The Act of Choosing Leaders: Divine Commission

April 1, 2020

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.