But I object to the assumption that only aged, senior citizen types should fill the role of an “elder”. True, that an aged-in-years condition once was and still is a common feature of elders serving in the church, but it is never considered a REQUIREMENT in scripture. Otherwise, Timothy himself would never have been ordained by Paul.
The question is whether the concept of advanced age is inherent in the word presbuteros.
In I Timothy 5, the NIV tells Timothy not to rebuke an older man. Another translation says not to rebuke an elder. This is presbuteros. In context, Paul goes on to discuss how to treat a certain group of older women-- widows over 60, how to 'honor' or provide for them. Then he goes back to the topic of elders, (older men?), that the elders who rule well are worthy of double honor.
Where does scripture ever call Timothy an elder? What I see about Timothy is that it seems that Paul includes him among the 'apostles of Christ' and tells him to do the work of an evangelist.
I Thessalonians 1:1 tells us this epistle is written by Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy.
We read in I Thessalonians chapter 2.
6 Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ
7 But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children:
In Acts 13, the Holy Spirit spoke and told the prophets and teachers to separate Barnabas and Saul for the work to which He had called them. With prayer and fasting, they laid hands on them and separated them. Acts 14:4 refers to them both...for the first time in Acts... as 'apostles.' Neither had been referred to as an 'apostle' before this in this book. Verse 14 calls them 'apostles' again.
Timothy had a gift that was given to him by prophecy (compare to the Spirit speaking regarding Barnabas and Saul) with the laying on of hands of the elders (compare to the prophets and teachers laying hands on Barnabas and Saul.) We do not know what this particular gift was, but it could have related to his ministry.
Whether Timothy's role in appointing elders was rooted in his own role as being among the 'apostles of Christ' or whether he was an operating as an extension of Paul's ministry, every case of appointing of elders we see in the New Testament involved the ministry of an apostle doing so.
Was Timothy an evangelist? The idea that he was has oft been repeated in the Restoration Movement. Tradition considers him to have been a bishop, but we do not see this appellation applied to him in scripture. The KJV translators call him a bishop in the title, but my understanding is that this is not really a part of the text of scripture. In the late 1800's, the letters to Timothy and Titus came to be called 'the pastorals'. And probably because of this, many evangelical preachers will say that Timothy was 'a pastor.'
I even read in one book that Timothy was not an evangelist, but was called to 'Do the work of an evangelist'--even though his ministry gift was not evangelist. I thought that was a strange comment. Many preachers, reading I Timothy, assume that Timothy's role was that of a senior pastor, and that the elders were his board elders. From reading scripture, though, Timothy was an itinerant minister, going around with Paul to preach...as in evangelize those who had not believed the message yet... and was also sent back to encourage and strengthen new believers.
Timothy may have been included among those who were 'fathers' to the Corinthians when Paul wrote that they had many teachers, but not many fathers, for in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he had become their father. As co-author of II Corinthians, it stands to reason that he shared a measure of rule in the church in Corinth with Paul, when they wrote in chapter 10 that they ('we') had a measure of rule that extended to the Corinthians.
So evangelical pastors should not think of him as a 'senior pastor'. The Restoration Movement concept of 'evangelist' should also be re-examined. Many in the churches which bear the labels Church of Christ and Christian Church relabelled the Protestant 'pastor' role as 'evangelist'.
Scripture indicates that Timothy was one of 'the apostles of Christ'-- a broader category than the twelve apostles. The apostles mentioned in Ephesians 4 were given after the ascension, though the twelve were appointed before it, after all. Scripture tells him to do the work of an evangelist, without telling us whether he was one or not.
Any apostle travelling with Paul and doing his type of ministry would have been doing evangelistic work. So we might say that Paul, Barnabas, and Silas also did the work of an evangelist. But as apostles, they had broader responsibilities. Is appointing elders the work of an apostle or an evangelist? Since apostles always had a hand in appointing elders, it does not stand to reason that it must be the work of evangelists.
Consider the one man actually referred to clearly as 'the evangelist' in scripture. There is no evidence of Philip appointing elders. He preached, did signs, cast out demons, baptized, and left. He left imparting the Spirit to the apostles. He probably left further establishing of the churches to the apostles, too.
