men.

    Another angle not usually considered in our Protestant upbringing: Can an elder lose his appointment?

  9. 7-15-2009

    Eric,

    You said, “Of course, being careful to follow Scripture was not considered.” That’s exactly what we’re considering. To be honest, it doesn’t make the process easier. But, it forces us to ask completely different questions.

    “Can an elder lose his appointment?” If an elder stops living a life that is a positive example of a Jesus follower, then he should no longer be recognized as an elder.

    -Alan

  10. 7-16-2009

    Hi Alan,
    I’ve been reading your website for a while now, and I really appreciate reading your entries. It sounds like you are a part of a wonderful expression of Jesus down there in NC.
    I was wondering what the practical reason for recognizing elders was at this point. I know that elders were recognized after the church was already functioning, and that sometimes it was quite a while after the church formed. How did the believers there decide that now is the time to appoint as opposed to any other time? Did you have some elders before and feel that the Holy Spirit was bringing out others? I was just wondering what some of the background info behind this was?

  11. 7-16-2009

    Rod,

    I wrote a post just over a year ago that explains my positions about the purpose of elders (pastors). The post is called “Are Pastors Good for Nothing?

    The main point is that while elders are responsible for teaching, caring, leading, etc., these responsibilities are not based on their being recognized as elders. In fact, all believers should be doing these same things. Instead, elders are recognized as those who actually do what everyone else should be doing. Thus, elders serve as an example to other believers in how to follow Jesus.

    -Alan

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