The Act of Choosing Leaders: Leadership Appointment

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.

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

For further reflection and discussion:

  • How have my previous experiences and the thoughts of those around me shaped my view of the benefits or disadvantages of appointing leaders?
  • How likely am I to use appointing leaders to choose a leader? If I am very likely to use it, have I consciously avoided the pitfalls of this method? If I am unlikely to use it, in what ways might God be calling me to consider this method as a practical option for my situation?
  • In what situations might appointing leaders be the best choice for me to choose leaders? In what situations might appointing leaders be a poor choice for me?

In the next issue, we’ll look at selecting leaders by people development.

The Act of Choosing Leaders: Popular Selection

Leaders choose other leaders to join their team and help carry out the vision. But the process they use to choose varies depending on the context.

The Book of Acts provides at least four different ways that the early church selected leaders. One of them was used when the need arose for the role of deacons.

1In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” 5This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism” (Acts 6:1-5).

Servant leaders recognize that empowering others to make a decision may sometimes be the best way to choose leaders.

The process of choosing by popular selection. In this situation, seven deacons were chosen. But the apostles did not make the selection; they invited the group to select the individuals who would become the leaders. This was popular selection, close to what we might call a democratic process in which a vote is taken. This could have been a frightening step for the apostles. What if the people choose the wrong person?

This method is used in many churches where votes are counted, and the ‘winner’ is announced. This may not happen often in a business, but a servant leader who is the owner or leader may invite others to participate in the process by giving their thoughts, feedback or evaluation. Even if the ultimate decision is not determined by a vote, a servant leader is willing to allow others into the process. This method requires humility and deep faith in the people and God! Servant leaders are willing to release their power to others.

The power of choosing by popular selection. This method has several advantages. One obvious advantage is that those who will be led are empowered by being involved. “This proposal pleased the whole group.” When people are involved in a decision, they are less likely to complain about the outcome!

Not only this, but the leaders chosen by this method feel the support of those that they will lead from the very beginning. They begin leading with the confidence that those they are leading want them to serve in that role. Another advantage of this method is that the people making the decision are likely closer to the potential leaders than the leaders who are at the top of the organization. Servant leaders acknowledge that they are not the only ones who can choose leaders and that others may wisely be involved.

The pitfalls of choosing by popular selection. Servant leaders acknowledge that there are some practical dangers in the democratic system. One danger is that popular selection may leave God out of the process! The choice can become a popularity contest.

Another danger is that the focus on pleasing people may become more important than the call to lead people. This is a danger especially for those whose personalities love to please others.

But servant leaders can wisely influence and guide the selection process even when others make the decisions. The apostles did set some parameters here before the vote; they required candidates that were “full of the Spirit and wisdom.” Leaders can call for fasting and prayer before and during the process. They can also provide instruction on what kind of leaders are needed.

Servant leaders see the option of choosing by popular selection as one of the ways God can direct the building of their team. But they also recognize that there are times God will lead them to choose another method. In the next issue, we’ll look at one of these: appointments.

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

For further reflection and discussion:

  • How have my previous experiences and the thinking of those around me shaped my view of whether or not popular selection is a good way to choose leaders?
  • How likely am I to use popular selection to choose a leader? If I am very likely to use it, have I consciously avoided the pitfalls of this method? If I am unlikely to use it, in what ways might God be calling me to consider this method as a practical option for my situation?
  • In what situations might popular selection be the best choice for me to choose leaders? In what situations might popular selection be a poor choice for me?    

Copyright, Global Disciples 2020.

The Act of Choosing Leaders: Divine Commission

Choosing other leaders is one of the greatest challenges of leadership. Most leaders have had some success and likely some failure in this area. The ‘cost’ of failure is high when the selection process does not bring the right person. What is the best approach to find others who will build the team and help carry out the vision?

Many times, our cultural environment combined with our previous experiences, both positive and negative, shape our approach to how we choose leaders. Business leaders may learn to rely on a proven system of screening potential candidates to get the right person. Church leaders may lean towards a more ‘spiritual’ method that works well for their context. Then they will point to the early church to validate this method as the ‘biblical’ approach. But a look at the early church in Acts teaches servant leaders that there are at least four distinct ways leaders were chosen.

Servant leaders learn that all of them can be useful when applied in the right context and manner.

The first method of choosing leaders in the book of Acts is when God called a leader directly. This happened to Paul at the time of his conversion (see Acts 9:15-16) and again when he and Barnabas were commissioned for mission work while in Antioch.

2While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off (Acts 13:2-3).

The process of choosing by divine commission. With this method, there is no direct human intervention in the selection process. God spoke clearly through the Spirit and called Barnabas and Saul. Yes, they were uniquely qualified and already proven in leadership, but there was no application process for the role and no vote was taken!

Servant leaders acknowledge that God ultimately directs the choice of leaders. They are willing to spend time fasting and praying for His guidance. And when God speaks clearly, they lay hands on the person and bless them!

The power of choosing by divine commission. Divine commission has an obvious advantage: God has spoken! Who can argue with that? This method may be more commonly used in churches than in business environments. But even in the business realm, when servant leaders seek to follow the direction of God’s Spirit, there may be times when God’s voice overrides the voice of the Human Resource department!

Servant leaders acknowledge that God is the ultimate authority and when His direction is clear, they willingly obey!

The pitfalls of choosing by divine commission. Choosing leaders by divine commission also has some clear challenges.

First is the challenge of correctly and clearly hearing God’s voice. Much damage can be done when a leader uses the language of divine commission to give credibility to a personal choice. Servant leaders should be very cautious about saying alone, “God told me that this person should be the leader.” In Antioch, there was discernment by a group.

Another danger of using this method of divine commissioning is when a leader chooses this method simply because they don’t want to do the difficult work of discerning who the right person is. They aren’t willing or are not equipped to evaluate gifts, experience and calling of a potential leader. So, they give the choice back to God!

Interestingly, in Acts 1, Matthias was chosen by casting lots, a divine process. But first, the apostles set criteria for the role and chose two persons who met the qualifications. Then they allowed God to make the final selection through the casting of lots. Servant leaders learn from this that if the basic qualifications are not met, they will be in a ‘lot’ of trouble with this method!

Servant leaders see the option of choosing by divine commission 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 one of these: popular selection.

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

For further reflection and discussion:

  • How have my previous experiences and the thinking of those around me shaped my view of whether divine commission is a good way to choose leaders or not?
  • How likely am I to use divine commission to choose a leader? If I am very likely to use it, have I consciously avoided the pitfalls of this method? If I am unlikely to use it, in what ways might God be calling me to consider this method as a practical option for my situation?
  • In what situations might divine commissioning be the best choice for me to choose leaders? In what situations might divine commissioning be a poor choice for me?            

In the next issue, we’ll look at choosing leaders by popular selection.

Copyright, Global Disciples 2020.