Pluralistic Leadership in Acts 2
The Argument for Pluralistic Leadership in Acts 2
The book of Acts is a sequel to the gospel according to Luke (DeSilva, 2004). In order to understand Acts 2 within context, one must read and study the book of Luke (ibid). When engaging in such study, it is easy to recognize the peculiar setting of the book of Acts (ibid). Jesus, the leader of the fledgling community of believers, departed leaving the disciples, a council of 11 and the defacto leadership, in a time of turmoil, unrest, and change (Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:6-11). Acts 2 represents the first challenges faced by the church after the ascension of Jesus Christ and the decent of the Holy Ghost on man. People across varying cultures and backgrounds began to look to the disciples, along with Peter, for answers regarding salvation and doctrine (Acts 2:14; 37; 41; 42; 43). From its inception, Christianity has recognized pluralistic leadership (Acts 1:26). This paper argues the indispensability of a pluralistic leadership structure in order to become a more effective cross-cultural organization in both the religious and secular fields.
The Necessity of Cross Cultural Leadership
Leadership techniques are, by default, deeply rooted in one's culture (Punnett & Shenkar, 2004). Applying a set of leadership techniques from one culture to another does not always effectively transfer due to friction created by opposing customs, values, and cultural societal norms (ibid). The ability of a set of leadership techniques and skills to transfer from one culture to another depends on the similarities in values the cultures share (ibid).
Modern society and the modern workplace are growing more diverse by the year (Punnett & Shenkar, 2004). The importance of being able to properly lead diverse groups of people will only grow as time progresses (ibid). Inside both the religious community and the secular world, cross-cultural leadership is an invaluable asset in the 21st century.
Acts 2: Setting and Purpose
The purpose of Acts 2 is to both record the history of the early church and educate Theophilus, a new convert, in the foundations of the church (Duvall & Hays, 2012). Acts 1:8 holds the key to understanding the book of Acts; "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth". Because Luke was writing his narrative to establish Theophilus as a new convert, the recordings in Acts should be taken as the normative state of the early church and not the exception (ibid). Luke was attempting to convey to Theophilus the activities that are hallmarks of distinction for the early church (ibid).
The events of Acts 2 set the stage for the rest of the New Testament. The second chapter of the book of Acts opens during a major Jewish festival called the "festival of weeks" (Carson & et al., 1994). This festival was to celebrate the wheat harvest and was associated with the giving of the law and the covenant renewal (ibid). It was during this festival that the Holy Ghost descended on those in the upper room. The infilling of the Holy Ghost, according to Stronstad (2012), was not an isolated or unique event, rather it was the first of several occasions following Pentecost.
Acts 2:9-11 reveals that the annual festivals were attended by many cultures, and were therefore a natural impetus for the spreading of the gospel. Acts 2:5 indicates that there were diverse groups of God fearing people gathered in Jerusalem from all over the then known world. The crisis point came in verses 12-13 when those who witnessed the outpouring of the Holy Ghost began to question what was happening.
The Beginning of Cross Cultural Pluralistic Leadership in the Church
" But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them:" (Acts 2:14). While Peter is highlighted for his role in speaking the first message of the gospel after the resurrection of Christ, it is important to note that he did not stand independent from the other 11 disciples (Acts 2: 14; 37; 41-43). This inclusion of the 11 is further solidified as the diverse crowd responds to both Peter and the other apostles with him in verse 37. “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37) This intentional inclusion of the rest of the apostles by Luke indicates a demonstration of pluralistic leadership to people from numerous cultural backgrounds from the beginning hours of the church.
The supernatural effects of the Holy Ghost, as described in Acts 2:4, allowed for individuals from many different cultures to hear the truth of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:9-11). The people were astonished that Galileans were able to speak about the wonderful works of God in so many languages and dialects. Although all those speaking with tongues were Galileans, the power of the Holy Ghost facilitated cross-cultural communication in verse 14 and cross-cultural leadership in verses 38-40.
