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Four Leadership Principles from Acts 6

One area of life Christians can overlook is sound principles and wisdom for leadership. This is often a subject that we leave to the “business experts.” We can even start to think that using leadership strategies means we are no longer trusting the Holy Spirit. But this attitude toward leadership betrays other primary Christian beliefs.

If we believe that the Bible gives us wisdom for every area of life, then it is our duty to understand and apply all of this wisdom in our lives.

If every Christian is called to help creation flourish (Genesis 1:28), to make disciples (Matthew 18:18-20), and to become equipped to help the whole Church grow (Ephesians 4:11-16), then every Christian is called to lead.

The Bible has much to say about leadership – what it is, how we ought to lead, and how to develop more leaders. Acts 6:1-7 is one such passage with leadership wisdom for us to study and apply. This text is not only where we see the office of deacons instituted in the early church, but it also lays out at least four other important biblical principles for leadership.

1. Healthy biblical leadership promotes unity in the local church.

The underlying symptom present to us in Acts 6:1-7 is that the Hellenist (Greek-speaking Jewish) widows were being neglected in the distribution of resources in the community. The author (Luke) intentionally presents us with a contrast between the Hebrew Christians (Jews who spoke a Semitic language but also knew a little Greek) and the Hellenist Christians (Jews who spoke Greek and knew little Semitic language).

If every Christian is called to help creation flourish, to make disciples, and to become equipped to help the whole Church grow, then every Christian is called to lead.

These two groups of Jews would have historically worshiped separately in their own language. The challenge the gospel of Jesus Christ immediately brought about is how to fully reconcile these two groups of people into one worship community. Yet it was not only a challenge, it was a great opportunity to make Christ known to the world (Ephesians 3:4-6).

It is likely these Hellenist Christians were in the minority. The Apostles, filled with wisdom and the Spirit, were aware of this and knew something had to be done. It is no coincidence that the names of the men chosen to be deacons are Greek names. These were Hellenist men chosen to lead so that the Hellenist widows would no longer be overlooked.

While the symptom of neglect would be addressed, the real benefit is that true unity would grow between these formerly divided people groups. Healthy biblical leadership acts as “shock absorbers,” defusing conflict and strengthening the unity we have in Christ.

2. Healthy biblical leaders recognize their limits and create a plurality of leaders with differing gifts and abilities to support the various ministries of the church.

As readers we are meant to sense a note of exasperation in the Apostles (verse 2). It is not that the ministry of service is looked down upon, but even the Apostles – as gifted as they were – could not handle everything by themselves. Up until this point they had been the primary preachers as well as the coordinators of mercy needs (Acts 4:35). They now felt as if the needs were so great that they would have to choose between either leading the preaching and teaching, or leading mercy – but not both.

It is clear the Apostles knew that a calling from the Lord to the office of Apostle/Elder/Pastor meant a special focus on preaching and teaching. As it was, that ministry was suffering. It is worth remembering that when Paul was examined for the office of Apostle, the Twelve made sure he would still care for the ministry of the poor (Galatians 2:10). Pastors and elders are not above the work of mercy ministry, but they cannot handle the whole load. They should be exemplary in their concern for those in need, but they cannot carry the weight of overseeing such work themselves.

The church flourishes when there is a plurality of leaders with diverse gifts attending to the needs and growth of the whole body. It is deprived when it relies on a few key individuals to do most of the ministry.

3. Healthy biblical leadership intentionally pursues discipling relationships for the sake of the gospel advancing in the world.

We do not know when these seven chosen men had become Christians. We do know they had been discipled and given previous opportunities to service which made them no-brainers for this new office. This text instructs us that looking for leaders of certain character qualities is of first importance (verse 3; see also 1 Timothy 3:1-13). These qualities cannot be immediately identified; this kind of character has to be something developed and observed over time. The Apostles had enough of a relationship with these men so that when the need for new leaders presented itself, these seven men were ready to go.

The church flourishes when there is a plurality of leaders with diverse gifts attending to the needs and growth of the whole body. It is deprived when it relies on a few key individuals to do most of the ministry.

This is a great example of the importance of discipleship in action. We should not be passively waiting for clear leadership needs to present themselves before we develop new leaders. When we are intentional about discipleship we will create a community of people ready to be deployed as leaders when new needs present themselves.

Discipleship isn’t simply about learning how to read the Bible or pray better – as important as these things are! Discipleship also equips others for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11-16), helping them discover their strengths and gifts (1 Corinthians 12:7), and preparing them for the good works God might have for them (Ephesians 2:10).

Imagine if the Apostles had not been intentional about discipling these men prior to this moment! Stalling to begin a 12-week discipleship program in order to cram the importance of maturity to lead others could have been the death of the church.

4. Healthy biblical leadership looks for creative ways to respond to problems rather than trusting failing systems and structures.

When these problems presented themselves there was a need for the Apostles to look for flexible and creative ways to solve them. The Apostles had no direct word from the Lord on this. They had to lock themselves in a room with nothing but a white board, put their heads together, and make something happen. Being filled with the Spirit and full of gifts of wisdom, they needed to get creative.

The Apostles were willing to be flexible and establish new structures for leadership so that Christ’s Church could be faithful to its task. Had they continued to try and do it all, they would have failed – perhaps the Church along with them. Getting creative meant not only creating an entirely new leadership office, but it also meant intentionally selecting Greek men to minister to the Greek widows. The Apostles had previously been ignorant to the needs of the Greek members in the church. By making the decision to bring these seven men into leadership, they were increasing their creative capacity to prevent and respond to issues in the future.

Discipleship also equips others for the work of ministry, helping them discover their strengths and gifts, and preparing them for the good works God might have for them.

Certain ministries and structures may have been fruitful and edifying in a past season of a local church. But the culture around us changes, as do the needs and people in our local congregation. What may have been fruitful in the past may not be fruitful in the present. Healthy biblical leadership is willing to scrap stagnant or unfruitful ministries in order to see new works of ministry flourish and grow.

What do you think? Do you see any other biblical wisdom for leadership in this passage? What other wisdom does God give us for leaders?

Recommended Leadership Resources:

  • From Good to Great, Jim Collins
  • Dare to Lead, Brené Brown
  • Designed to Lead, Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck
  • Tribes, Seth Godin
  • Start with Why, Simon Sinek
  • Center Church, Timothy Keller

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Four Leadership Principles from Acts 6

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Four Leadership Principles from Acts 6

by Ben Hein time to read: 6 min
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