Paulo Pinheiro is editor of the Portuguese edition of Elder’s Digest.


When choosing His leaders, Jesus used the same principle that God used when choosing a king for ancient Israel. In Samuel 16:7, we read that “the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, . . . For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’” In her book The Desire of Ages, Ellen G. White explains that Jesus completely ignored the secular notions always observed when choosing people for offices or representative functions. Most of the disciples were common people with no formal education and no apparent talent for leadership. But Jesus called them, instructed them, and enabled them with power (pages 295-297).

After Pentecost, the disciples assumed leadership of the church as an extension of Jesus’ ministry. From this perspective, they also became God’s agents in the calling process (Matt. 18:18), whose only objective was to proclaim the virtues of He who “called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

With the expansion of their ministry, the apostles realized that more people were needed for the administration of the church’s activities, first in Jerusalem (Acts 6:2, 3) and later in other places (Acts 14:23). The Bible makes it clear that God is the One who calls His servants, “according to His own purpose” (2 Tim. 1:9). He calls believers to take over offices, perform missionary services, and support the ministry, giving them diverse gifts for the fulfillment of the call. The church of Corinth is mentioned in the Bible as a model of this procedure (1 Cor. 12:27-30).

The conviction that God is the One who calls “according to His own purpose” is reinforced by Paul in his introductions to the epistles (1 Cor. 1:1; 2 Cor. 2:1; Gal. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:1; and 2 Tim. 1:1).


The people called by Jesus to be part of the body of discipleship immediately left their businesses to accept the call. Levi Matthew is one example. “As [Jesus] passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ So he arose and followed Him” (Mark 2:14).

The same disposition to answer the call was seen in Paul, according to his own report to the Galatians: “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood” (Gal. 1:15, 16).

While biblical evidences are clear that prophets were called in the Old Testament and apostles and missionaries were called in the New Testament, Paul says that “if a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work” (1 Tim. 3:1). This statement suggests that each person is free to make his or her decision as to whether to be a church elder, apart from God’s call.

The Bible gives no indication that the desire to assume the office of elder automatically qualifies one for such office. In 1 Timothy 3:1, we read that to desire such office is an “excellent” thing. The immediate context of this verse only presents restrictions for possible candidates for eldership instead of encouraging the ambition for such office. 

The concepts given in Deuteronomy 18:20; Jeremiah 23:30; Isaiah 6; and Jeremiah 1:4-10 reinforce the position that God is the One who elects and calls His messengers. In the New Testament we see this same principle in Acts 10:28 and Colossians 4:17.

Those called to be elders should feel a strong confidence that God has called them and given them gifts for the job. Erwin Lutzer describes the unfolding of the call as “an interior conviction given by the Holy Spirit, which is confirmed by the Word of God and by the body of Christ” (The Call to Pastoral Ministry, 133).

Ellen G. White does not see the call as an experience limited to some believers but as an opportunity given to all who have surrendered themselves to Christ: “Every son and daughter of God is called to be a missionary; we are called to the service of God and our fellow men; and to fit us for this service should be the object of our education” (The Ministry of Healing, 395). Through the prism that the call is for a missionary and not for an office or specific place, there is an indication that any child of God (i.e., all who are living in harmony with the Scripture and the Church) may minister in the way best suited to their gifts. “Seeing that all believers are called to be ministers of God, all become evangelists in one way or the other” (Elder’s Guide, 76). However, not all are called to become elders.


The Bible does not present systematic instruction about the procedures for the election of elders; it suggests norms regarding how they should be nominated for their sacred posts (Acts 14:21-23). One consideration is that they cannot nominate themselves.

“As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’” (Acts 13:2). This is a biblical quote that involves the God that calls, the people who are called, and the church that confirms the call. Although the primary origin of the call is restricted to God, the rendering of the call depends on the individuals called as much as on the church, [which] recognizes the gifts of the elders for leadership and elects them as officers” (Elder’s Guide, 24). Usually, two aspects of the call are considered: the inner call, which is the call for the individual in particular; and the exterior call, which is the confirmation of God’s call to a person, through the local assembly of believers.

There are some questions you may ask to ascertain whether you are indeed qualified for the office of elder:

• Do others recognize my gifts and abilities in this area?
• Have other people requested me to serve in activities of leadership?
• Have others encouraged me to preach and teach?
• Has someone suggested my name to be church elder?
• Do I feel God is leading me in that direction?

Serving as church elder is a significant responsibility. It requires a call from God and a deep spiritual commitment. In choosing those to serve as elders, church leaders should study the biblical principles and examples with much prayer so that God may be honored by those who serve.

Paulo Pinheiro is editor of the Portuguese edition of Elder’s Digest.