The book of Acts describes the amazing story of Jesus’ work through the Holy Spirit in the early church. With an explosive start, problems were certain to surface. And they did. In the first example of internal dissension the Apostles displayed great leadership. The church had grown so rapidly that some of the widows were being overlooked in the regular distribution of food (Acts 6.1-7). And murmuring began that potentially could fracture the church. However, they led the church well and model for us nine things great leaders do.
Great leaders …
1. Define reality.
They assess and solve problems. What was the reality in the early church? Needs were not being met in a segment of the church (some widows), those not best qualified were trying to meet the needs, and unless fixed, greater problems could result. Good leaders don’t stick their head in the sand when they face problems. They tackle them head-on and find solutions. Their solution was to reorganize and find qualified people to fix the problem. Growing churches and ministries often demand new structures and ministries and ways to solve problems.
2. Think big picture.
The apostles didn’t stay at the granular level. They didn’t say, “Maybe if we divide the bread better and use sturdier bags we could feed all the widows properly.” No. The murmuring caught their attention and they knew that if it continued, it would not be good for the church as a whole. It would affect the entire church, not just this group of widows. Good leaders must schedule time to get above the fray, think long term, dream big picture, and get the 10,000 foot view.
3. Keep the main thing the main thing.
They knew what was most important, the Great Commission. The Apostles knew where they needed to leverage their time, abilities, and influence. They knew the situation required they focus on big picture items which in their case were teaching, prayer, and the overall leadership of the early church. As a result, they needed a new structure so that the main thing (the Great Commission) would not suffer. In churches the good often becomes the enemy of the best. Great leaders guard against the temptation to say yes to every good idea.
4. Make tough calls.
They decided that they weren’t the best ones to feed the widows. That decision posed the risk that some might say, “So it’s beneath you to do these servant kinds of ministry? Jesus washed your feet and you’re not willing to put a plate of food before a hungry woman?” Some of the widows probably preferred that a true Apostle provide their food. They made the tough call, though. And tough calls are just that ‒ tough. They aren’t easy to make, but crucial.
Great leaders welcome others into the decision making process and the execution of ministry. They welcome input. The Apostles had the group select seven godly men to take on this task. Although they themselves posed the solution, they welcomed the input from the others to choose the seven.
6. Set healthy standards.
The Apostles set the parameters for the solution: the number of people (seven), the roles (handle the food distribution), and the qualifications (men full of the Spirit and wisdom). Our staff operates by a set of staff values we call Permission to Play Values. You can read about them here.
After they selected the seven, they delegated this pastoral responsibility to them. Good leaders share ministry. Good leaders don’t try to do it all themselves. And good leaders don’t feel threatened when someone else can do a ministry better than they. It’s a temptation for a leader to think, “If it’s going to get done right I’m going to have to do it myself.” That attitude stifles leadership effectiveness.
8. Trust other people.
This relates to delegation. How did the Apostles show trust? They gave the ministry away. They trusted that this group of seven would do the right thing. When leaders trust, they build others up and give others opportunities to grow. And when you trust, you won’t micromanage.
9. Discover, develop, and deploy other leaders.
This sums up this entire biblical scenario. They guided the people to discover seven qualified people, they handed off the ministry and developed the seven by bringing them up to speed, and they deployed them. The mark of a good leader is reflected in how many he or she deploys into ministry.
So, the Apostles set a stellar example of great leadership as they helped solve the first internal problem the early church faced.