How We Choose Our Elders
By Ron Kastens
When I arrived in October 2001, CrossWay Christian Church was still a very young church and I was able to help shape our elder process, role, and culture. I am grateful to the fellow elders with whom I have served during my time at CrossWay. One of the things I am most pleased with is our process for selecting new elders.
When I was growing up, and during college, it seemed many churches selected elders by simple nomination and secret ballot vote. Yet as I read the New Testament, I see no example of this in the early church. For a movement that prides itself in restoring New Testament Christianity, it seems many churches select leaders based on the pattern of American democracy more than Scripture.
The Bible does not say much about how to identify new elders. As we studied the New Testament at CrossWay, it seemed to us that existing church leaders in the early church appointed elders (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). We felt the silence of the Scriptures on details left us free to craft a reasonable process. But we believed, in the end, the responsibility of identifying new elders rested with the existing church leaders.
Our desire was for the process to provide opportunities for our leaders to discern the leading of God about who should join the elder team. The entire process lasts about six months.
It begins with a 30-day period in which people in our congregation may nominate individuals for consideration as elder. The nominator is asked to first approach the potential nominee to ask him to pray about the proposed nomination. After a time of prayer, if he is comfortable with his name being submitted, then he is nominated.
After the nomination, the candidate is interviewed by a team of leaders from our church. This team usually includes a couple of existing elders and two or three small group leaders. The candidate is given a list of 25 questions that serve as the base for the interview, although follow-up questions are always asked. The questions focus on the candidate’s walk with God; his fit with CrossWay’s doctrine, mission, values, and strategy; his service in the church; and his family, work, and community life.
After the interview, if the team feels the candidate should continue in the elder process, he moves on to the next step. If the team decides the person should not continue, we sit down with him to explain our concerns. We desire that there be no misunderstandings, even as we discuss possible areas in which he can grow. When an elder candidate is merely voted down with secret ballots, there is no openness and transparency. There is no possibility for growth. The candidate knows only that he was voted down.
When a candidate moves forward in our process, the next step involves a period of training with our existing elders. This is a six- to eight-week process where we try to assess the candidate and his chemistry with our elder team. Is the candidate a good listener? Does he respect the views of others? Does he need to be right? It is important that any new elder be a good fit, as our eldership is a small group and we do things by consensus.
If the candidate moves on, after the period of training, the next step for a married candidate is an interview with him and his wife. An elder’s wife is crucial to the success of his ministry. If she is not careful, she can, even inadvertently, sabotage his effectiveness in ministry. In addition, we want to hear why she respects his leadership and why she feels he would make a good elder.
If things are still on track after this interview, we go back to our congregation. We say, “The elders are recommending that John Doe join our team and serve as an elder here. The people of CrossWay have 30 days to raise a concern about John serving as an elder. A person who questions a nomination can either go to John directly and discuss the concern with him or sit down with John and an existing elder to discuss the concern.” If no concerns are raised or substantiated during this time, the candidate is appointed by our existing elders to serve CrossWay as an elder.
This process provides an opportunity for the current leadership to listen to the congregation while maintaining the responsibility of selecting new elders for the church. The process is slow and drawn out, which gives plenty of opportunity to discern God’s guidance.
While I am sure the process is not perfect, it has served us well these last nine years, both in the new elders we have selected and the other candidates who grew through the process.
Ron Kastens serves as lead pastor with CrossWay Christian Church in Nashua, New Hampshire.