The twelve men who followed Jesus were just that: men. They were a remarkably flawed group of followers. One of the most comforting studies you can do in the gospels is to observe the disciples’ shortcomings. Stories of their bone-headedness are the common stuff of preaching and teaching: “Don’t worry about falling short,” says the preacher, “the disciples didn’t measure up and Jesus still loved them.”
I would like to suggest that the New Testament keeps an account of their troubles for another reason as well—to teach us about leadership. Not Jesus’ leadership, but the leadership of these very flawed men we call “the Apostles.” We readily accept the idea that Jesus chose followers who are flawed, but rarely consider that these flawed individuals became the first leaders of the church as well. As we turn from the gospels to the book of Acts, we are sometimes stricken with amnesia: the group of followers who deserted Jesus were the very same guys who Jesus left in charge of the whole show! True, the resurrection of Christ and the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit contributed to a dramatic change in these men, but character issues don’t yield to change overnight. In part, the book of Acts is the account of how they grew into the task Jesus gave them.
There’s a lesson for us today as well. We can be a difficult group of people to lead. Christian leaders are at a real disadvantage when compared to Jesus or the Apostles. Not only is Jesus perfect, he also isn’t here! That means we are left with imperfect leaders whose flaws are available daily for inspection. Most people will pay lip service to the idea that there is “no perfect leader,” but when the flaws begin to show through, lip service gives way to disappointment, hurt feelings, and criticism. I wonder how a modern church would react to the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira recorded in Acts 5: 1-11. That incident didn’t create a crisis of leadership in the young church, it helped establish the leaders! Keep in mind that these were same leaders who continued to struggle with their calling for the next twenty years.
Are we willing to consider the possibility that the same Lord who chose flawed men to lead his church is still choosing men like that today?