Background to the study
Getting the right person in the right place is one of the greatest challenges of leadership. We could look at the selection of leaders from a human resources position and examine resumes or CVs.
Servant leaders certainly can use these resources, but they also want their selections to follow God’s direction. Many will point to the early church to validate their preferred style for choosing leaders as the ‘biblical’ style and the best approach. But what does Acts teach servant leaders about the correct method of choosing leaders?
There are at least four distinct ways leaders were chosen in the early church. We have already examined “divine commission” and “popular selection” as different ways leaders were chosen in the early church. But here is another way. “21They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. ‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,’ they said. 23 Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust” (Acts 14:21-23).
In this situation, Paul and Barnabas as the church leader appointed elders in each church. Let’s reflect on this kind of leadership appointment.
The process of choosing by leadership appointment. The process used by Paul and Barnabas seems quite simple, they just “appointed elders” in these churches. It does not appear that they asked for input from the church members and they did not hold an election. However, they did include “prayer and fasting” as a part of this process.
Servant leaders learn from their example that when choosing leaders this way it is helpful to seek God’s direction. Servant leaders do not use this method to put their friends or family members in leadership roles. They use this method as an act of service to those who will be under the newly appointed leaders. When servant leaders use this process in the marketplace, they are careful to consider the impact of their decision on those who will follow.
The power of choosing by leadership appointment. There are several advantages of choosing leaders by appointment. It is a simple method and can be done quickly if there is an urgent need for action. In some situations, the leader doing the appointing may have a better assessment of the person’s gifts, calling, and capacity than those who are following.
In the case of these churches, Paul and Barnabas may have realized the level of maturity in the new believers was not yet strong enough to choose the right leaders. So, this method may be an advantage in a young group. The leaders who were chosen in this way had the clear support of Paul and Barnabas, the founders of the church, and would be seen as their representatives.
Servant leaders learn from this example to carefully consider the gifts and calling of an individual and to seek God’s guidance before taking any action. Then they confidently appoint leaders for the good of all.
The pitfalls of choosing by leadership appointment. While there seems to be no problem with the appointments made by Paul and Barnabas, this approach needs to be used with caution. The power to appoint with no input from others can feed a leader’s ego and lead to bad appointments. Leaving people out of the process may work in some situations but in other contexts will result in resentment towards the leader chosen. And the loyalty of the appointed leader may be more towards the person who appointed them instead of a commitment to serve those under them.
Servant leaders wisely avoid the pitfalls of leadership appointments. Like Paul and Barnabas, they seek direction from God and appoint a team instead of individuals. They don’t allow this to be the only way leaders are ever selected.
Servant leaders see the option of choosing by leadership appointment as one of the ways God can direct the building of their team. But they also recognize that there are times that God will lead them to choose another method. In the next issue, we’ll look at the last method of choosing leaders.
Election within the Bible is the notion that God favors some individuals and groups over others, an idea that finds fullest expression in the Hebrew Bible’s affirmation, supported in the New Testament, that Israel is God’s chosen people. Election/chosenness is quite pervasive in the Hebrew Bible as evidenced by the recurring sibling rivalry stories in Genesis in which one sibling is specially favored. God’s granting Israel special status entailed both unmerited privilege as well as an expectation of a proper human response toward God. Genesis 18:19 states, “I have chosen him [Abraham], that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; so that the Lord may bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” Similarly, Exodus 19:5–6 proclaims: “Now then, if you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples.” Election is related to Israel’s status as a “holy nation” (e.g., Deut 14:2, “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; it is you the Lord has chosen out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession”), and is grounded in an act of divine love and faithfulness to the divine promise (Deut 7:6–9).