Words of Hope

Good News. No Boundaries

Servant Leaders Are Rooted in Community

by: Karsten Voskuil

When working at a summer camp, I guided kids through challenge initiatives that were meant to produce group cohesiveness and formation. My favorite challenge involved getting a whole group to climb from one side of the wall to the other side without talking. It was a joy to witness group discernment in action. I also discovered that the sooner the campers figured out how to employ everyone’s gifts and rely upon everyone’s participation, the sooner a challenge could be accomplished.

Acts 15 offers a window into early group discernment within the church. The growth of the gospel into non-Jewish populations necessitated a hard question involving inclusiveness: Did gentile believers need to be circumcised, or not? Wisely, the early leaders of the church knew that this wasn’t an  easy question for one person to answer. Leaders were asked to convene and discern so as to listen to God’s voice together.

We sometimes celebrate the “visionary leader” who is divorced from the often messy but necessary work of convening and listening to a wider community. Yet, as wonderfully emphasized in this Acts 15 text, faithful leadership within Christ’s body involves employing the gifts and participation of the fuller body.

As I learned while serving as a chaplain, leaders who listen, learn, and grow from the collective discernment of others are especially good at helping groups over the wall.