Growing Pains, Cultural Diversity & Gifting Fit: Three Challenges for Leaders

by Rick Love

There is a fascinating account of wise leadership and conflict resolution in the early church. Acts 6:1-6 describes three kinds of challenges that face leaders continually. The church was growing, cultural diversity was increasing, and old structures were creaking. Here’s what happened:

But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers. They said, "We apostles should spend our time teaching the word of God, not running a food program. And so, brothers, select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility. Then we apostles can spend our time in prayer and teaching the word." Everyone liked this idea, and they chose the following: Stephen (a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit), Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas of Antioch (an earlier convert to the Jewish faith). These seven were presented to the apostles, who prayed for them as they laid their hands on them (Acts 6:1-6 NLT).

1) What happens when organizational growth strains your structures and stretches your leaders beyond their capacity?

Growth pains alone have caused their fair share of conflict in organizations. When organizations grow numerically, their capacity gets strained. Old structures and leadership abilities for one stage of growth often do not work well for a larger organization.

So, organizational growth usually demands re-evaluation of structure and peoples' gifting or competency. Leaders need to determine if their present structure meets the needs of their growing organization and then change accordingly. They also need to evaluate whether or not their present leaders have the capacity to grow with the organization. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t. If they don’t have the capacity, they will need to be redeployed and a new leader appointed. These kind of changes aren’t easy.

2) How do you handle cultural diversity in your organization?

Cultural differsity is a major source of conflict on teams and in organizations. Even in the early church! Apparently, those who were distributing food were taking care of the Hebrew-speaking widows and ignoring the Greek-speaking widows.

It is unclear whether this conflict was actually due to prejudice or just poor administration because of growth pains. But whatever the reason, the church was becoming multi-cultural while the leadership team remained monocultural (Hebrew-speaking Jews). So how did they handle it?

It seems that the apostles remembered what Jesus taught them about servant leadership (Mark 10: 35-45)! Rather than dictating what the team needed to do the apostles modeled participatory leadership. They set forth guidelines to choose new leadership but they also involved the church in the choosing the new leaders.

The result? All seven of the leaders chosen had Greek names. By allowing participation of the cultural minority, the apostles wisely led the early church through conflict into becoming a multicultural community.

3) How do you get the right people in the right roles?

According to the apostles, however, the problem the church faced was not just growth or multiculturalism. There was also a problem of stewardship and gifting fit. The apostles needed to remain focused on the task God gave them to pray and minister the word. They needed to be good stewards of their gifts.

They also needed to serve the whole congregation. So they had to delegate the ministry of serving the widows to those within the church who were motivated and gifted to do so. One of the biggest challenges we face as leaders is making sure we have the appropriately gifted people doing the ministry that best fits their gifts.

The apostles handled this relational storming by making structural change. They added another level of leadership to handle the numerical growth. They wisely addressed gifting alignment, which facilitated the next stage of organizational growth. Any lessons for us?