n a media-sensitive culture where glibness and shallowness are considered virtues, people have learned to say a whole lot without saying, well, much of “anything.” Politicians have mastered the “art” of doublespeak—speaking to deceive, or more accurately, to mask how they really feel about a matter.
A whole public relations industry is out there whose primary purpose is to couch and word things in such a way that even the most unpleasant subjects make people feel good. And it really doesn’t matter if what’s being said is accurate; it’s all about how it’s perceived. It’s a world where everyone tries not to offend.
Even in the church we don’t always feel comfortable putting things on the line. Notwithstanding the admonition of the Word, it’s not always easy to “speak the truth in love.” You can get sued for speaking the truth, even if it’s laced with all the love in the world.
Yet in a bygone era recorded in the biblical book of Acts, speaking the truth was expected. The Holy Spirit was very much in charge of things. The church was in a period of massive growth. People came by the thousands to link their lives to the Lord Jesus. As with any organization where growth is rapid, problems can and will arise, and that was the case in the Acts church.
A conflict arose over the distribution of food among the widows of the various ethnic groups. The early church was multicultural in every way. There wasn’t a Greek church or a Hebrew church; there was just the church. Some frontline churches today, despite the inherent barriers of the culture and the racial divide built into the very fabric and structure of our faith community, are trying to get back there.
The apostles wisely refused to get bogged down with running the food distribution program of the church, and suggested that the people find seven men from among them who could serve the church as deacons. The primary qualification was that each of them had to be full of the Holy Spirit.
While every believer receives the Spirit when they trust Jesus for salvation, some people are recognized as being “filled with the Spirit,” and those were the ones the apostles told the people to go for.
Please note: the apostles didn’t spend a lot of time debating with special interest groups in the congregation about how some people were kept out of leadership because of some arbitrary criteria put in place by the apostles. Even if they said it, it didn’t really matter to the apostles, as they were more intent on staying in tune with the voice of the Holy Spirit. They made it plain: people not known to be full of the Holy Spirit would not be selected. If that happened in some churches today, “who would be able to stand?”
The reason it was imperative to take the risk of offending in this matter of leadership selection was the arena in which the church did its business. The apostles realized the church was locked in a battle “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). They had to have leaders who could function in this arena.
It’s my sense that until we consider spiritual qualifications as the dominant way we choose and select leaders on all levels of our faith community, we will have leaders ill-equipped to fight in this world of “present darkness.” If we select individuals based on degrees and status as primary qualifications, we may end up with a great corporation, but it won’t be the church. The one and only qualification to lead in today’s church is to be filled with the Spirit. If that’s offensive, so be it.
The apostles and the early church took Spirit-directed qualifications for leadership seriously. Given the present darkness of this world, we have to do the same.
Fredrick A. Russell is senior pastor of the Miracle Temple Seventh-day Adventist Church in Baltimore, Maryland.