How should a church choose its leaders? Three questions

Author George Orwell wrote a book called Animal Farm. You’ve probably heard one of the lines in the book. “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” That’s important for this intro. So find your sermon buddy and repeat after me: “All animals are equal; but some animals are more equal than others.”
We’re familiar with his book called 1984. You may feel like we’re living that book today. It’s a pretty dark book about what it’s like to live under a dictatorship. But George Orwell wrote another story called Animal Farm. [The following is taken from Dever, Nine Marks, p219, and, accessed October 8, 2021]
Animal Farm sounds like a story for kids. It looks like it , too. After all, it features animals like horses and pigs and chickens, and they live on a farm. Seems pretty benign.
But once you read the story, you see that Animal Farm, while it may look like a children’s story from the outside, once you get on the inside you see that it’s a pretty dark book, too. These pigs and dogs and chickens and horses get it in their heads that they want to form an ideal farm society. A farm society where everyone is equal, no one is really in charge, and everyone is treated the same. A farm, in other words, where the humans aren’t in charge.
But it doesn’t work out quite the way the animals had hoped. The leadership void created by their revolution leaves them vulnerable. The pigs take over the other animals. And as the pigs take power, they’re gradually becoming more and more corrupt, more power hungry, so that eventually the pigs become just as bad and just as oppressive and just as tyrannical as the humans they overthrew.
If that sounds familiar, that’s because it’s supposed to. George Orwell wrote this story as a critique of communism. Specifically, in that book he was hoping to show how Marxist communism promises equality — equity is the word used now, equality is so 2020 — but it can only deliver slavery. You can sum Communism up with probably the most famous line in the story by Orwell. “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
Maybe this is why our culture today has such a distrust of authority. I mean, we really do, don’t we? We expect those over to let us down. We’ve seen how these political systems that promise deliverance from oppressive regimes actually make things worse. We’ve seen how the very ones who promise to liberate us from those who have all the power actually end up wanting all the power themselves, leaving us in the same place we were in before, or worse. Or maybe our stories are more personal - there’s been a teacher or a coach or a pastor you looked up to only to have them disappoint you.
Now of course, no one is perfect. People are sinners which means leaders are sinners, and that leaders will fail you at some point and in some way, even if not egregiously. We should adjust our expectations somewhat. No leader is our Savior; only Jesus is.
But still, we have this sense that leadership in the church ought to be different from leadership in the world. And we’re right, it should. Those who take up the challenge of leading and shepherding those in here ought to be able to do that differently and better than those out there. Our church’s reputation is at stake. More importantly, our Christian witness is at stake. Most importantly, the honor of the Lord Jesus is at stake. How we lead must be a reflection of how He leads.
Which means, that the question of how a church should choose its leaders is one of the most important questions we an ask. That is the question this text answers for us today, and therefore that is the question this sermon attempts to answer today.
But this is not going to be just a sermon about leadership abstractly. I’m going to challenge you all to lead this morning. So sermon buddy exercise #1: turn to your sermon buddy and say “do you like a challenge?” That is to say, I hope and pray this is a challenging sermon. We serve a risen Savior who calls us to change and grow and by placing that same resurrection power within us by His Spirit He empowers us to change and to grow.
So, will you notice with me three questions that ought to guide a church seeking to choose faithful leaders? We find all three in Acts 1:15-26. Notice with me the first question, “What does the Bible say?”

#1: What does the Bible say? (we study)

