Imagine stepping into a time machine and landing in the middle of one of the early church’s most pressing conflicts—a food pantry crisis that’s causing a rift within the congregation. This isn’t just any disagreement; it’s a pivotal moment that challenges the very fabric of church leadership and decision-making. This week, I want us to take a closer look at how their dilemma speaks volumes to our modern churches … it’s an invitation for us to rethink our approach to leadership and problem-solving. 

The conflict is described in Acts 6:1-6. If we’re honest, it kinda feels like it could have been lifted straight out of the minutes of last month’s church board meeting. Here’s the scene: the congregational food pantry hit a snag. This ministry wasn’t designed to solve the hunger problem of the community, but for those within the church family who found themselves in need. Greek-speaking Jewish Christians felt neglected, while their Hebrew-speaking brethren seemed to enjoy a lion’s share of the provisions. It’s the kind of issue that, today, might have us reaching for the phone to call an emergency meeting.

This situation led to a bit of a standoff, with a group heading straight to the church leaders, looking for a fix. Now, here’s where things get interesting and counterintuitive to how we might tackle things today. In our times, when there’s a leadership gap—say we’re on the hunt for a new stewardship chair—the first port of call is often someone with a hefty resume in finance or business. It’s a logical move, right? Find someone who knows their way around a spreadsheet and can talk the talk of fiscal responsibility.

But the early church leaders took a left turn from this approach. They didn’t dive into the congregation looking for the person with food services acumen or the most impressive food distribution profile. Instead, they laid out criteria that had everything to do with spiritual maturity and wisdom. It’s a moment that throws a wrench into our modern-day practices about raising up church leaders. It’s not that skills and experience aren’t valuable, but this passage nudges us to prioritize the spiritual qualifications and character of our leaders.

As we unpack this story, it’s a good nudge for us to reconsider how we’re picking our leaders. Are we leaning too heavily on biz-world credentials and not enough on spiritual depth? It’s a question worth chewing on as we look at the way forward for our churches.

More than a Village – Ministry Takes a Team

When the early church faced a crisis in their food pantry program, a delegation didn’t just knock; they banged on the church office doors, demanding immediate action. They expected the apostles to leap into action, essentially playing “Pastor fetch” to resolve the issue of Greek-speaking members feeling sidelined in food distribution. Yet, the apostles didn’t take the bait. Instead of succumbing to the pressure to micromanage the ministry, they proposed a solution that shifted the responsibility back to the congregation: members caring for members. This approach wasn’t about finding a quick fix but ensuring sustainable, community-driven support.

However, the apostles’ strategy didn’t involve scouting for a food service guru or a logistics wizard. They opted for a more spiritually grounded approach, emphasizing the need for a ministry team rather than pinning all hopes on a single individual. This method underscores a crucial aspect of effective church ministry: the power of team over the individual.

The distinction between team ministry and individual-led ministry is stark. Team ministry ensures that the work doesn’t crumble when one person steps back. It’s a collective effort that fosters accountability, shared responsibility, and a diversity of gifts and talents. On the other hand, ministries centered around a single individual often face sustainability issues. When that person moves on, the ministry risks dying out, leaving a gap in the church’s service to its community.

This episode from Acts serves as a dual lesson for contemporary church leadership: the strength of a team-based approach to ministry and the wisdom of pastoral leaders in avoiding the pitfalls of “Pastor fetch” and micromanagement. By delegating the resolution of the food pantry issue to a spiritually qualified team, the apostles demonstrated a profound trust in the collective capabilities and discernment of the congregation. This not only alleviated the burden from the pastoral staff, preventing them from getting entangled in operational minutiae, but also empowered members to take ownership and responsibility for their community’s well-being. The strategy underscores a balanced model of leadership that values both the pastoral team’s oversight and the congregation’s active participation, ensuring that ministries are not only sustainable but also deeply integrated into the life and fabric of the church community.

Disciples First: Priorities in Leadership Selection

At the heart of the early church’s strategy for resolving the food pantry crisis, the apostles laid out a groundbreaking approach to selecting leadership: prioritize spiritual maturity over professional expertise.

Prioritize spiritual maturity over professional expertise when selecting church leaders. @billtb Share on X

The first criterion for team membership was not about being adept in logistics or food distribution but about being spiritually centered disciples of Jesus Christ. This directive challenges a common practice in many churches today, where leadership roles are often filled based on attendance or willingness alone, without a deep dive into the individual’s spiritual life and practices.

The apostles instructed the delegation to select individuals who were known for their spiritual depth and commitment to living out their faith. This wasn’t about finding the most charismatic personalities or the most financially generous supporters; it was about identifying those whose lives bore the fruit of genuine discipleship. The seven chosen for the food pantry team were recognized first and foremost for their spiritual integrity and their embodiment of Christ’s teachings in their daily lives. This emphasis on spiritual qualifications highlights a crucial aspect of church leadership that sometimes gets lost in the administrative shuffle: the power of a life transformed by Christ to lead and inspire others.

Notably, among the seven were individuals like Stephen and Philip, who would go on to make significant impacts as evangelists. Their inclusion in this team underscores the apostles’ wisdom for leadership selection … it’s not just about the task at hand but the broader mission of the church. Their spiritual vitality fueled their ministry, proving that effective church leadership is rooted in a vibrant relationship with Christ.

