Vol. 6, No. 9
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The mother of a little girl went to the library to get some recordings for her daughter. She brought home classic American folk songs. Her little girl loved listening to the music. One day, the mother heard her daughter going through the house singing, "O My Darling, O My Darling, O My darling Calvin Klein."
This little girl was listening to more than one source for her music. It is amazing how the message of a song can be corrupted. This is true in the world of churches as well. When churches seek to find men to lead them, whether elders or deacons or preachers, those churches often use corrupted means. They read the latest business book on management and then try to apply worldly principles to spiritual leadership. Where there may be some crossover between leadership in the world and in the church, the fact is, spiritual leadership is different. To understand this we will look at a great church of the first century and see how it grew and what kind of leadership it had while it grew.
Antioch was a great city of the Roman Empire. It was the third largest city, behind only Rome and Alexandria in Egypt. All three of these major cities had large numbers of Jewish citizens. Antioch was a rich crossroads for the empire. As such, it brought in all kinds of people, many of them corrupt or greedy or immoral. Antioch was well known for its immorality. In fact, writers of the first century said that Antioch made Rome look good! Included in its evil practices was the worship of Astarte, a Syrian goddess. This worship included all kinds of sexual practices. And it was this city that God chose to become the center of a great church of Jesus Christ.
"So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord"(Acts 11:19-21). Following the persecution led by Saul, the church in Jerusalem had been scattered abroad. Some of these believers made their way to Antioch, first sharing the good news with only Jews, and then, finally, going to the Greeks with the Gospel. From these few verses we learn a great deal about leadership.
God doesn't tell us who these men are. We are simply told "some men" spoke the good news to the people in Antioch. They began by going to the ones who would know God best, the Jews. They then expanded to include the Gentiles. These unnamed men made a huge difference in the history of the church. The church at Antioch would become one of the largest, one of the most influential churches of the first century, all because of some unknown servants who did God's work without credit or fanfare.
The early church had its great servants. Peter, Paul, John, Barnabas and many others were vital workers who did more good than we can imagine. But, sometimes it is not the leader who is out front that makes the big difference. Often, it is some kind soul, some gentle person who takes some time to do some good. Then, God blesses that good effort and the church is strengthened. Too often preachers and elders get the credit when, in fact, it is some unknown believer that made it happen.
This tells us much about leadership. Leading in the kingdom is not based on notice or credit, but on service. "But Jesus called them to Himself, and said, 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many'" (Matthew 20:25-28). Jesus reminds us that it is not who gets noticed, but who does the work that matters. "Some men" came to Antioch. They were not led by an apostle, a church expert or anyone else. They were motivated by their own love for the Lord and the desire to share the good news. These anonymous servants started one of the great churches of the first century.
The Greek word used here means the preaching of good news. When these men came to Antioch and preached the Lord Jesus, they were literally bringing good news to a corrupt and wicked city. This might seem odd to some of us. We might think an evil community like Antioch would need some good old-fashioned "hellfire and brimstone" preaching, the kind that would put the fear of God into them. But the leaders of the first century brought good news, not bad news, when they came sharing the Gospel.
It is a foundation principle for New Testament leaders that they are believers who bring good news. The Gospel is a message of hope. It is a message of comfort. Even the worst sinner needs to hear the good news that he or she can be saved. These unknown preachers shared the good news with Antioch and the Lord blessed them. God blessed their efforts and the church grew rapidly and became a strong force for the Lord and his Gospel.
That same principle should characterize churches today. Churches should be sources of good news. That is what leaders today should do. They should share good news. If a preacher wants to reach people and build up a church, it is good news that needs to be preached. If an elder wants to encourage or build up a church, he should be a man who encourages, lifts up and helps. If a deacon, in whatever ministry, wants to impact lives, he, too, should be one who brings good news. If he is feeding the hungry, it should be a blessing to those in need, not a guilt trip. If he is maintaining church property, it should be done in a way that people are encouraged. Whatever the ministry, the leader in that ministry should bring good news to all who are affected by the ministry.
When these men came to Antioch they began by going only to Jews. That makes sense, the Jews knew the Old Testament. They had been looking for a Messiah for a long time. They would listen and understand the Old Testament Scriptures that pointed to Jesus. They would become Christians who valued the same morals as the Jews.
But these men also went to Greeks. This was novel. Peter had taught and baptized Cornelius, a Gentile, but so far in the history of the church that was an exception, not the rule. These preachers dared take the good news to Greeks. Greeks did not know the old law, did not grasp all the rules about right and wrong spelled out in the old law. They were pagans used to pagan ways, and now they are added to the church just like that.
It was not the custom to cross cultural lines to save the lost. But, these leaders did just that. When it is merely social convention that separates people, God's leaders step over those lines to do God's work. Whatever the expectations of people, men of God will not worry so much about social rules as about saving souls. So, skin color, nationality, socio-economic status, none of these should hinder the sharing of good news. We know God approved, for he blessed them with a great response. When we put God above men, God will bless us as we step over social lines.
"The hand of the Lord was with them" (Acts 11:21). In a simple way, God validates all these men did. He blessed their efforts with growth. Over and over again in the book of Acts we are reminded it is God who brings the increase. These unknown men were doing his will, sharing good news with Jews and Gentiles. However, the growth did not come from their efforts, but from God's hand.
Gamaliel had it right. "And so in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action should be of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God" (Acts 5:38-39). When God decides to bless something, it will succeed! What made the church in Antioch grow was not how smart, how hard working, how well trained the preachers were who came there. What made the church grow was the hand of God.
This is true in any area of ministry. If God is with the person doing the service, the church will be built up by God. That reminds church leaders to be humble, since it is God's hand that causes the growth. That reminds church leaders to be submissive, since only God's blessing will insure success.
As we have seen, God's leaders are not chosen because they are better looking, better thinking or better workers. They are chosen because they desire to serve the Lord without credit or notice. They build up people and attract the lost through good news. They put people ahead of social expectations. They trust God to bless the work. These kind of leaders will be part of a growing body. These are the leaders God seeks to bless.