With charge conference around the corner, I’ve been working on my nominations plan for the fall. And as I’ve done so, I’ve found myself pondering the following passage:
“Choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the Word.” – Acts 6:3-4
I’ve always been intrigued by Acts 6:1-7. For starters, it’s the first real conflict in the early church. Sure, there have been disagreements before this, but this is the first real high-tension conflict in the church.
Church members come to the Apostles “grumbling” about a perceived problem in the church. Apparently, the Apostles had promised that the widows in the church would be taken care of to some degree. At the very least, they seem to have committed to provide at least one solid meal a day for each Christian widow.
You can sense the tension and anger as accusations are made that not all of the widows are getting what was promised. Some widows are falling through the cracks. What’s more, there’s a pattern to this neglect. It’s mostly the Hellenistic widows who are being overlooked. That is, it’s the Greek-speaking, non-native to Israel, more-Roman-than-not group that’s getting passed over.
And it’s more than implied that this pattern of neglect was on purpose. ‘Those darn Hebraic Christians have done this on purpose. Those staunch conservatives never have liked us Hellenists, and this is their way of getting back at us.’
It’s enough to give me stress two-thousand years after the fact. Every pastor can identify with the Apostles’ problem here. This is touchy stuff. People’s grandmothers are at stake here. What they decide to do matters.
And yet, it’s what they do that fascinates me.
The first part is wise, but expected. They delegate. The Apostles recognize the church has grown too fast for them and they are overcommitted. They need to pass on this responsibility to others who can give it their full attention.
What’s more, they let the people choose these new leaders. And it’s not to be missed that each of these seven men has an obviously Greek name. Every one of them from Stephen to Nicolas is a Hellenist. There is wisdom in this.
However, what gets me are the qualifications they set. One in particular. They are to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.
Okay, wisdom I get. That makes sense.
But full of the Holy Spirit? That gives me pause. Why full of the Holy Spirit? Why is that a necessary prerequisite?
Perhaps I’m wrong here, but it sounds like the Apostles are saying that these seven new leaders need to be deeply spiritual men. They are to be uniquely marked by the Spirit of God as godly, holy, righteous people.
That’s fine, I suppose. But what does that have to do with their job? Note, they are not supposed to be preachers. They’re not going to be leading worship or teaching Sunday School. They’re going to be distributing food to widows.
Forgive me, but that’s a highly administrative job, is it not? It’s not a deeply spiritual task. It’s mostly management. They’ll be gathering supplies, organizing volunteers, and implementing food programs. So why do they need to be uniquely spiritual?
In essence, if I’m hearing it right (and I may not), the Apostles have just told the church to fill a highly administrative task by looking for the most godly, holy people they can find.
Before you yawn at that, consider for a moment how that logic would impact nominations in the local church. When was the last time you went looking for a church treasurer and said that the most important thing was her prayer life?
In a treasurer or a finance chair I’m looking for someone with a background in accounting and finance, right? Balancing the checkbook is highly important. Being deeply spiritual is nice, but not necessary.
I mean, that’s like choosing a plumber based on how often he goes to church. I’m really more interested in whether or not he can fix the leak. That he is an exemplary Christian is nice, but it’s hardly the most important thing. I want practical, real world skills. Piety and godliness are luxuries.
But not according to Peter and the Apostles. They take the exact opposite view, it would seem. To them, piety and godliness are the essentials. Practical, real world skills are nice, but they can be learned later. Holiness is simply non-negotiable. Fixing the leak, balancing the budget – that we’ll teach as we go.
In essence, the Secret Ingredient to Leadership in the Bible is holiness and piety. Find the most spiritual, godly person you can. Everything else is secondary.
I wonder, how would our local churches look if we followed this advice? How would it change our business meetings? How would it alter our decision-making process?
I suspect we would be a radically different church. Well-trained professionals choose what’s pragmatic, what makes business sense. They don’t always choose what God is calling us to do. They don’t always take the next step in faithful obedience to God. Faith isn’t always practical.
Whereas spiritual, godly leaders act just the opposite. Faithfulness trumps pragmatism every time. If God is calling, we must follow. The right thing to do, the godly thing to do isn’t always practical on the surface. Faithful obedience will make practical sense later on.
If we chose more leaders like the latter than the former, how much healthier would our churches be? How much more vibrant? How much more evangelistic and missional?
Looks like I may have to scrap my nominations plan for the fall and start all over. What about you?