The early church’s approach to selecting leaders for the food pantry ministry underscores a timeless principle: the selection of church leaders must always begin with an evaluation of their spiritual practices. Are they effective ambassadors for Jesus Christ? This question must remain central to leadership selection within the church: folks, spiritual depth is the bedrock of effective ministry.

Good Decisions Grow Ministries … and Churches Too

In the bustling early church of Jerusalem, the scale of ministry operations was staggering. With a congregation numbering over 5,000 households, probably translating to around 15,000 members, the logistical challenges of running a food pantry were immense. Imagine the responsibility of managing a service that potentially catered to the needs of 150 households weekly, if just 1% of the congregation required assistance. This wasn’t a small-scale pantry; it was a significant operation, underscoring the church’s commitment to meeting the physical needs of its members.

Against this backdrop, the apostles’ second criterion for selecting leadership for this vital ministry was not just spiritual maturity but also a proven track record of making good and wise decisions. This requirement acknowledges that while the church is not a business, it often manages resources and responsibilities that surpass those of local businesses. The decisions made within the church’s ministries carry weight, impacting lives and, potentially, having eternal consequences.

This emphasis on wise decision-making reflects a deep understanding that ministry is a serious commitment, far beyond the casual involvement of mere volunteers. Volunteers contribute valuable time and effort, often out of the goodness of their hearts and when it suits their schedules. However, the apostles recognized that the stewardship of the church’s resources and the oversight of its ministries required a level of dedication and proven wisdom that goes beyond casual volunteering. They sought leaders who not only had a servant’s heart but also demonstrated the ability to make prudent and faithful decisions in the past.

This strategic approach to leadership selection was a key factor in the early church’s growth and its ability to effectively serve its growing community. By prioritizing leadership selection on those who’d shown a history of wise decision-making, the apostles ensured that the church’s ministries were in capable hands, ready to meet the complex needs of a large and growing congregation.

Reputation Matters

In the fabric of the early church’s leadership selection, the apostles wove a third crucial criterion: a positive reputation within both the congregation and, presumably, the wider community. This wasn’t about sidelining the quiet contributors or the so-called “wallflowers” of the church. Instead, it recognized that for a ministry to truly impact the church and spill over into transformative community engagement, its leaders needed to be individuals of commendable standing.

A leader’s reputation acts as a beacon, drawing others to the ministry not just because of what it does, but also because of who is leading it. In the bustling streets of Jerusalem, where the church was rapidly expanding beyond its initial 120 members to thousands, having leaders who were well-regarded in both the church and the community at large was invaluable. Such leaders could effectively bridge the gap between the church’s internal operations and its mission in the wider world, making the ministry more accessible and inviting to a broader audience.

Moreover, a positive reputation ensured that the ministry could become a signature of the congregation’s outreach, a flagship of its mission to transform lives. People naturally gravitate towards working with, and being part of, initiatives led by individuals known for their integrity, compassion, and effectiveness. Leaders with a good reputation not only serve as ambassadors of Jesus but also as the face of the church’s commitment to service, embodying the values and mission of the congregation in every interaction.

In essence, the apostles’ insight into selecting leaders with a positive reputation underscores the importance of visibility, credibility, and relational trust in ministry leadership. Leaders like that not only carry the ministry forward but also elevate the church’s presence and influence both within and beyond its walls.

And So …

Let’s face it, the early church’s approach to selecting leaders for its ministries, as illustrated in Acts 6:1-6, offers timeless wisdom for today’s church leadership – wisdom that is too often completely ignored by today’s church. Too often, our churches face challenges that stem directly from placing individuals in leadership roles who fall short of the apostolic criteria for spiritual leadership. Leadership positions filled by members who may exhibit bullying behavior, lack a faith-based approach, or fail to embody the mission, vision, and values of the congregation can lead to discord, stagnation, and even division within the church community. Such mismatches between leadership behavior and the church’s core principles not only hinder the congregation’s growth but can also damage its witness to the broader community. This underscores the critical importance for nominating teams, HR departments, and Pastor-Parish relations committees to exercise biblical discernment in their selection of leaders.

The early church had already learned a valuable lesson about mere church members who lived hypocritical lives (see the cautionary tale of Annas and Sapphira in Acts 5!). And so, the apostles prioritized spiritual maturity, a history of wise decision-making, and a positive reputation within both the congregation and the community. This triad of criteria ensured that the chosen leaders were not only capable of managing the practical aspects of ministry but were also spiritually aligned with the church’s mission and values. These leaders were poised to make a significant impact, serving as both ambassadors of Jesus and representatives of the church’s commitment to transformative service.

As we seek to cultivate leaders within our own congregations who embody these qualities, the “Leadership Accountability Cheat Sheet” emerges as a valuable resource. This tool is designed to guide budding leaders on a path of spiritual and practical growth, aligning their leadership style with the principles that were so crucial to the early church’s success. By embracing this resource, we can equip our leaders to carry forward the mission with integrity, wisdom, and a heart for service, becoming the kind of leaders upon whom the apostles would have gladly laid hands.

Download the “Leadership Accountability Cheat Sheet” today and take the first step towards nurturing leaders who can truly make a difference in your church and community.