When the Spirit Chooses Leaders

by Jeff Faull

“Everything rises or falls with leadership.”  It’s as true in The Church as anywhere.  Healthy, growing churches are generally led by healthy, growing leaders.  Unhealthy, stagnating churches are often (not always) led by unhealthy, unqualified leaders.

Often, the reason for incompetent church leadership can be directly linked to the local body’s method of selecting leaders.  The process might become politicized, or perhaps bylaws or a constitution may constrain the process, whether in selection or in preventing a poor leader’s removal.  In any case, The Church suffers.
How Should We Select Leaders?
So how do we select Church leaders?  Some well-intentioned soul always chimes in, “The Holy Spirit chooses leaders.”  While that sounds good, haven’t we all observed far too many situations from which The Spirit was undeniably absent from leader selection?  But the core idea remains true: Paul did tell the Ephesians elders, “The Holy Spirit has made you overseers” (Acts 20:28, NIV).

We take solace in the fact that, submitted to God’s will, His Spirit will identify the right leaders.  He will guide us to these people when we use a consistent process, and we can confidently know God called someone into designated leadership. 

Dramatic examples of leader designations dot the Bible’s story.  Think Saul on his way to Damascus, the lots cast for Matthias, Gideon with a fleece, Moses at the bush, and more.  Today, in The Church’s era, The Spirit calls leaders through an un-dramatic method, but it is certain.  God’s instructions on leader selection came directly from The Spirit when He inspired the Biblical text.  Four criteria should be our filter to confirm the will of God in the leader-selection process.
The candidate should aspire to lead.
Paul told Timothy that a man should desire to be an elder.  We should never push someone unwilling into leadership.  But aspiring to leadership isn’t the sole criteria.  When God wants someone in such responsibility, He can prompt willingness in their heart.  Reluctant leaders with consistent reservations seldom excel in leading The Lord’s Church.
Leaders should have the approval of God. 
We know someone has God’s approval by their character, especially through qualities found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  Carefully consider these when someone seeks a leadership position.  One of my preaching professors, Bob Stacy, reminded us the most important degree is an A.U.G. – “Approved Unto God.”  Ability, charisma, and general, generic leadership skills cannot make up for deficiencies that may come to light while studying these passages.  We must avoid two equally damaging extremes: these qualities cannot be narrowly, legalistically applied, nor casually reinterpreted or dismissed. The Church cannot afford to make “the image vs. substance mistake” and Paul’s directions here are critical. 
The candidate should be appraised by others.
Though the church is not a democracy, the congregation should get to voice their confidence over those being chosen as overseers.  Qualifying for the eldership also means we consider one’s reputation inside and outside the church.  The “choose from among you” mentality of Acts 6 is a wise approach, even with eldership.  Each congregation should have, in its process, an element enabling members to participate in leadership approval.  Part of leading is a willingness to be judged publicly by other Christians and church members.
Potential leaders should be appointed by existing leaders.
We seldom hear “evangelist” as a title today, yet many contend that it is a term used in Scripture for the local preacher.  His duties include “set[ing] the church in order” (Titus 1:5) and ordaining elders (1 Timothy 5:22).  Ephesians 4:11-13 establishes a shared and mutual responsibility for church leadership.  Therefore, we should assign the interviewing and screening of potential elders to an already-existing leadership team, (provided they’re healthy and biblically-functioning themselves).

Often, a potential leader has leadership qualities and character per 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, but his leadership philosophy differs from the existing leadership.  The participation of and appointment by established staff and elders is vital to preserving harmony and effectiveness within the leadership team.
Fellow church leaders, let’s use this biblical, four-stage filter for The Holy Spirit to select great leaders for His Church:

  • Aspire to lead
  • Approve (from God’s word)
  • Appraise (by fellow Christians)
  • Appoint (by current [healthy] leaders)

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