Timothy was still a young man when ordained, because Paul cautioned him in I Timothy 4:12, “Let no man despise THY YOUTH, but be thou an example of the believers...Neglect not the gift that is in thee which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.” (the eldership - presbyteriou)
One necessary feature of an elder was not the amount of years they had been alive, but on the years they had already given testimony of being a faithful believer. In other words, they were to be “NOT A NOVICE” in the faith (I Tim. 3:6), but of a mature spiritual character, which had already been proved by their living a consistent example of holiness for a few years.
I believe Paul provides the example of just how many years that should be by his THREE YEARS of training in Arabia by God Himself before God commissioned him to be the “Apostle to the Gentiles”.
Jesus Himself also went through a similar pattern of a THREE YEAR novitiate period after His AD 27 baptism before He ever launched His public ministry in AD 30 by selecting His 12 disciples and by performing His first miracle at Cana (John 2:11). Significantly, that training period for His disciples lasted for a similar 3-1/2 years before Christ at His ascension sent them into all the world to preach the gospel and make disciples.
So I would say that the biblical pattern seems to be at the least about THREE YEARS of consistent Christian testimony before a person can be recognized by an assembly as having the characteristics of an elder among them.
In Timothy 5:1-2, Paul recognizes 4 categories of those acting as overseers in the church, with instructions for how Timothy (serving as an elder among them) was to exhort each one of those 4 types of overseers.
#1) Those aged-in-years men acting as overseers (presbytero) were to be exhorted by Timothy as he would his father.
#2) Those young-in-years men acting as overseers (neoterous) were to be exhorted by Timothy as he would his brother.
#3) Those aged-in-years women acting as overseers (presbyteras) were to be exhorted by Timothy as he would his mother.
#4) Those young-in-years women acting as overseers (neoteras) were to be exhorted by Timothy as he would his sister, with an emphasis on purity.
As a final instruction on Timothy’s interpersonal dealings with elders of all ages and both genders, Paul told Timothy to “observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality.” Timothy was not to be prejudiced against or to show favoritism for an overseer of any age or either gender.
If Paul had ONLY wanted to refer to the AGE FACTOR of believing men and women in the church in I Timothy 5:1-2, there are other Greek words more specific that he would have used. He would have used the same word for an “older man” (a “presbutes”) that John’s father Zechariah called Himself in Luke 1:18.
Or Paul would have used “presbytas”, which refers to an aged-in-years man in Titus 2:2. Or he would have used “presbytidas”, meaning an aged-in-years woman in Titus 2:3. But he used none of these terms for age in I Timothy 5:1-2. He used “presbytero” and “presbyteras” instead, which carries the additional meaning of these men and women being overseers in the assembly - not just senior citizens in the church.
But as for the original post’s question, “How are elders appointed to the assembly today?”...
There should be no difference in the manner an elder comes to be serving in an assembly today from the way this was done in the early church. God gives gifts to those upon whom He chooses to bestow them. Just as Christ once told His disciples in John 15:16 (YLT), “Ye did not choose out me, but I chose out you, and DID APPOINT YOU, that ye might go away, and might bear fruit” (new believers in Christ as disciples), “and your fruit might remain, that whatever ye may ask of the Father in my name, He may give you.”
To begin with, Christ appointed 12 disciples to be personally trained by Him for 3-1/2 years, who then passed the torch to others (just as Paul did later with Timothy), that would be able to teach others also who had the reputation of being faithful (II Timothy 2:2).
If an assembly is functioning and growing in a healthy manner as it should, then there should be those who, after a few years of instruction, will be showing evidence that God has gifted them also to labor in the word and doctrine, and who have maintained holiness on a personal level. The church should easily be able to recognize those exhibiting such characteristics, and from their number, to appoint those willing to be overseers among themselves.
Those overseers suspected of overt sin while serving are not to be accused unless there are at least two or three witnesses who can give evidence of that sin before the assembly. If found guilty, that overseer is then rebuked before all the assembly, that others who are also overseers may fear (I Timothy 5:19-20). In other words, that original appointment to be an overseer is NOT A LIFETIME RIGHT to be claimed, but is to be faithfully maintained as an example to the assembly, in order to remain in that role.