The way I've always seen it, leaders are to be chosen first, and then appointed as leaders. I guess this could be compared to an inauguration. The biblical leadership model in my mind, was in some ways an indirect democracy insofar as the people choosing their leaders.

The confusion I had thought I saw was that the "choosing" and "appointment" were mixed up, and therefore church leaders choose and appoint leaders themselves.

The only New Testament scripture I can go by is Acts 6 and Acts 14. Acts 6 mentions both the selection and appointment, however Acts 14 just discusses the appointment. Many leaders I know just go by Acts 14.

Here are the scriptures I'm referring to:

Acts 6:2-6

2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, "It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." 5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.

And Acts 14:23

And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

There's a good article about it here which discusses the verbs used.

My question is, what does the Bible tell us about the way leaders were chosen in the early church?

  • 3
    In the Old Testament, God chose. I don't think Abraham, Moses, Jonah, or Jeremiah had any special training. Jonah tried to run away from his calling. Jeremiah complained loudly in prayer. Sometimes, I think the best way to pick a pastor would be to pick the one that would run away from the calling. :-) May 29, 2012 at 13:48

2 Answers 2


While the New Testament does not give complete details about the selection process, the role of other leaders is much more clearly documented than the role of congregations, at least in the appointment of elders.

Acts 6, by contrast, involves the selection of servant leaders, known in most churches today as deacons. The Apostles were too busy to "serve tables", so they asked the congregation to select seven men "to this duty". These men were not appointed elders (although at least one, Stephen, did later do some preaching.) The Apostles laid their hands on these servants, possibly as a blessing (see, e.g., Genesis 48:14-20) or a commission (see, e.g., Numbers 27:22-23).

Acts 14 specifically refers to the appointment of elders.

Although Dr. Perkins goes to great lengths (in your linked article) to show that the Greek verb in Acts 14:23 can be used of either appointment or election, the footnote from Alexander Strauch still stands:

the point is, cheirotoneo can mean to elect or appoint. The context, not the etymology, determines its meaning. The context [Acts 14:23] is perfectly clear that appoint is the only possible meaning here.

The phrase, "they had appointed elders for them in every church", can only reasonably be interpreted that Paul and Barnabas chose the elders for the churches. As to whether Paul and Barnabas sought input from the congregations, we are not told.

Elsewhere in the New Testament, we see Titus being chosen by Paul to appoint elders:

I left you behind in Crete for this reason, so that you should put in order what remained to be done, and should appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.—Titus 1:5

Again, we are not told (nor is Titus, for that matter) how much input Titus should receive from the congregation; however, since the qualifications for the office were listed in the private letter to Titus, it seems likely that the opinions of the congregation would not carry much weight.

So although congregations may have had some input into the selection of their elders, the New Testament is only clear in stating that elders were appointed by other church leaders.

  • It just seems quite crazy that out entire basis for appointing elders nowadays is based on pretty much Acts 14 alone, but that's what we do by faith. In addition, "cheirotoneo" seems to only be used in one other place, 2 Corinthians 8:16-19, but I can't tell if it's being appointed to travel with, or appointed as some kind of leader. May 30, 2012 at 14:57
  • @Kezzer: That's not the entire basis. The practical experience of the early church also played a role. Early gnostic heretics like Valentinus and Marcion were notable for claiming their own authority. But 2nd century bishop Irenaeus was able to show his teachings had been handed down to him through the generations, going back in a direct line all the way to Jesus and the apostles, simply because bishops were appointed by other bishops. May 30, 2012 at 17:17

Acts 6 pretty clearly says that the congregation choose the leaders. Acts 6:2-3 'Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, '... Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation ...'" The apostles told the congregation that the congreation should choose these men. We are not told whether this was done with a formal vote or what the process was. After they were chosen, the apostles prayed for them and laid hands on them, which perhaps indicated that they were confirming the congregation's choice. I don't know what would have happenned if the apostles had decided that the congregation made a bad choice. Would they have said, "No, these men aren't qualified"? Or would they have accepted the bad choice?

Acts 14 and Titus 1 indicates that the missionaries (Paul, Titus) appointed leaders for the new churches.

I can't find any other accounts in the New Testament at the moment of new leaders being chosen that give any indication of the process. It's certainly possible that I'm missing some.

There's an important difference between the circumstances in Acts 6 and those in Acts 14 and Titus 1. In Acts 6 we are talking about an established church, while the other two references are about new churches. One could argue that a group of new believers in a church that has just been organized would not be qualified to select leaders. If the church hasn't even been organized yet, there would be no way to hold a vote, as we don't even know who the members are. In such cases, even people with the greatest dedication to democracy would have to concede that you need some leaders to get things started before you can start holding elections.

In any case, Americans love the forms of democracy, like voting, but there's a big difference between a church and a government. If you don't like the leadership of your church and there is no mechanism to replace them, you can go across town to another church, or start your own church. If you don't like the leadership of your government and there is no mechanism to replace them, about the only thing you can do is move to another country. Businesses are not normally democratic in the sense that the employees get together and elect one of their members to be the boss. The boss is the guy who started the company, or who bought it or inherited it. But businesses (in a capitalist society, anyway) are extremely democratic in that if you don't like the way a company is run, you can quit anytime you like and go work for somebody else or start your own business. Churches could be run the same way without trampling anyone's freedom.

  • Dang, very thought provoking! Jun 2, 2012 at 15:32

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