We live in an upside down Kingdom. When advertising a post the world will pay great attention to the qualifications needed for the job – a degree in Business Administration or Economics may be a good start. However, the Bible does not seem to be particularly interested in such information, concentrating more on spiritual gifting, calling and character. I doubt if Joseph would have become the senior administrator in the nation if his curriculum vitae were taken as the guideline – precocious teenager, slave and prisoner hardly qualified him to be Prime Minister! Nevertheless, God used all these situations to shape his character, preparing him to fulfil his calling as saviour of the nation.
If we follow the world’s model of giving preference to those who are highly qualified in terms of formal training and experience, taking little account of character, we may end up with someone who is a hindrance rather than a help. For instance, a senior banker may not necessarily be a good financial manager for the church if recent much publicised reports are to be believed! Such a person may be better mobilised as one of the trustees where his advice can be heard and weighed carefully in the decision-making process but does not over-ride God’s order of spiritual leadership.
What does the Bible say about leadership appointments? Let us start by returning to Acts 6. As was stated in the last blog, the issue the early church faced could well have been about finance, the fair distribution of alms to the widows. Surely a former banker, tax collector or moneylender would have been an ideal person for such a task? Once saved, his skills, which in that culture may have had dubious application in his unregenerate life, could be ideally suited. He would be able to keep good accounts and ensure the money was efficiently used.
However, the apostles did not seem to approach the situation with those thoughts in mind. Rather, they had other priorities which they specified when looking for suitable people.
First, they sought people of ‘good reputation’ (Acts 6:3). In asking the disciples to make recommendations the apostles were not abdicating their responsibility of leadership. This was not becoming a democratic appointment since the apostles retained the ‘veto’; they were not required to confirm every recommendation but did so only after prayer (Acts 6:6). So their approach was to ask for suggestions since, in a rapidly growing environment, it was not possible for them to know all the people intimately. Also, they wanted to appoint men whom the people would respect and trust. The implication, therefore, was that such people would already have been serving in some other way and have demonstrated their faithfulness. To have a good reputation they must also have had some profile before the people, so they must have already been men of stature who had probably demonstrated their wisdom and leadership skills, not new converts.
Such an approach anticipated what Paul later wrote to Timothy when he spoke of the importance of people being ‘tested first’ before being acknowledged as having a significant responsibility (1 Tim 3:10). He also warned Timothy not to ‘lay hands on people too hastily’ (1 Tim 5:22). It is possible to be impressed by people who have had a high level of responsibility in the world and assume that, once saved, God has given them to the church for immediate responsibility. This can be very dangerous! All need to have their characters shaped, tested and refined following conversion before being given public responsibility. To fail to do so can line people up for a major fall if the temptation of public recognition causes pride to submerge development of a godly character. It can also seriously damage those over whom they have influence.
So, in summary, it appears that character is of far greater interest to God than skill as the initial basis for assessing someone’s suitability for a role in the Kingdom.
We will look at the other priorities in making appointments, spiritual wisdom and faith, in the next blog.