The Act of Choosing Leaders: Popular Selection

April 15, 2020

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.