The early church’s selection of deacons gives us important principles for sound church leadership. In yesterday’s study we looked at the first principle, which was a division of responsibility.
2. A plurality of leadership. The second important principle in this story is a plurality of leadership. (“Not one, but rather a group of you will be responsible.”)
I have in my office somewhere a sign somebody gave me some years ago that says, “God so loved the world that he didn’t send a committee.” I can understand what it means. Committees are inefficient, indecisive and slow. We think how much better it would be just to do away with them and get the job done quickly. Well, sometimes that may be necessary. But the problem is that the directions taken are often wrong or unbalanced, and this is what a plurality of leadership corrects. The gifts of Christ to the entire body are needed to correct such imbalances. It is significant that in the New Testament the Holy Spirit never seemed to have led anyone to appoint merely one elder or one bishop in a place. It is always elders (plural) or bishops (plural). It is an important point.
3. Spiritual qualifications. The third principle for sound church leadership is suggested in the instruction given to the people before the election. The apostles said, “Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit of wisdom” (v. 3). These words point not to administrative skills or abilities but to spiritual qualifications.
When a congregation chooses a pastor, it usually knows that it is supposed to choose him on the basis of his spiritual qualities. At least that is what everybody says. The trouble is that when you talk to the people afterward, you often find that the real reasons they chose him were quite different. Some liked the wave in his hair, if he had any. Or they liked his smile or his jokes. Some liked the tone of his voice. Or they admired his educational background. Others found his family attractive. What a mistake this is! The church, above all institutions, should know to choose leaders on the basis of Christian character and spiritual maturity.
This is a striking point in the choice of these first deacons. The job they were being chosen for was to distribute food to the widows. If we were doing this today, many would say, “We might run short of supplies in this work. What we need are men who have private resources. Then, if the food runs short, they can supply the need out of their own pockets. Or, if we don’t have people like that, we need people who know the stock market and can invest the meager resources we have wisely. If we run short of food, we can live off the income from our investments.”
I do not mean to suggest that we do not sometimes need people who can manage money well or that we do not need people who have had experience in business. One of the good things about working in a church is that you usually have people with a variety of such experiences, and that is usually a great asset. But when this church was choosing leaders it was not concerned about how much money they had or how much management experience they had acquired, but whether they were wise men and Spirit-filled. The reason is obvious. It was because their main problem was not money or the lack of it, nor even food or the lack of it. The problem was essentially spiritual. Therefore, it needed persons who were Spirit-filled to deal with them.
And people with wisdom. When a person is young the person basically thinks that he or she knows just about everything. But as we get older that changes, or ought to change. We start with self-confidence. But as we get older we see that problems are not always susceptible to simple solutions, and we begin to suspect our own inability to handle them. By electing deacons as the first administrative officers in the church other than the apostles, the church was electing people to do what, above all else, is most essential to true Christianity. This is because their service was patterned on the servant ministry of Jesus Christ. “Deacon” means “servant.” And Jesus was the servant of everybody.