Inter Textual Analysis
The plurality of leadership found in Acts 2 is best understood by inter textual analysis. The New Testament consistently affirms this form of leadership as the preferred method for the primitive church. The success of this form of leadership is evident as the Gospel was spread through mission teams.
Jesus Sends Plurality of Leadership
The New Testament makes many references to plurality of leadership. In Mark 6:7, Jesus began this practice by sending the disciples out in pairs of two. In times of adversity, the disciples could assist and be encouragement to each other to stay the course (Coleman, 2006).
Another passage, Luke 10, also reflects the desire of Jesus to send leaders out in plurality; "…the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two…". The mission was almost identical to when Jesus sent out the twelve (ibid). These individuals practiced what they learned from their time with Jesus and paved the way for his coming (ibid). Their success is apparent in Luke 10:17.
Elders in Every City
Acts 13 deals with the Holy Ghost separating out a plurality of leaders. Barnabas and Saul were commissioned as a leadership team by the Holy Ghost to do a work for the Lord (Acts 13:2). In addition, establishing a plurality of leadership was part of their mission during their journeys. Acts 14:23 records, "And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed." Every time Barnabas and Saul established a church, they appointed a plurality of elders to ensure the stability of the saints they were leaving behind (Carson et al., 1994).
Titus 1:5 continued the theme of establishing a plurality of leadership when Paul wrote, "This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you". The switch from the word elder to the term overseer seems to be semantics because the function of the position is identical (Carson et al., 1994).
Council of Jerusalem
Acts 15 shows how major doctrinal decisions spanning opposing cultures were handled in the New Testament. After strong debate on whether or not gentile believers must follow the Mosaic Law, Barnabas and Paul went to Jerusalem to see a council, a plurality of leaders, who would act as the final authority. Acts 15:12 reads; "And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles". A key word Luke used to describe the council is assembly, inferring a plurality of leaders.
Furthermore, in Acts 15:22, after the decision was reached, the council of Jerusalem send two more men, Barsabbas and Silas, to help relay the verdict to the churches. The council sent a plurality of leaders, a team, to accomplish this vital task.
"Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers" (Acts 15:22).
With this foundation in place, it is clear that the phrasing in Acts 2 by Luke, "But Peter, standing with the eleven" (Acts 2:14) and "…they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles" (Acts 2:37) reveals a pattern of pluralistic leadership as the normative leadership preference of the early church.
Using Teams for Effective Cross-Cultural Leadership in the Church
Modern organizations have regular inter-cultural exchanges between leaders and followers (Lim, n.d.). Using a New Testament model of pluralistic leadership will help aid in both cross-cultural and inter-cultural communication. Although the narrative of Acts follows specific individuals, it shows that the New Testament church had many different groups of people all working in leadership roles (Robertson, 2005). Acts 15 records the council of Jerusalem as the primary doctrinal authority in early Christendom with James acting in a chairman-like role (Just, 2010).
On a local level, churches often use ministry teams in order to accomplish objectives (Sell, 2010). Ott (2004) defined a ministry as a particular way of patterning life within a group in order to grow in faith and accomplish a missional goal. Pluralistic leadership through ministry teams allows for varying cultures to be represented within the ranks of leadership. This diversity in leadership can often be key in reaching those of diverse cultures. In Acts 2, the bridging of the language barrier by the Holy Ghost was the cross-cultural catalysts required to reach the masses.
Organizations are becoming more diverse, causing leaders to adapt to varying cultures at a moments notice (Adomako, 2011). Religious leadership carries enormous responsibility and often eternal repercussions. With both immigration and illegal immigration on the rise (Castles, Miller, & Ammendola, 2005), the Christian community needs pluralistic leadership capable of bridging the cultural gap.
Acts 2 Leadership Model
Beal (1977) argued for leadership to rest upon a single individual and defined theocracy as a "government by God through appointed authorities"(p.120). However, this definition is inadequate to defend his position as it could encompass every form of government, both religious and secular, from anarchy to despotism. Feeney (1988) brought an opposing argument when he pointed out that the Moravian explosion of revival from 1732-1752 was a result of team leadership, turning the local community into a missiological powerhouse by training and promoting teams of leaders. He asserted that churches grow best by adopting a pluralistic leadership structure as the New Testament church did in Acts (ibid).
