Gabriel Adu-Acheampong serves as a district pastor in the South Central Ghana Conference, Kumasi, Ghana.

There was a dilemma among Jesus’ disciples concerning ministry. “Then a dispute arose among them as to which of them would be greatest” (Luke 9:46).1 Jesus attempted to draw their attention away from a position of greatness and power and toward an attitude of service and humility. But there is still a dispute among the disciples of Jesus.

Some in the church prefer to be anonymous, inactive spectators, while others want to focus more on position than on the main reason for their calling. While neither approach is commendable, our focus here will be on the second.

Spiritual or political

The attitude of wanting influential positions has long characterized some followers of Christ. Jesus consistently condemned that mindset and drew attention to service with integrity and humility. Church leader and educator John Fowler writes, “Choosing leaders from local to General Conference levels is an exciting passion for many and a boring occasion for some. Those elected attribute the working of the nominating committee to the guidance of Holy Spirit, and those disappointed would suggest that the whole process is political, pushed by influential lobbying.”2 This is applicable to all church institutions, including conferences, unions, divisions, and church schools; universities; and hospitals.

But is there something wrong with desiring broader responsibilities to serve the church? Was it not the apostle Paul who affirmed, “This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work” (1 Tim. 3:1)?

Church leader Nevins Harlan once said, “Sometimes in the process of electing the officers for the new year the charge is made that a clique is controlling the election.”3 In one place, some individuals manipulated the procedure to secure the election of a team of leaders of their choosing. Even though normal procedures appeared to have been followed, individuals campaigned behind closed doors to make sure they had their team on the nominating committee. They subsequently succeeded in appointing to key leadership positions persons of their own choosing.

While most nominations go through a spiritual and diligent process, the isolated cases create negative views that affect the church; those situations need to be addressed. It has concerned me that the church’s name is put into disrepute by the way some of us have allowed ourselves to be intentionally or unintentionally manipulated. We need to remind ourselves of Biblical criteria for selecting leaders for the gospel work.

Criteria for selection

Israel was a “church” because it was a nation chosen by God to showcase His love to the world. Moses was in charge of all of the judgments, which was wearing on him. Advice from his father-in-law, Jethro, prevented exhaustion from being replaced with extinction. “ ‘Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens’ ” (Exod. 18:21; emphasis added).

Men of truth who fear God and hate covetousness were recommended to lead. In every leadership position of the church, these characteristics are needed to oil the wheels of progress. Moses added to this criteria, “ ‘Choose wise, understanding, and knowledgeable men from among your tribes, and I will make them heads over you’ ” (Deut. 1:13). In these passages, leaders did not influence or participate in their own selection, rather they were chosen based on qualities pertaining to godliness.

In the pastoral epistle to Titus, Paul gave characteristics befitting a leader in the church of God: “For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict” (Titus 1:7–9).

In the book of Acts, Luke expands on the required standards for church office: “ ‘Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word’ ” (Acts 6:3, 4; emphasis added).

Ellen White contributes this comment, “ ‘God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.’ 1 Corinthians 14:33. He requires that order and system be observed in the conduct of church affairs today no less than in the days of old. He desires His work to be carried forward with thoroughness and exactness so that He may place upon it the seal of His approval. Christian is to be united with Christian, church with church, the human instrumentality co-operating with the divine, every agency subordinate to the Holy Spirit, and all combined in giving to the world the good tidings of the grace of God.”4

Affirming the gift

Every pastor is a leader, but a pastor cannot serve in every position. We are given different ministry gifts (1 Cor. 12:7–12). Julius Soyinka said, “God equips those He calls. God will use the way He designed people and their spiritual gifting to steer them into what type of leader they should be.”5 Nominating committee recommendations should therefore be in accordance with a person’s spiritual giftedness.

In many cases within the Seventh-day Adventist Church, a pastor would apply to a conference in order to be employed. Such an application process is considered to be a response to the call of ministry, showing a readiness for ministry that has been affirmed by persons in the body of Christ.

If a minister does not have a hand in his or her election to office, that minister’s focus will be on the work, whatever benefits may or may not come.

David’s call received affirmation. “Saul said to his servants, ‘Provide me now a man who can play well, and bring him to me.’

“Then one of the servants answered and said, ‘Look, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a mighty man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a handsome person; and the LORD is with him.’

“Therefore Saul sent messengers to Jesse, and said, ‘Send me your son David, who is with the sheep’ ” (1 Sam. 16:17–20).

There was the need to get someone to do the work. A recommendation was made. David did not have any hand in his selection apart from the skills he had that made him the outstanding candidate for the work. By the Holy Spirit’s guidance, members of the nominating committee will base their selections on the person’s spiritual gifts, while pastors focus on their primary functions—
teaching, preaching, visiting—which expose the love of Jesus to others.

What it means to serve

Why do some pastors want some positions? Those who campaign to be elected might covet benefits they will get when elected; others might want the recognition a position might bring. But looking at the biblical rationale behind service, those who desire to be elected with the motive to gain are not the leaders Christ Jesus is looking for.

The greatest and most vital qualities are humility, dedication to service, cultivating a spiritual life, and seeing results in ministry. Other aspects should also play into the election process, such as experience and education.

If a minister does not have a hand in his or her election to office, that minister’s focus will be on the work, whatever benefits may or may not come.

Be a Christian before becoming a pastor

Christ is an example for every minister to follow. Before becoming a pastor, the individual should be a Christian. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). A Christian is someone who follows in the footsteps of Christ Jesus, who drew the attention of the ministry to service rather than just focusing on position.

Lucifer fought for a position in heaven; that was his downfall. Solomon stated, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18). Those who want to fight and lobby for a position in church leadership should repent, lest they similarly fall.

Jesus displayed His humility before His name was lifted above every name in the universe. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:5–8). We should display such humility and not crave church positions, believing that “A man’s gift makes room for him” (Prov. 18:16).

Serving in church leadership means being part of God’s movement at an appropriate time, for an appropriate place, and in an appropriate manner. Positions are not for personal benefit or self-glorification but for the glory of God. Positions are not the possession of the receiver but the Giver.

A wise administrator once said, “Wear your new assignment like a loose coat because one day you may be asked to take it off.” Every session involves appointments and disappointments, therefore we would do well to use the words of a patriarch, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).

  1. Scripture is from the New King James Version.
  2. John M. Fowler, “Choosing Leaders,” Ministry, June 1995, 5.
  3. Nevins M. Harlan, “A Plan for Church Elections,” Ministry, October 1951, 25.
  4. Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), 96.
  5. Julius Soyinka, “Effective Christian Leadership Ephesians 2:10-2:10 Introduction: ‘We are . . .,” Faithlife Sermons, 2013, https://sermons.faithlife.com/sermons/121833-effective-christian-leadership-ephesians-2:10-2:10-introduction:-’we-are.

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Gabriel Adu-Acheampong serves as a district pastor in the South Central Ghana Conference, Kumasi, Ghana.

April 2021

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