What does the Bible say? This is the first question the apostle Peter asks.
Verse 15 we see Peter as the picture of holy confidence. “In those days Peter stood up among the believers” - that’s a picture of leadership, that’s a picture of holy confidence. Gone are the days when Peter was weak and timid! Peter has holy confidence to lead. Do you know what gives a man confidence to stand up among God’s people and take the initiative to move forward? It’s grace.
Peter fell as far as a person can fall, yet Jesus pursued Him in love, remember that? “Peter, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” “Then feed my sheep.” Jesus was restoring Peter, giving Him a do-over, showing Him grace by restoring Him to service. Peter never got over that morning on the beach with Jesus. Here we see Peter doing that.
And so now we see Peter as the man who knows where God’s people needed to go and He knew how to take them there. Do you know what gives a man that confidence? It’s not worldly experience. It’s not education. It’s not credentials and certification. As good as those things are, it is the grace of God that makes a man confident to lead the people of God.
And the first thing a godly leader before choosing other leaders, or making any kind of decision, is what does the Bible say? We see that in verse 15. “In those days Peter stood up among the believers and said, ‘Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled.” The Scripture had to be fulfilled. What God has decreed must and will come to pass.
What was it, then, that the Scripture said? Well, it was from the book of Psalms. Look with me at verse 20. Peter cites two passages from the psalms. One comes from Psalm 69:25. The other is from Psalm 109:8. Follow along in your Bibles with me, Acts 1:20 “For it is written in the Book of Psalms, “ ‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and “ ‘Let another take his office’” (NIV).
Both of those psalms, Psalm 69 and Psalm 108, are messianic psalms. All Scripture points to Jesus and so all Scripture is messianic, but some passages are clearly messianic. That’s true of these two. And so Peter understands that even it’s David who composes those psalms about his own suffering and betrayal, ultimately David is writing about Jesus and His suffering and His betrayal. So Peter quotes these two verses from those two psalms, and this is what he’s talking about when he says “the Scripture must be fulfilled”.
Basically, the Scripture, in this case, stipulated two things:
#1: Judas would forfeit his calling
“May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it.”
Psalm 69:25
#2: Judas would be replaced
“May another take his place of leadership.”
From Psalm 109:8
Do you see the logic? The way it’s worded in most translations can be confusing. Look at your screen then at how the CEV translates it. It clears away alot of the confusion and cuts through to what Peter is really saying. Act 1:16
Acts 1:16 CEV
He said: My friends, long ago by the power of the Holy Spirit, David said something about Judas, and what he said has now happened. Judas was one of us and had worked with us, but he brought the mob to arrest Jesus.
The Scripture promised that Judas would betray Jesus. That’s done and over with. But the Scripture also stipulated that Judas would be replaced. That hasn’t been done yet, and so Peter stands up to see that the word of God is fulfilled in choosing a successor for Judas.
Now we all know the story about Judas. In fact, Peter reminds the early church gathered around him here of what happened to Judas. So let’s talk about Judas for a minute. Look with me at how Peter describes Judas’ betrayal at the end of verse 16: “he served as a guide for those who arrested Jesus.” The CEV just nails it here: Acts 1:16
Peter says in verse 17 that “He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.” Judas was chosen by Jesus who knew full well exactly what course Judas would eventually take. And He chose him anyway.
The question is often asked, Was Judas forgiven? Did Judas go to hell? Was it because he committed suicide? Usually those questions are asked together as a bundle.
Maybe the best way to answer this question is to say that there is a difference between repentance and despair. There is a difference between repentance and despair.
Repentance vs. despair
Repentance says: I’ve sinned, but I can be forgiven and so I have hope
Despair: I’ve sinned, but there is no hope and no forgiveness
Repentance says: “I’m in the wrong, but there is hope for me because my Lord and Savior has made a way for me to be forgiven, and I intend to seek forgiveness.” Despair says: “I’m in the wrong, and there is no hope for me. There is no forgiveness for me.” Maybe it’s enough to say that Jesus’ arms were wide open for Judas, just as His arms are wide open for any person regardless of what they’ve done. I’m not sure we can go farther than that.
There’s another thing we can say. What happened with Judas underscores how important it is to be careful in choosing leaders. What does the Bible say? - that is the most important question we can ask.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am afraid this is not a question that we ask often enough when it comes to choosing leaders. Too often, that is the last question we ask, if we ask it at all, when it comes to appointing leaders, whether they be Sunday School teachers or deacons or committee members or pastors. We ask, Is he available? Is she skilled? Can he do the job? What experience does he have? We are impressed with worldly credentials rather than moral character. And yet, in the Bible, moral character is practically the only concern.
I can’t share all that I want to share here, but I do want you to turn with me to see two examples of this in the NT. Did you know the NT gives qualifications for pastors and deacons?
Men, I want you to read this aloud with me. Women, you can read the next one with me.
1Tim. 3:1-7
1 Timothy 3:1–7 NIV
Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
1Tim. 3:8-13
1 Timothy 3:8–13 NIV
In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well. Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.
The Bible has something to say about the kind of man a pastor or elder should be. Scripture is not silent on the type of man a deacon must be, or the moral character that a teacher of the Bible should have.
So what’s the first question we should ask when choosing a leader? “What does the Bible say?”

