by John M. Fowler
Do you want to be a church leader? Consider some defining spiritual qualities that the Book of Acts lists important to look for in choosing a would-be church leader. These qualities include a personal experience with Jesus; being a witness to the resurrection; being of good repute; and being filled with the Spirit, wisdom, and faith (see Acts 1:21–26; 6:3–5; 11:24).
1. PERSONAL EXPERIENCE WITH JESUS
A one-to-one personal experience with Jesus is the first and foremost qualification expected of a church leader. To fill the vacancy left by the tragedy of Judas, the disciples were convinced that they needed a person who knew the Lord as he “‘went in and out among us’” (Acts 1:21, RSV).1 Theology, culture, erudition, management, personal charm, and persuasion were all skills that the church could have used in its administration, but none of these could have taken the place of knowing Jesus personally, heart to heart, mind to mind, one to one. A person had to be a companion of Jesus before he or she could become a leader of His flock. A potential leader should have been a witness to Jesus “from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up” (vs. 22). The whole Jesus. Nothing less.
By "witness," it was meant, not simply spectators of the wondrous events in the life and the ministry of Jesus, but personal and unreserved identification with that ministry and that call: in Jordan to initiate a baptismal vow of obedience to the Father; in Nazareth to proclaim liberty to the poor and the downtrodden; in Cana to extend a helping hand to an urgent need; with Nicodemus to speak of the new birth; with the woman at the Samaritan well to help break down a wall; with the lepers and the blind and the dead to show that God is the God of hope and the harbinger of new life; at the communion service to gird up the loins in servanthood; in Gethsemane to discover the cup of God’s will; at the Cross to witness reconciliation and redemption; at the empty tomb to proclaim the living Lord; at the Ascension to accept a global mission, to experience the power of the heavenly High Priest, and to await the Second Coming.
2. ‘A WITNESS TO HIS RESURRECTION’ (ACTS 1:22).
This is another qualification that the church should seek in its leadership. Resurrection cannot be isolated from the Cross. The Cross vindicates God’s redemptive plan for sin, and the Resurrection offers the hope of newness. One cannot be a Christian, let alone a Christian leader, without experiencing the power of the Cross and the empty tomb. Even as early as a few weeks after the Crucifixion weekend, the disciples insisted on this affirmation of the crucified and risen Lord as essential to Christian discipleship. Witnessing to the Resurrection, as the apostle Paul later wrote, is imperative to being a proclaimer of the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:8-15).
To be such a witness does not mean only theological veracity or doctrinal certainty. It includes these, but more so it demands that Christian leaders walk with Jesus daily, talk with Him, plead with Him for both themselves and others, and experience the mediating power of the heavenly High Priest. Christian leaders cannot be any less.
3. ‘OF GOOD REPUTE’ (ACTS 6:3–5).
Good reputation is a qualification that the apostolic church insisted in its choice of leaders. We see this in the appointment of deacons to care for the routine needs of the Jerusalem church (Acts 6:1-7), and in the selection of Barnabas (Acts 11:24–26) to investigate the miraculous happenings in Antioch and to lead the church there. In both cases, the church wanted good and trustworthy persons. The selection guidelines defined goodness in two ways that the church today can ignore only at its peril. First, goodness meant “of good repute” as persons of integrity. Their work required the handling of money: the Jerusalem deacons were in charge of caring for the needy (Acts 6:1–7); Barnabas and Paul were sent to carry funds from Antioch for the poor in Judea (Acts 11:29, 30). Leaders cannot afford to be careless about their own integrity.
Second, goodness called for fairness—dealing with all segments of the church on an equal footing, recognizing neither race nor ethnicity, neither gender nor tribe, in Jerusalem as well as Antioch. Barnabas was so good at this that the Antioch church was perhaps the first corporate body to break down every wall of partition; as a result, it grew to great proportions; it was there the name Christians was born (Acts 11:26). Indeed, Antioch launched the Christian Church’s first global mission.
When we have leaders who are honest and fair, loving and compassionate, “prudent [in] management and . . . godly [in] example”2 church growth can take care of itself.
4. “FULL OF THE HOLY SPIRIT AND OF FAITH” (ACTS 6:3; 11:24).
This is another element that the early church sought in its leadership. These terms describe not a political process but a spiritual maturity, not a longing for power but a submission to a higher calling, not a jockeying for positions in administration but a willingness to be used by the Spirit as mediators of His grace. A Christian leader is willing to be led by the Spirit all along the way and at every fork where the road divides. A Christian leader waits on bended knee for clarity about the task and for power to accomplish it. A Christian leader has the wisdom to distinguish between the essential and the peripheral, between the compulsions of the Kingdom and the concerns of self, between people and things. A Christian leader is full of faith in God and fellow beings, and manifests the grace to forgive, the ability to empower others, and the generosity to be inclusive.
John M. Fowler (MA, EdD, Andrews University, Michigan, U.S.A.; MS, Syracuse University, New York, U.S.A.) is the Editor of Dialogue.
John M. Fowler, "Do You Want to Be a Church Leader? ," Dialogue 35:1 (2023): 3-4
Notes and References
1. All Scripture references in this editorial are quoted from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
2. Ellen G. White, Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1911), 89.