Generational Transference in the Bible: The Early Church (Part 1)

Generational Transference Passing

Such evidence of intergenerational cooperation, mentorship and ministry is marked throughout the entirety of the New Testament.[1]  As in the Old Testament, successive generations are to be the hearers and the bearers of the message of God.  Leaders within the early church movement strategically relied on the cross-generational development of emerging leaders. Paul speaks about the glory of God in the church and in Jesus Christ throughout all generations forever.[2]  Paul also exhorted Timothy to lead effectively in his elder-sponsored position even though he was young.[3]  Peter portrays a Christian community working together in a reciprocal relationship as he encourages older men to serve those in their congregation while urging young men to humble themselves before those who are older.[4]  A well-aged John says that there is no greater joy than to see children walking in the truth of God.[5]  As a result, the early church learned to practice the development of strategic leaders from the very beginning for primary purpose of accomplishing the mission of the church.  Secondarily, by intentionally raising up future leaders, the early Christians were also able to address the emergent challenges that faced the local churches.

The church existed from its beginnings as a communicator of the Gospel and as a new community living in concert with God. But this missional and communal identity did not guarantee freedom from internal and external friction. Therefore, as C. Gene Wilkes notes in his book, Jesus on Leadership, the first leaders approached circumstances with a plan to distribute authority of leadership in order to address obstacles and not be derailed in accomplishing the ecclesial mission.[6]  The leaders set the environmental tone for the church in the framework of fellowship, prayer and the preaching of Scripture.  But it was not long before challenges to communication as well as community integration and cooperation began to surface.  Grumbling and cohort-serving division, including perhaps an element of generational partisanship,[7] became the first internal obstacle faced by the initial leadership team of the church.  

The physical problem, as recorded in Acts 6, was that people were going hungry. The ecclesial environmental problem was that people were getting angry about it. The Grecian believers complained that their widows were being overlooked during the daily program of food distribution. The overarching responsibility of the first leadership team was to “preach the word
of God” and the food program enacted within the church was threatening to derail that primary leadership objective.  Acts 6:2-3 records that the church leaders chose not to turn inward and seize control, but to intentionally entrust others with the opportunity of leadership.  They identified men who were qualified to become leaders according to the character of their heart.
[8]  The twelve primary leaders of the early church shared the responsibility of the direction and shaping of ministry with seven deeply spiritually-formed people.  “The apostles multiplied their leadership by delegating some of the responsibility and authority to others,” comments Wilkes.[9] The new leaders were given significant, hands-on, ministry opportunity with the responsibility of shaping outcome.  Acts 6:3 reads, “We will turn this responsibility over to them.”  Acts 6:6 records that the recognized leadership “laid their hands on” the new leaders as a commissioning blessing and a sign of sharing authority with them.[10]  The impression we receive of the early church leadership pattern is that challenges were addressed through proactive development of godly leadership rather than a protective, possessive reaction.  The first Christian leaders left an imprint of transference of ministry leadership as the strategic practice towards the accomplishment of the enduring mission of the church.

[1] Acts 2:17; 21:7-9; Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21; 1
Timothy 5:1-5; Titus 1:6; 2:4; Hebrews 13:7; 1 John 2:12-17; 3:7

[2] Ephesians 3:21

[3] 1 Timothy 4:12-14

[4] 1 Peter 5:1-11

[5] 2 John 1:4; 3 John 1:4

[6] Wilkes, p.184

[7] Acts 6:1.  The primary division was along ethnic segmentation between Grecian and Hebraic Jewish believers.  Generational division is assumed due to the potential that many of the widows were older than the apostles.

[8] Acts 6:5

[9] Wilkes, 185

[10] Acts 13:3 and 1 Ti. 5:22 indicate that the transference of ministry leadership in the early church often involved the
symbol of laying on of hands”.  Throughout the Old Testament there is evidence that the “laying on of hands” was used as a symbol of the conference and transference of leadership.  For instance, in Num. 8:19 the Israelites release the Levitical priests into ministry leadership and in Num. 27:18-23 Moses released Joshua as his successor through this display.  See Wilkes, 185.

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