August 30, 2014
Acts 15:22-29 (in context)
Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers. With them they sent the following letter:
The apostles and elders, your brothers,
To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:
We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul— men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.
Today’s text from Acts 15 offers some tremendous wisdom for leaders of all stripes and for any kind of organization. Permit me to enumerate a few observations.
1. Authority without autocracy. They exercised power without force or pressure. They did not issue a cease and desist order here and yet it is clear about a few requirements. It is also clear about who has authority and who does not. People who have clarity about the responsibility of power know how to exercise authority without being authoritarian.
2. Clarity amidst confusion. They took at least three decisive steps to insure clear understanding. First, they wrote a clear letter. Second, they chose the Gentiles’ representatives from the Church at Antioch, Paul and Barnabas. They did not send the papal “brass” i.e. Peter. Third, they did send a couple of their own representatives vested with authority to confirm by “word of mouth” the contents of the letter. (I suspect this was for the benefit of those circumcision-happy Pharisees.)
Note also they did not send low level bureaucrats to accompany Paul and Barnabas. They sent highly decorated Lieutenant Colonel types– yet they sent people whose authority came more from their witness than their rank.
3. LISTEN: Empathy. Empathy. Empathy. Note how the letter began with the recognition of the anxiety felt by the Gentiles. They acknowledged not only what had happened, the unauthorized exercise of power, but they recognized the Gentiles’ “disturbed” and “troubled” fragile emotional state. Empathy may be the rarest and yet single most important quality a leader can possess and demonstrate. At the core of empathy is the highly underrated practice of LISTENING. This is not to be confused with the squishy sentimentalism we so often see in the ranks of people-pleasing leaders. Take 3:37 and listen to Tom Peters on this point of Listening.
4. “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us. . .” They exercised true Spirit-filled leadership without playing the “God-card.” This was not a throw up your hands and shrug your shoulders, “This comes from the top and there’s nothing we can do about it,” moment. They personally owned the decision they together discerned in the strength and wisdom of the Holy Spirit.
5. Pastoral, Decisive, Unapologetic. They framed the new requirements pastorally, decisively and unapologetically. No hem-hawing around here. Clear leadership.
Perhaps I’m reading into this too much through modern leadership lenses, and I do not intend to wrap the first century Church in a Dale Carnegie cover, but I think the text warrants such observations. What do you think ?
The big takeaway: The way decisions get made and carried out is as important as the decisions themselves. In fact, effective leaders see them as one in the same.
COME HOLY SPIRIT!
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