In the Early Church, generational transference was not shaped by program or certain methodologies, but on a simple truth of discipleship to Christ. To the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” To the Philippians, Paul wrote, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me- put it into practice.” There is inherent within Paul’s practice and training of leadership an understanding of modeling discipleship. Paul expects a leader to serve as an example of appropriate pursuit of Jesus. The expectation is a significant calling of leadership, a high standard of excellence in heart and behavior. To the Ephesians Paul wrote, “Live a life worthy of your calling.” A lack of biblical leadership qualification creates an environment ripe for strife within a local church. “Too many churches suffer,” Wilkes suggests, because those recruited to lead “are not biblically qualified.”
The biblical pattern involves the selection of mature people to the process of generational transference of ministry leadership who will then share the mission of the church with others. The onus of leadership in the church is equipping the next generation for ministry who will in turn raise up others to continuously pass the message of Jesus from one person or community to another through all ages. The strategy of generational transference is summarized by Paul as “what you have heard me say, entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.”
The early church instructed those selected as recognized leaders within a congregation to exhibit deep personal character founded in a heart for the Lord. Both Paul and Peter instructed that the “elder” leaders or “overseeing” leaders, were expected to be “above reproach” in their lifestyle. According to Paul, this recognition includes being a husband to one wife, temperate in attitude, self-controlled in behavior, respected by others, hospitable to others, able to teach, mature with alcohol and money, with a track-record of success in the home and an ability to promote faith in Jesus. High-impact leadership responsibility is entrusted to those who have exhibited a deepening faithfulness to the Lord over time and have earned a good reputation in the context of the wider community outside the church.
Regarding “deacon” leaders or “serving” leaders, Paul suggests a similar high standard of qualifications. They must be worthy of respect, sincere, responsible with alcohol, humbly honest, firm in spiritual faith, and unashamed in their lifestyle, and responsible with their family. Paul encourages Timothy to “test” these individuals according to these character and behavioral measurements so they will have the opportunity to prove themselves worthy of the high level opportunities. None of these qualifications involves talent or gifting except for the call for some capacity of teaching skills.
As the early church progressed, ministries all across the Roman Empire became shaped and steered by successive waves of reliable people who had been entrusted with the task of spreading the Gospel and creating community. The simple environment of interdependence of leadership in the early church evidences the manner by which God intends to perpetuate leadership in the church. For instance, Epaphroditus is raised up as a leader among the church in Philippi and then commissioned to serve alongside Paul.
The last chapter of the book of Romans stands for all time as a testament to the interdependent ministry network that became integral to the transference of faith in the first century. The list of names reads like a who’s who of the early church: Phoebe, a “serving leader” or “deacon” in Crenchea was a great help to many people, including Paul. Priscilla and Aquila dramatically impacted numerous churches by preparing and releasing leaders like Apollos. Young and old, Greek and Jew, male and female; the church has always exhibited the facet of integration in the make up of its leadership. And others like Andronicus and Junias, Urbanus, Apelles, Tryphena and Tryphosa, Erastus, Gaius, Lucius, Jason, Sosipater, and Tertius, just to name a few, were considered by Paul as proven and emerging leaders in the early church.