Good leadership of any church is vital. True, a church’s destiny ultimately is in God’s hands. But, in the short term, leaders can make – or break – a church. Thank God, at Jerusalem the church was in good hands. We see this not least in the how the apostles handled the election of the ‘Seven’ (Acts 6.1-8).
The context of this election was that the church at Jerusalem was growing at a massive rate. Before Pentecost Luke tells us that the church in Jerusalem, then at an embryonic stage, numbered 120 believers (Acts 1.15). Then at Pentecost a further 3000 people were baptized and were added to the church (Acts 2.41). Amazingly, the growth continued. In Acts 4.4 we read that “many of those who heard the word believed; and they numbered about 5000 [men: andres]” – presumably there were at least as many women if not more, so perhaps we are to imagine a church of over 10,000. And still the Jerusalem church grew: for Luke records that “Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers (literally ‘a multitude’, plethos) of both men and women” (Acts 5.14). It seems that by this stage nobody could keep an accurate count of the numbers involved.
Not surprisingly this phenomenal church growth produced its own problems. People began to quarrel over the pastoral care of older people in the church. The Greek-speaking Jews “complained” (Acts 6.1) against the native Jews. The Greek word Luke uses is wonderfully onomatopoeic: goggusmos. There was a real murmuring and a muttering.
The apostles could have turned a blind eye to the difficulties within the church. They could have simply devoted themselves to preaching and to praying, and let the rest of the church just muddle through. But as it was, they saw themselves as having a responsibility for the life of the church, and so they took the initiative in resolving the situation. To be precise, they analysed the problem, and then brought put forward a solution to deal with the problem. They called the church together and said: “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait at tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task” (Acts 6.2,3).
Much has been made of the qualifications for the new management team. However, I am fascinated by the size of the team: seven. With membership of over 10,000, of whom perhaps a good proportion were widows, you might have thought that a fairly sizeable management team might have been required. Instead the apostles proposed that the team be limited to “seven men”. Was seven a significant number? We know, for instance, that the Jewish historian Josephus appointed seven judges in each city in Galilee during his days as an authority figure there. We have no real idea why the figure of seven was chosen. One thing for sure, in terms of modern management theory seven is a good number. For once a ‘board’ exceeds 12, decision-making becomes much more time-consuming. For instance in a group of 7 people, at any given time 30 different relationships are involved; in a group of 12, 110 different relationships are involved, while in a group of 20, some 380 different relationships are taking place. The larger the ‘board’ the more complex relationships become. David Cormack, a former head of Training and Organisation Development at Shell International, with leadership teams in mind, wrote: “‘Two’s company, three’s a team, and more than fifteen’s a crowd’. The optimum size appears to be seven”. Clearly the apostles anticipated modern management theory when they proposed that seven men be elected!
Another fact which fascinates me is that although the apostles were the church’s leaders, they did not try to control the election process. Instead they involved the whole church. “Friends, select from yourselves seven men of good standing… whom we may appoint to this task” (Acts 6.3). Precisely how a group of 10,000 people set about this task we have no idea. I can’t imagine there being nomination forms with proposers and seconders. But clearly in one way or another names emerged.
Furthermore, these names were then scrutinised. For the underlying Greek word translated as “select” (episkeptomai) comes from a word-family that is used to indicate critical and prudent judgments. The implication is that the apostles expected a good deal of careful deliberation and discussion to take place before votes were cast.
Yet another fascinating aspect is that the seven eventually chosen were not at all representative of the church. Their names clearly indicate that all seven of them came from the Greek-speaking Jewish section of the church, i.e. that came from that section of the church that felt it had been hard-done by. It has been suggested that this is the first example of affirmative action – “Those with political power generally repressed complaining minorities; here the apostles hand the whole system over to the offended minority” (Keener, quoted by Haenchen)
How often did leadership of the early church involve its members in this way? I find it difficult to believe that with numbers as large as this they had regular ‘church meetings’ to talk about church business. However, it is clear that when there were major issues before the church, the church meeting was involved in the decision-making. So later, for instance. at the great Council of Jerusalem which debated the issue of circumcision, we see that the church was involved long with the apostles and the elders in deciding that Gentiles need not be circumcised in order to be Christians (Acts 15.22). True, James and Peter took the lead – but the church owned the decision. What was true then, should remain true now. Leaders are called to lead – but issues of major importance relating to the mission and ministry of the church require church participation and ownership.
One further fascinating point. As a result of the right leadership structures were put in place, “the word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly” (Acts 6.7). In the words of one commentator: “The church returns to its normal condition: growth”. Yes, good leadership helps to make a church grow.