Prerequisites for Christian Leadership and Church Growth
Reverend Bryn MacPhail / August 18, 2002
The honeymoon was over for the early Church. The days of ease were quickly coming to an end. On the one hand, “the number of believers was increasing”(6:1), but on the other hand, the number of threats to the health of the Church was also on the rise.
Bible commentator, John Stott, describes the situation in terms of the devil’s plan of attack against the Church. Stott writes, “(this attack of the devil) was the cleverest of the three. Having failed to overcome the church by either persecution or corruption, he now tried distraction. If he could preoccupy the apostles with social administration . . . they would neglect their God-given responsibilities to pray and to preach, and so leave the church without any defence against false doctrine”(Stott, Acts, 120).
This new challenge for the early Church, we are told, arose in the form of “a complaint”(6:1). The Greek-speaking and the Hebrew-speaking members of the church were locked in a dispute over how the Grecian widows were being treated “in the daily serving of food”(6:1).
Surely language and culture played a role in this dispute; yet, nowhere does Luke suggest that this oversight was deliberate. And judging by the apostles’ solution, it is safe to infer that the cause of this oversight was likely poor administration.
As more imperfections of the early Church become manifest in the Book of Acts, it should be easier for us, at St. Giles Kingsway, to identify with them. The early Church was not a perfect Church, and neither are we. The health of the early Church was threatened by hypocrisy, and by internal complaining, and so is every church that I have ever known.
If then, we can identify with the challenges of the early Church, my prayer is that we could also identify with the resolutions of the early Church to solving their problems.
As with most disputes that occur in churches, there is nothing really substantial or theological in view, but some people have had their feelings hurt, and the apostles act quickly to rectify the situation.
Luke tells us that, “the twelve summoned the congregation” and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the Word of God in order to serve tables. But select from among you, seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the Word”(6:2-4).
It would be inaccurate to suggest that the apostles regarded administrative work as inferior to pastoral work. Clearly, what is in view here is the issue of calling. The apostles were called to “the ministry of the Word”, not to “serving tables”.
And we must not make the mistake of equating “serving tables” with the duties of a modern day ‘waiter’ or ‘busboy’. The task, which had distracted the apostles from their primary calling, of preaching and prayer, was the task of administration.
This is a problem for ministers in our day as well. Sometimes this is the fault of the minister, who wants to keep all things under their control, and sometimes it is the fault of the congregation, when they want the minister to function more like the CEO of a business.
What I suspect we’ll find, in our examination of the apostles’ resolution, is that their approach not only differed from the approach of a modern day business, but their approach differed from that of a modern day Presbyterian Church as well.
What would we do, what would St. Giles Kingsway do, in such a situation? Let’s take some time now, and examine the possible approaches to resolving to the apostles’ situation.
In some churches, individuals lodging such complaints would not even be given a hearing. Some church leaders would say them, ‘Be thankful for what you received’, and this kind of complaining would not even be tolerated. So, one alternative then, would be to ignore the complainers.
But sometimes the complainers are persistent. So what do we do in the Presbyterian Church when the complainers are persistent? What we do is, we outvote them. We call a meeting. We ask both sides to speak. We make a motion, being careful to follow both the Book of Forms and Robert’s Rules of Order. Then we end debate by calling for a vote, and the majority prevails. So, the second alternative is to outvote the dissenters.
Sometimes, however, it is not the complainers fault. Sometimes the complaint comes to us legitimately, as the result of some failure, or shortcoming, of the leadership. Some churches might conclude that having a minister who spends most of his time in the study with prayer and sermon preparation is of little use. There are more practical matters that need attention. Some churches will choose a third alternative, find a minister who is concerned primarily about ‘practical matters’.
Or, perhaps that is a bit too drastic. As Presbyterians, we are known for our moderation. A more moderate response then, our fourth alternative would be to form a committee.
In a sense this is what the apostles did, but I hesitate to call this group a committee because such a concept would have been foreign to the apostles.
It is my understanding that we have very functional committees at St. Giles Kingsway, but I think many of you know that this is not the norm. I once heard someone say that ‘if you want a good idea to die a slow death, send it to a committee’. The late James Boice had a sign in his office that read, ‘God so loved the world that He didn’t send a committee.’
In order to resolve the dispute between the Greek-speaking and the Hebrew-speaking church members regarding food distribution, the apostles brought this proposal to the congregation, “select from among you, seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task”(6:3).
Have a good look at those prerequisites. In a similar situation, what prerequisites would we at St. Giles Kingsway insist on? We would probably ask if there was anyone in the congregation who had experience in food distribution or administration. We would probably ask if there we any experts on ‘conflict management’ in our congregation. We would likely look for someone who had special skills in managing people. And, of course, to be politically correct, would have equal representation on the committee of Greek-speaking and Hebrew-speaking church members.
Yet, the apostles apparently counted none of these things as prerequisites for the job. The apostles were more concerned with the spiritual qualifications of those who would take on this task. The apostles wanted “men of good reputation”—What did they mean by that? They wanted individuals who were “full of the (Holy) Spirit and of wisdom”.
Forget that this was an administrative task. This was Christ’s Church; these were Christ’s beloved, and the apostles therefore counted it necessary to assign Spirit-filled individuals to this task.
There is much we can learn from this example when it comes to nominating individuals for our church committees and for our Kirk session. Now, I’m not suggesting that we ignore natural gifts, or that we altogether ignore the experience that individuals may have. What I’m saying, and what the apostles are saying, is that this must not be our primary criteria for choosing leaders. When it comes to choosing church leaders our first consideration must be spiritual qualifications, not worldly experience.
When the time arrives for our committees to nominate new members; when the time comes to ordain new Session members, what I will want to know is: ‘What is the current status of this person’s relationship with Jesus Christ? Is this individual committed to prayer? When they make decisions, will they be mindful of, and obedient to, what the Bible says?’
Now, someone will object, ‘Surely, these questions are better suited to a search for a minister. Why do we need a Spirit-filled person to do administrative tasks?’ We need Spirit-filled individuals in church leadership because that is what the Bible demands.
Luke tells us that this criteria “found approval with the entire congregation; and they choose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas”(6:5).
So much for equal representation of Greek-speaking and Hebrew-speaking individuals. All seven of the men appointed had Greek names. And so by choosing seven from the Greek-speaking contingent, the apostles were ensuring that the Greek widows would no longer be short-changed.
With these seven men looking after the administrative tasks, the apostles were enabled to concentrate on the ministry of the Word and prayer.
And what was the result? “The Word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith”(6:7).
The key to church growth cannot be found in a fancy formula. Church growth does not depend on employing clever individuals with worldly experience. Church growth is born out of the efforts of individuals who rely entirely on the Spirit of God for wisdom and success. And church growth is directly related to the spread of the Gospel.
We have some work to do. And, perhaps the first work for us to do is a paradigm shift. The Church is not a business, though there are some similarities in the way we operate. The Church is not a social club, though fellowship is very important to us. And the Church is not a relief agency, though we care a great deal about the plight of the poor.
The Church are those people who have been set apart, by God, to live for the glory of God. Our leaders must therefore be in step with the Spirit of God. We must be committed to God’s Word, and to the spread of God’s Word. For then, and only then, will we see this church grow to the glory of God. Amen.