How do we know what the Bible says? We study.

Notice with me now the second question. Who do we know that is qualified?

#2: Who do we know that is qualified? (we ponder)

Who do we know that is qualified?
How do we see the early church answering this question in Acts 1? Look with me at verses 21-22. Who, in the early church’s view, was qualified to replace Judas?
“Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us”. The main qualification here is longevity. Longevity. They needed someone who had been with Jesus and with the disciples for the long haul. How long? Look with me at verse 22: “beginning from John’s baptism” - from the very start of Jesus’ public ministry - to the time when Jesus was taken up from us” - to the very end of Jesus’ public ministry.
Consistency in verse 21
NIV: “the whole time”
Greek: “at every time”
“Going out and coming in among us” = leadership activity (see Deut. 31:2 and 1Sam. 18:16)
They needed someone who had been around from the start. They also needed consistency. You can’t really see this in the NIV which says “the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us.” I want to show you what the Greek says but I do so at some risk to myself since doing so might cause you to think I’m a nerd. But you already knew that. So turn to your sermon buddy and say “we knew he was a nerd.”
The Greek literally says “at every time when the Lord Jesus was going in and coming out among us.” Elsewhere in the Bible, as you see on your screen, that was used to describe leaderships activity.
They needed longevity. And they needed consistent exposure to Jesus’ leadership and ministry if they were to represent Him in their leadership and ministry.
But there’s another reason longevity was important, and that was because the work of an apostle demanded it. The calling of an apostle demanded it. Look at the last part of verse 22: “For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” An apostle’s calling was to bear witness to the reality of the resurrection of Jesus.
What does it mean to bear witness to the reality of the resurrection of Jesus? It means to proclaim Jesus of Nazareth as the crucified, buried, and risen Lord, Messiah, Savior and Judge. Everything else we say about Jesus, whether His life or teachings or acts, must be seen through this perspective.
Someone who had been with Jesus from the start right up through his death and his burial and his resurrection and his ascension - someone with longevity, in other words - that person is uniquely qualified to say with credibility: “I know he’s risen. I was with him before he died. We saw his crucifixion. We went to his tomb and saw his burial. Then, wonder of wonders, we saw Him alive again - the very same Jesus, scars and all. We can tell you truthfully. Take it from us: Jesus really is risen.”
Apparently there were only two men who met those qualifications. Verse 23 tells us who they are. Will you look there with me? “So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias.”
We know next to nothing about these two men other than what happens here. They’re never mentioned again. We know only that in the eyes of the early church, they were qualified to lead, qualified to serve as an apostle.
Now, there are no apostles today. You might see a billboard on I-85 advertising a church and the pastor’s name is Apostle so and so. With all love and due respect to my dear brother pastor, he is mistaken. The office of apostle by nature is unique and unrepeatable. There is no one alive today who was with Jesus at the baptism of John or at His ascension. The office of apostle is self-limiting.
But here’s the good news - there are places of leadership today for you to serve in, and we need you. We especially need you if you are young. More on that later.
For now, though, if you’re hesitant to lead because you feel unqualified, you might find this helpful. I did.
Think about Moses. God calls Moses to go before Pharoah and demand in the name of Yahweh that He release the Israelites from their bondage. Moses has several objections. The first is: Wait a minute, they’re going to want to know on what authority I’m doing this. Who am I going to say sent me? The second is, what if they won’t believe me or take me seriously? The third one I relate to: I don’t speak well, Moses says. These are his exact words from Exodus 4:10
Exodus 4:10 NIV
Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”
Do you know what the Lord says in response?
Exodus 4:11–12 ESV
Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”
What’s the point? The point is that if you’re unqualified, and you know you’re unqualified, that’s the best position to be in. You’re teachable. And being teachable places you before the Lord Jesus who changes you and who alone can and will qualify you to do what He’s calling you to do.
If you shy away from leading because it intimidates you, or speaking or teaching or whatever it is, that may be the very thing where Jesus is inviting you to trust Him. So you’re not a natural leader - so what? Most leadership experts agree that even if you’re not a born leader, you can grow in your leadership ability. And, you know, forget the experts - if God is calling you to do something, that’s the only factor that matters.
Question #1: What does the Bible say? We study. Question #2: Who do we know that is qualified? We ponder.

