FROM THE SERVANT GENERAL
ON SERVANT LEADERSHIP
ISSUES IN THE EARLY CHURCH
April 28, 2016
Today’s & yesterday’s reading: Acts 15:1-21
There are some interesting facts about life and leadership in the early Church, as we see in the first-ever meeting of Church elders, known as the Council of Jerusalem. “The apostles and the presbyters met together to see about this matter.” (v.6). It was something like today’s Vatican synod. Principles arising from these facts are still relevant today, with regard to servant leadership.
One, elders had different views, and since the Church was not a cult, there would be discussions or dialogues. Their directions came “after much debate had taken place” (v.7). Disagreements are not a problem, but should be discussed well, and not lead to dissent, which can lead to division.
Two, there will always be those, including other elders, who cause disruption due to insistence on their own perceptions, desires, agenda or priorities. “Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.’” (v.1). Such dissent causes debate and even conflict. In this case, “there arose no little dissension and debate by Paul and Barnabas with them” (v.2a).
Oftentimes, some elders become legalistic or corporate rather than pastoral. They develop a narrow view and cannot see the larger vision. Even as Paul and Barnabas “reported what God had done with them” (v.4b), “telling of the conversion of the Gentiles” (v.3b), which “brought great joy to all the brothers” (v.3c), some dissenters persisted. “But some from the party of the Pharisees who had become believers stood up and said, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them and direct them to observe the Mosaic law.’” (v.5). Compared to the vastness of the work and the wonders the Holy Spirit accomplishes in the work, there are those who persist in just looking to their petty concerns and misguided convictions.
Three, after discussion and dialogue, decisions have to be made. Here it is important that all elders look to those appointed and anointed by God to be the top leaders of the community. In this case, it was Peter (v.7), who was the first-among-equals among the apostles, Paul and Barnabas, (v.2-4), who were the acknowledged missionary pillars, and James (v.13,19), the head of the Jerusalem church. Decisions are not by majority vote. All elders and brethren must then be submitted to the overall authority. “The whole assembly fell silent” (v.12a). And they must expand their vision, open their eyes and ears, humble their hearts, and allow the Spirit to touch them and change them, just as “they listened while Paul and Barnabas described the signs and wonders God had worked among the Gentiles through them.” (v.12b).
We are called to the New Evangelization. Servant leaders are privileged to lead in serving our Church. We can be at the cutting edge of renewal and revival in our Church. But it starts with us, as “God first concerned himself with acquiring from among the Gentiles a people for his name.” (v.14). We must be humble and docile to the Holy Spirit, and not be insistent on our own desires and priorities. Then we all together can be used by God to help rebuild our Church. “After this I shall return and rebuild the fallen hut of David; from its ruins I shall rebuild it and raise it up again” (v.16). Then a rebuilt1, strengthened and revitalized Church can be the missionary Church that God intended her to be, and do a massive and effective work of evangelization, “so that the rest of humanity may seek out the Lord” (v.17a).
Onward to the New Evangelization!
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