Healthy Leaders


Leaders and Managers in the Bible

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

This is Part 4 in a series on Spiritual Management
Part 1 – Managers and Leaders: Your Differences Are Your Strengths!
Part 2 – What Do Managers Actually Do?
Part 3 – The Skills of the Spiritual Manager
Part 5 – A Healthy Organization Needs Both Leaders and Managers!

We’ve spent a significant amount of time in this series discussing the differences between leaders and managers, as a way to better understand how to collaborate and grow together. But before we go any further, let’s look to Scripture for the basis of it all.

Several New Testament passages give a broad division of “ministry” into two general dimensions of leadership and management:

In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:1-4)

This was not a “religious/secular” distinction, but rather a distinction along the lines of leader/manager. The apostles knew they needed to focus on the big picture issues of meaning and direction for the newly created church, so they appointed “spiritual managers” to take care of the daily administrative tasks.

From several New Testament Scriptures (Acts 20:17,  28 ; Titus 1:5,  7 ; 1 Peter 5:1-2 ) we see that “elder” and “overseer” are equivalent terms for the same leadership office, and that an overseer is to “shepherd” the flock of God. This “shepherding” includes teaching (1 Tim. 3:2; 5:17; Tit. 1:9), “managing” and “caring for” the local church (1 Tim. 3:4-5; 5:17).

The office of deacon (1 Tim. 3:8; Phil. 1:1) probably emerged as the church grew in size and the leaders needed to delegate certain responsibilities. Teaching and ruling are not mentioned in connection with the deacons. Such “servants” were likely charged with caring for the church’s daily practical needs (the chosen men of Acts 6:1-6 may have been prototypical of these deacons), although they also were active in spiritual ministry (cf. Acts 6:9-10; 8:5ff). Primary responsibility for the spiritual life of the church, however, probably lay with the elders.

In Philippians 1, there is this idea of two broad kinds of leadership roles in the church:

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: (Phil. 1:1)

While the overseers probably gave general oversight to the church community, the deacons probably had responsibilities to serve in specific practical ways.

Thus, there were two kinds of oversight in the local churches: the general spiritual leadership of the elders and the more practical management of the deacons.

The same idea seems to be mentioned briefly by Peter:

If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ… (1 Pet. 4:11)

As in Acts 6, Peter gives a broad, general division of ministry into that of the Word (to give overall direction regarding the “big picture”) and that of “serving tables.”

There are many other biblical examples. For example:

Jesus Himself delegated considerable responsibilities to His disciples:

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Matt. 16:19)

If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven. (John 20:23)

And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons… they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well. (Mark 16:17-18)

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore [you] go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matt. 28:18-19)

Management is a set of processes that can keep a complicated organization of people running smoothly. Leadership is a set of processes that creates organizations in the first place or changes them to be what they could or should be. And according to Scripture, both leaders and managers are vital to the work of God’s kingdom.

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