I was reading Luke 6 this morning and was struck by verse 12:
One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.
This passage immediately precedes the calling of the twelve apostles and it is one of only two times the Gospels mention Jesus going away to pray all night long. The first time is found in Mark 1:35–38 when it seems he spent the night praying about the ministry in terms of his mission, vision, and primary strategy.
The second time we see Jesus praying all night is in this passage where he was praying about choosing the leaders who would carry the torch of his movement.
In toto, these passages imply that we as the church might not be taking strategy and leadership selection nearly as seriously as we could (or should!). Indeed, these two issues are foundational to the future of every church. And yet we leave the leadership selection decisions in the hands of a committee that generally works from their own locus and volition. In my experience, prayer during a nominating committee meeting tends to be perfunctory “book ends” prayers … open and close and ask God to bless whatever it is the committee accomplished.
I’ve yet to see a nominating committee wrestle in prayer over who should be a deacon, who should be the leader of Christian education, or who should be the board chair. Instead, they wrestle with who they can convince to take the jobs. Indeed, if there’s any prayer at all, it’s to evoke a willingness in potential candidates to accept a position, rather than a prayer seeking guidance about who God has ordained and called for the position.
To compound the problem, church bylaws often dictate what committees/ministries “must” be represented and often how many must serve in one ministry or another. For instance, I worked with a church of 35 in average worship attendance has bylaws that requires 12 elders … as if a third of the existing congregation has been ordained and called by God to serve in what should be the most spiritually focused ministries in the church (O that a third of any church had that percentage of a spiritually focused and committed membership!). And because the bylaws “say so,” the nominating committee lowers the bar so low that pretty much any church member with a pulse gets an invitation into eldership. We seem to care little about the likelihood that God is more fussy about who qualifies to serve than we are.
And so, are we surprised when we can’t get deacons to serve during their “assigned” weeks; that we have committees that function dysfunctionally; or that we have board members who are bullies, negative, and/or spiritually bankrupt?
To me, the sad thing is that we are surprised. But, the truth is, we get the leaders we deserve. We “out think” God and instead of looking for the leaders who are called and ordained by God, our criteria is virtually “any member with a pulse.”
We often get Jesus’ calling of his apostles wrong. We think that Jesus put his newly called disciples into leadership right away. But read carefully. When Jesus walked down the beach and called Peter, Andrew, James, and John, it was an invitation to follow him. He did not put them into leadership until later. They had been disciples, or more accurately apprentices, for some time before he set them aside as apostles (and then only after an all-nighter in consultation with God). Jesus was pretty clear about his personal nominating process: “Many are invited, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14).
This year, I encourage you to get serious about who gets placed into leadership in your church. Don’t project or out-think God. Don’t let your bylaws dictate how many disciples are “ready” for leadership. Don’t minimize the qualifications for leadership … check out Acts 6:30 for the baseline. You’re not looking for perfection. You’re not even looking for outstanding leaders. What you’re looking for are those disciples who are committed to being spiritually centered, focused followers of Jesus Christ.
Then select those leaders that God has prepared. When you do, the church will take a step forward as a spiritual enterprise based on faith and led by the Spirit.