#3: Which one has the Lord chosen? (we pray)

Now up to this point it might seem like we’re in this by ourselves. We’re on our own when it comes to finding and choosing leaders. Are we? Look with me at verses 23 and the first part of verse 24: “So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed...”
So we’re not alone. We’re not in this on our own. We do have to do our own work. Jesus does not call us to some super-spiritual way of life where we think that the use of our own minds is always going to lead us astray. God gave us minds and we wants us to use them.
But notice the pattern. We do have to do our own work and think and study. But we don’t trust our own work alone. We acknowledge that we’re fallen and prone to wander and so always, having done our own work, we then submit our work to the Lord for Him to do His work.
After all, we desperately need the Lord’s guidance when we choose leaders. Notice what Peter says. Peter, leading the church to pray, begins his prayer like this: “Lord, you know everyone’s heart”. The original literally means something like “the heart-knower.”
And it’s because the Lord is the knower of hearts that we need His help with leadership decisions, for obvious reasons. All that’s visible to us is how a person behaves and what he says. The Lord, the knower of hearts, all-seeing and all-knowing, infinite and unlimited with regard to time and power and knowledge - He sees down deep into the hidden things. He sees down deep, into the darkest places, where the worst of our secrets hide, and despite seeing that, He still loves us and desires relationship with us.
Praise the Lord! That’s the gospel, isn’t it? Knower of hearts takes us right to the heart of the gospel. We are actually far worse than we ever thought we were, but God is more gracious toward us and loves us more than we ever imagined. That is the gospel.
“Lord, knower of hearts, show us which of these two you have chosen.” It’s interesting here because of the way in which the early church seeks to know the mind of the Lord. They cast lots! Look with me at verses 24-26 and see how matter-of-factly Luke records this. “Lord, you know everyone’s hearts. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.’ Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles” (NIV).
Were they wrong to cast lots? I don’t think so. There’s no evidence of that in the text. Should we cast lots now? I doubt it. Believe it or not, there are things we have that the early church did not. We have the Holy Spirit (the Spirit hadn’t been given at this point in Acts 1). We have the fullness of God’s revelation in Scripture, both OT and NT. So our need today is not to cast lots. Our need is to learn how to properly use the Scriptures and the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the development of discernment.
Three questions
What does the Bible say?
Who do we know that is qualified?
Who has the Lord chosen?
So three questions when it comes to choosing leaders: What does the Bible say? Who do we know that is qualified? And who has the Lord chosen?

