There are three main types of organizational leadership. Today, I’m talking about these three types of leadership in the context of the church, but I could as just as well be talking about any organization.
When it comes to leadership in the church, there are three primary questions we need to ask:
- Who chooses the leaders? The pastor(s)? Elders? Board?
- What makes someone a leader? Talent? Skill? Giftedness? Calling? The fact that they have a pulse?
- How should leaders lead? In other words, what should be their driving engine? How should they make decisions and lead others in that way?
The answers to these three questions form the foundation of the three types of leadership. However, what churches often don’t recognize is that the book of Acts in the New Testament of the Bible shows how the coming of the Holy Spirit changes the answers to all of these questions.
The first type of leadership is traditional. This type of leadership is concerned primarily with filling a position. For example, we have 12 spots on our board. Two people have stepped down, so we have two spots open. We need to fill those positions.
We see this philosophy employed in Acts 1. The 12 Apostles have spent three years under Jesus’ tutelage, but one of them (Judas) has stepped off the board in dramatic fashion. So after Jesus charges these Apostles with being His witnesses to the ends of the earth and says his farewell, they turn and look at each other. “Crap! What do we do now?”
The first thing they think of is we need to fill Judas’ position.
Perhaps even more interesting than this first leadership decision is how they determine they are going to decide his replacement: by rolling the dice.
Now “casting lots” was not unusual. They were just doing what they’d always done.
“We may throw the dice, but the LORD determines how they fall.” (Proverbs 16:33, NLT)
What’s interesting is that according to the Law, only priests could cast lots. So, the Apostles are acting like they are the priestly rulers of Israel who need to replace the one leader that was lost.
But was replacing Judas the right thing to do?
The second type of leadership is transitional. This type of leadership is primarily concerned with filling a void. It’s a stop-gap. We have a need in this area, let’s fill it.
But what we see over and over again as the events of Acts unfold is one void after another not being filled. For example, Matthias, Judas’ replacement is never mentioned again in the entire New Testament! His position must not have been as important as the Apostles first thought. In fact only three of the Apostles (Peter, James, and John) are even mentioned again in the book of Acts. Instead, what we see are the “12 Apostles” fading more and more into the background as God raises up new leaders to reach new people with the Good News. Much of Acts is about leadership transition as the emphasis shifts from being a witness to Christ to being Christ’s witnesses; from a few people doing the work to the Holy Spirit doing the work through many people.
Transitional leadership is critical in moving from traditional leadership to the third type of leadership, but it must only be temporary.
The third and final type of leadership is transformational. Rather than merely filling positions or needs, this type of leadership is concerned with being filled by the Holy Spirit in such a way that both the leader, followers, and organization are transformed.
As Acts unfolds, we find the answers to our three leadership questions.
Q: Who chooses the leaders? A: The Holy Spirit
“The Holy Spirit said, ‘Dedicate Barnabas & Saul…’” (Acts 13:2-3)
I’m pretty confident that people acting on their own would not choose to send out their top two leaders. This is surely a God-thing that came out of worship, fasting and prayer. Had the leaders at Antioch not been attentive and obedient to the Spirit they would have missed out on what was the beginning of the “Gentile mission” – the spreading of the Gospel beyond Jewish boundaries.
Often God calls us to let go of people we love so He can save people that He loves.
Q: What makes someone a leader? A: Called by God and gifted by the Holy Spirit
“So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders.“ (Acts 20:28, NLT)
Leaders are called and gifted by the Holy Spirit to lead. “Apostle” is not a title or position, but a gift. Spiritual leaders need the accountability and counsel of the believing community, but they also need the freedom to lead as God has called and gifted them to do.
Q: How should leaders lead? A: By the power of the Holy Spirit
In a stark contrast to Acts 1, when the leaders are faced with a critical decision later on, they employ a completely different decision-making method.
“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” (Acts 15:28)
No dice are cast. But, also no “Thus saith the Lord” is uttered. It simply seemed good to the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it seemed good to us.
The “Gentile mission” which began in Acts 13 with the leading of the Holy Spirit was now causing “problems.” The problems were created by a clash between religion and relationship; ritual and freedom.
The question for all of us: What do we do when what the Holy Spirit says we should do clashes with our personal preferences and the established rules, rituals, and traditions of our religion?
Here’s how they lead:
- They discuss it at length (Acts 15:6-7)
- They recall what the H.S. first said (vv. 7-11)
- They look at the evidence (12)
- They test this with Scripture (15-18)
Conclusion: It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.
This was not just a critical decision, but a crucial change in decision-making method.
Here’s the bottom line: it’s Christ’s church. If we are concerned primarily with filling positions and needs, we will miss out on being filled by the Spirit and achieving the greater work that God wants to do in us, our church, and community. Ultimately, we may choose the leaders we want, but God uses the leaders He wants.