Taking these two arguments into account within Acts 2, one will notice that although Peter was the chief spokesman, the questions were addressed to all twelve of the apostles (Acts 2:14; 37). Christ focused much of his time, not on training Peter alone, but rather poured his time into creating a plurality of leaders, capable of spreading the gospel across diverse cultures in a way a no individual could have accomplished alone (Engstrom, 1978). The core of leadership in Acts 2 is a pluralistic leadership model.
There are four basic requirements of charismatic leadership: high performance expectations, expressing confidence in follower's ability to reach goals, taking calculated risks, and articulating vision and collective identity (Ehrhart & Klein, 2001). Charismatic leaders have the advantage of not being slowed down by the pondering of group consensus (ibid). This allows for fast action as decisions can be made immediately without conferring with others (ibid). Although there are many good aspects of charismatic leadership, charismatic leaders have been accused of being "grandiose, brutally explosive, self-serving promoters with a savior complex" (Tilstra, 2010). It is more difficult for charismatic leaders to be effective cross culturally because they do not have the resources, experience, and representation that pluralistic leadership provides (Conger & Kanungo, 1988). In addition, the lack of accountability can promote corruption while a plurality of leadership provides the structure of accountability needed to hedge against temptations of leadership.
Lawford (2003) defined the concept of a team as a group of people who have integrated values and purpose striving to achieve a common goal. There is no consensus on whether or not a team needs a leader (Tilstra, 2010). Strong arguments can be found for leaderless teams or the necessity of a single leader at the head of a team (ibid). The merits of a leader-led team are more readily found than those of a leaderless team; however the particular style of leadership varies widely, depending on the perspective of the researcher (ibid).
Two themes tend to emerge from the discussions on team leadership and team management: task accomplishment and group maintenance (ibid). These themes are sometimes referred to as the technical and relational sides of team leadership (ibid). Every team leader and member will be focused on keeping these two issues at the forefront of their mind. Team leaders share a greater responsibility for the performance of the group than team members. Thamhain (2004) wrote:
"The effective team leader is a social architect who understands the interaction of organizational and behavioral variables and can foster a climate of active participation and minimal dysfunction conflict. This requires carefully developed skills in leadership, administration, organization and technical expertise"(n.p.).
Because team leadership allows leaders to focus on one or two areas in which they are strongest, the efforts are less scattered and have potential for greater cross-cultural impact (ibid). While vision must be altered and re-assessed from time to time, the evidence from the New Testament model of leadership reveals that focused effort in pluralistic leadership can produce explosive results.
Charismatic Leadership vs. Team Leadership
The book of Acts and the New Testament as a whole could be used to argue for either charismatic leadership or team leadership (Tilstra, 2010). Three common problems with charismatic leadership consist of having self-serving goals, the “inadequate estimations of resources and political support”, and “unrealistic assessments” of one's “environment” (Conger & Kanungo, 1988, pp. 218-219). Although team leadership requires an adept hand at both technical and relational skills (Tilstra, 2010), the team environment tends to alleviate much of the risk involved in charismatic leadership.
Enhancing Secular Leadership Through Diverse Teams
Post-modern organizations should display both autonomy and interdependence (Tilstra, 2010). When discussing the ways in which one could create a cross-cultural organization, autonomy and interdependence together can create strong networks. Each leader should conduct business autonomously while being dependent upon the resources and consensus of the team as a whole. Decisions can be made with spontaneity, tailored for a particular cultural group, while being guided by the overall mission of the team.
Diversity in a leadership team allows for differing points of view to be presented and can provide a more well rounded assessment of issues and the most effective way to resolve them while ensuring the cohesiveness of the group. This concept is exemplified in the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. Furthermore, the gospel was spread to the entire world by following the pluralistic leadership model found in Acts 2. This normative for church leadership was highly successful in reaching cultures around the world and while it is no longer the popular mode of leadership, it continues to experience success when it is applied properly to both religious and secular modern day organizations.
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