Conclusion and call for response

So, let’s do a little exercise. If you are able, please stand up - everyone. If you’re a member of this church, and you are able to stand, please stand.
Now, if you are 85 years old and older, I’d like you sit down. Now, if you are 75 years old and older, please sit down. 65 years old and older, please sit down. 55 years old and older, please sit down. Those of you 55 and older, thank you for all that you’ve done and continue to do. The Lord has seen your service. It does not go unrecognized.
The rest of you are the future of our church. The mantle of leadership will be yours. How will you lead? Where will you serve? You should begin thinking about that now. You need to begin serving and leading now. Why? Because the time will come sooner than we want, sooner than we think, when those precious saints who just sat down will have to pass the mantle of leadership to you. Some of them are tired now and need you to take the mantle of leadership now.
Those of us who could be lead, why won’t we?
Why we won’t lead:
“I’m not called”
“I’ve not been to seminary”
“I’m not a natural leader”
“I’m not called”. “I’m not a pastor or a missionary. I’m not called to full-time vocational ministry.” Okay, fair enough. But you know, being a pastor or a missionary — those are not the only ways you can serve God. Those aren’t the only paths of leadership. The vast majority of believers aren’t called to the “ministry”, but all believers are called to serve, and many of you are called to lead.
“I’ve not been to seminary.” Fair enough. That’s okay, too. Again, the vast majority of believers haven’t been to seminary, but all believers are called to serve, and many of you are called to lead. You don’t have to have gone to seminary to lead in worship or serve as a deacon or to step in and help Shawn by being a youth leader. None of those things require a seminary degree. Jesus doesn’t ask to see your academic credentials. Jesus asks only, “Are you teachable and are you willing to be used by me?”
“I’m not a natural leader”. That’s fair too. Not everyone is called to lead. But many are. I’m convinced that many of you here this morning are called to be leaders in our church, but it’s this one that gets you - “I’m not a born leader. People don’t naturally listen to me or take my advice. People don’t gravitate to me. I’m not a visionary. I wouldn’t know what to do or what to say if people were to see me as a leader. It’s intimidating.”
When I was in the 7th grade, my school thought it would be a great idea to do a big mock presidential debate. My 7th grade class was assigned the role of choosing the three 7th graders who would actually impersonate the candidates.
Now you need to understand. I get up and preach every Sunday, but there was a time in my life when I had a stuttering problem and I hated getting up in front of people. I was completely and totally terrified of speaking in front of people. I would be physically sick the morning I had to give a book report and I would struggle through the whole thing. …you see where this is going.
The candidates that year were, I think, Bill Clinton running as a Democrat for his first term, George H.W. Bush of course running as a Republican for his second term, and Ross Perot — do you remember him? He ran as an independent in 1992. He also ran again as a third party candidate in 1996. Turns out he wasn’t destined for the White House. But for whatever horrible reason, I was destined to play Ross Perot in the presidential debate. The kid with the stuttering problem. There were so many charismatic, gifted, charming, popular students. Why me?
Actually, why me and why Ross Perot? I always wondered. But anyway, I’ll never forget my mom somehow found all of his policy ideas and platform positions and we spent a whole weekend with notecards and everything preparing me for what I thought would be an awful experience.
When the day came, early Monday morning, gray and raining, of course, we filed into the auditorium. It was in front of the whole student body, all 800 students at Liberty Middle School in Morganton. I’d like to tell you I got out there and did great. I didn’t do great, but I didn’t have a stroke from all the anxiety either, so that’s a positive.
I do public speaking for a living now and I’m comfortable with it. I’m not bragging because I still don’t really understand how this happened! It was all God.
Here’s my point: the place where you feel the most vulnerable and out of your depth — that place is often precisely where Jesus wants to meet you and equip you to do what you never thought you could do. It’s clear why He does that. He wants us to grow and He wants the glory, and when you step out in faith to do what God is calling you to do, even if it frightens you, that accomplishes both of His objectives.
I get that we’re busy, I really do. So often, church leadership or church membership is an extra tacked on to our other extracurricular activities. “It would be nice,” we think, “if I could be more involved. But there’s too much going on.”
Is it possible that some of us could cut some of those extra things and make church leadership and church membership the main thing after working our jobs and caring for our families? Some of you simply can’t - you really do have important things going on where it would actually be wrong for you to be more involved; you would be neglecting someone who needs your help. Only you know if that’s you are not.
Do you think it’s possible that some of us have gotten busy with ourselves? We have the best of intentions. Good intentions are not our problem. It’s acting on them. It’s one thing to talk about how more people need to step up and serve. It’s when you yourself are confronted with a need and you choose to say Yes to self and No to God. That brings us face to face with something we don’t want to admit about ourselves, doesn’t it?
But here’s the thing. We can just admit that this morning. You can. You can just admit that what is important to you is not what ought to be important to you. You can say, “You know what? My priorities are not what they should be.” You are free to do that. Do you know why you’re free to do that? You’re free to do that because of the cross.
The cross reminds us that our sin and our selfishness is more of a surprise to us than it is to God. He’s not surprised by our selfishness. He sees it. And yet He still loves us, as we are right now. God is the “heart-knower”, the “knower of hearts”, remember? If God already sees the worst of you, already knows it, and still loves you, even likes you, then you and I can face the worst of ourselves too. You don’t have to paint yourselves as being better than you are. Who are you fooling?
And if through the cross God has forgiven you of all sin, past and present and future, if every morning is a brand new start, then not only can we admit that we’ve been focused on ourselves alone. We can be different going forward. We can make different choices with how we spend our time.
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