An Alabama brother asks whether church elders serve for life or for a lesser term. “What if a candidate insists on binding his opinions on others? Can that disqualify him, or must there be a moral reason? Can one objector prevent a candidate’s appointment? How can an unqualified elder be removed?”
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The man who is self-willed, hungry for power, demanding and harsh is not the proper person to serve in the capacity of shepherd (pastor), overseer (bishop) or elder. Those are “moral” issues — as certainly as lying, stealing or adultery. How much agreement must there be in appointing them? Certainly a general consensus of the congregation, at the least, and I would not be surprised if God gave near unity of thought in answer to common, extended, fervent prayer. That is all the more likely if we ask the right question — such as, “to whom would you instinctively look as a moral example, family role model, teacher, spiritual helper and guide?”
The selection of elders should be left to the whole church, not to a self-perpetuating eldership, or to the preacher only. In making the selection, I would not give “veto” power to a tiny minority, especially if they do not represent the most mature, involved, and spiritual-minded of the group.
Our own congregation elects members of its pastoral team for a term period. At the end of a staggered term, each person rotates off the team, and must remain out for at least one year. After that, someone may be re-elected, but it is not automatic, and we have had some members whom we decided not to re-elect. I commend this system — which builds a good pool of leaders without wearing out any. It also helps remind us all that we are not federal judges with life appointments, but members serving at the call of the church for a few years, perhaps over and over again.
God has given us only very general principles along these lines, to which we may add pious judgment and our best discerning of the Spirit’s guidance in each particular situation. Some churches have had sad histories involving harsh or dictatorial leadership, to be sure, but there are also fine role models which demonstrate the godly exercise of this important pastoral ministry.