This article is from Equipper Editor, Ted Johnston.
Lead like the apostles? You’ve got to be kidding! After all, they were apostles, and we’re just ordinary folk, right? Well, yes and no. Yes, we who lead GCI congregations and ministries today are “ordinary folk.” But no, the original apostles were not extraordinary supermen. In fact, one of the remarkable things about them was that they came from humble backgrounds.
What was extraordinary about the apostles was who they served (Jesus) and how they, through the ministry of the Spirit who indwelled them, became devoted, capable leaders of the body of Christ, the church.
The Fall 2016 issue of Outcomes Magazine has an article from Kurt Nelson titled “Following the Apostles.” Nelson notes the compelling need for today’s church leaders to grow in leadership ability, for (citing 2 Tim. 3:1, 12) “we live in an increasingly spiritually dark and polarized world” where change is constant, persecution of Christians is on the rise, and Christianity is quickly losing its influence in the world. He then notes how the original apostles led the church in an equally dark, troubling time, and calls on us today to emulate five qualities that characterized their leadership:
1. Discernment (Act 1:21-26)
As Nelson notes, “to lead with discernment requires intentionally seeking God and distinguishing his direction for your ministry’s next steps.” The apostles continuously sought God’s direction in prayer and so should we. Seeking his will is done best in community. Toward that end, I’ve benefitted by reading Pursuing God’s Will Together, a Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups by Ruth Haley Barton.
2. Collaboration (Acts 2:42-47)
Nelson notes that “as we look back to the early church and its leaders, collaboration was a characteristic that marked believers.” They worked together, focusing on their shared calling to take the message of salvation to the world. As a result, “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47b). Such collaboration is certainly needed within congregations, but also between congregations in the same denomination, and even cross-denominationally. We are better together than alone. By being an active, cooperative part of the GCI team, we accomplish much more together than “flying solo.”
3. Humility (Phil. 2:3-6; 1 Cor. 3:7-8)
Pride kills leadership effectiveness. Why? Because it stands in the way of needed change—change in our own lives, change within our ministries and congregations. Humility is one of Jesus’ most outstanding qualities, and one very much needed by those who are called to be leaders in his service. According to Nelson, one of the ways this humility is exemplified in our lives as leaders is by acknowledging that…
…our ministries belong to God and yet are far from perfect. We should regularly reflect on what is and isn’t working, and humbly ask tough questions and respond honestly when our efforts are not bearing fruit.
4. Adaptability (1 Cor. 9:19-23)
In a rapidly changing world like ours, leaders must be willing and able to adapt quickly. This does not mean change for change’s sake, but change for the sake of the Great Commission to which we are called. Nelson comments:
The gospel we share never changes, but the ways in which we initiate spiritual conversations and access hard-to-reach places require constantly adaptable ministry plans…. Rather than asking people to adjust to our ministry methods, we must structure our ministry to meet them on their level.
5. Perseverance (2 Tim. 3:1-17)
Being a church or Christian ministry in the 21st century is a great challenge. The cultural landscape is rapidly changing, becoming largely post-Christian, even anti-Christian. “Success” in ministry (whatever that means) is increasingly hard to achieve. But we have been called to faithfulness, not to success, and so we need the perseverance of Christ himself—the willingness and ability to “hang in” in times that are tough (like the ones we are facing today). As Nelson notes, “regardless of the consequences, our call is to persevere in faithfulness to our mission and to allow the Lord to use our suffering to expand his kingdom.”
We are not called to be apostles in the way the original twelve were. Theirs was a unique calling and assignment, for which they were given extra-ordinary giftings. However, as leaders in the church today, we are to lead in the way of the apostles, which is the way of Jesus, our Lord. The five leadership qualities mentioned in this article are ones that Jesus and his apostles exemplified—they are ones we need as well. So let us pray that God will give us these qualities; let us study them and work to develop them; then let us exercise them for the benefit of those we are called to lead in this challenging time. As we do, our churches will be increasingly healthy churches, and that is the vision toward which we are working for God’s glory and the advance of his kingdom.