Leadership Selection in the New Testament

Acts 1:15-26

There are several truths in the New Testament regarding leadership appointment:

  1. Church leadership was never determined by democracy. Leaders were chosen by other leaders and approved by the communities they were part of, but never voted on.
  2. Local church communities were sometimes invited to be part of the process of choosing leaders, but leaders oversaw the process.
  3. Leaders were given time to emerge organically before they were appointed.
  4. Leaders are anointed by God and appointed by people.

The normal pattern in the New Testament was for proven leaders from outside a local church community to recognize the gifts of leadership in others and publicly appoint them. Jesus did this with His apostles (Luke 6:12), as did Paul in the churches he planted (Acts 14:21-23). Because those who are gifted as apostles are the ones who most often pioneer new churches, it is the apostles who most often appointed local church leaders (by apostles we do not mean people who held an office called “apostleship” but those who functioned as pioneering church planters).

There is no example in the New Testament of local church elders or trans-local apostles, prophets or evangelists being chosen by election. God worked primarily through the principle of existing leaders appointing other leaders. For example, Paul sent Titus to appoint leaders in the churches in Crete (Titus 1:5). At the Jerusalem council (Acts 15), it was the apostles and elders who came together to judge the dispute between the churches. And it was a senior amongst them, James the apostle, who led this very important gathering.

What qualifies leaders to appoint other leaders? It is a person’s spiritual gift, their trust relationship with the church or movement, their maturity, and their experience in doing the work of ministry that qualified them to recognize and appoint other leaders.

Leaders tend to appoint leaders who carry the same spiritual “DNA”, i.e., the same values. This is important because it allows the vision and passion of a leader to be imparted to others (see Romans 15:15-21 – Paul did not want to “build on another man’s foundation”). It might seem contradictory to believe that it is the New Testament pattern for leaders to appoint leaders and at the same time advocate organic church planting movements, but I believe that this pattern of leaders appointing leaders is a recognition of the truth that God wants there be a DNA transfer from church to church by those who are evangelizing and pioneering among the churches. The type of leadership we are speaking of is not positional or hierarchical leadership, but organic apostolic leadership. People who take initiative to start new churches by leading people to Christ are quite naturally accepted by others are their leaders. Those who are fathers and mothers in the Lord, who create family and who have spiritual sons and daughters they have led to faith in Christ, are naturally leading the way.

The practice of leaders of appointing leaders also creates accountability between churches through proven men and women who exercise one of the leadership “equipping” gifts described by Paul in Ephesians 4. As apostles and teachers and shepherds and prophets and evangelists move between church communities they are able to provide needed wisdom so the churches don’t become isolated or subject to false doctrine. In other words, there is a need from outside a local church community for help in discerning who qualifies to serve as elders inside the local church community, especially in the beginning stages of the life of a new church. It is those with one of the five gifts of equipping leadership that are able to discern others with the same gifts as themselves.

Scripture passages that reinforce the Biblical truth of leaders appointing leaders:

  • The apostles chose another apostle – Acts 1:26
  • When there was a need for some admin help in the early church, the apostles oversaw the process of selection and appointment of these leaders – Acts 6:1-6
  • Jesus modeled the truth of leaders appointing leaders: He chose apostles from among his disciples to be leaders among them – Luke 6:12
  • The elders oversaw the distribution of goods to the poor among them – Acts 11:30
  • When their was a dispute, it was the apostles and elders that functioned as representatives of the people that judged the matter, and an apostle among them, James, who chaired the gathering – Acts 15:4, 16:4
  • At the end of his life, Paul called for the elders of a church to come together – Acts 20:17ff
  • When there were problems in the church in Crete, Paul sent Titus to set things in order and to appoint elders – Titus 1:5

It is interesting to note that after they had cast lots for Matthias and he was numbered with the eleven apostles, we never hear about Matthias again. There is no reason given in the New Testament why this is true. We can speculate that Peter got ahead of the Lord in appointing someone, or that it was the method of casting lots that failed them, or simply that Matthias was a quiet man of God who served humbly in the background. We don’t know why this is the way it is, and it would be a mistake to speculate from silence of the Scriptures as to why it is so.