A Questionable Choice Of Leaders?
Chan Gin Kai
After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.” (Luke 5:27-28)
Jesus had started calling for disciples whom he would mentor to become his Apostles. The first ones he called were Simon Peter, James and John (Luke 5:9-11). They were fishermen, and they were pretty unimpressive. In fact, just three years later, the Sanhedrin arrested Peter and John for preaching about Jesus, and “when they saw the courage of Peter and John and realised that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)
This time, Jesus called a tax collector named Levi (also called Matthew) to follow him. Now tax collectors were an unpopular lot. Jews who wanted to become tax collectors had to bid for a tax-collecting contract, which the Roman government would give to the highest bidder. Those who won the contracts would then collect taxes on behalf of the Romans. They also had the muscles of the Roman soldiers behind them to make sure their own countrymen paid their taxes. Since they were working for the Romans, the Jews regarded them as traitors. And because they could keep whatever they over-charged the people as their own profits, they were regarded as extortionists and cheats. The disdain that the Pharisees had towards Levi and his fellow tax collector friends was obvious when they complained about Jesus, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” (Luke 5:30b)
We may look at Jesus’ choice of future Apostles and wonder why he didn’t pick ‘more qualified’ people. Why did he pick “unschooled, ordinary men”, who weren’t properly trained in the scriptures or schooled in the art of debating and preaching? Wouldn’t a detested tax collector bring disrepute to the band of future world changers he was building? Paul could arguably be the most controversial choice. He was very well trained in the scriptures, but he was a Pharisee and a fervent persecutor of Christians. Even the disciples in Jerusalem initially doubted him when he tried to join them after his conversion. Couldn’t Jesus find candidates with a better combination of pedigree, education, talent, leadership qualities and charisma?
What was Jesus looking for when he selected his Apostles? The trait that they had in common was obvious: “So they (Simon Peter, James & John) pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him” (Luke 5:11) and “Levi got up, left everything and followed him.” (Luke 5:28)
It was their willingness to give up everything to follow Jesus.
Whether it was their fishing boats or a lucrative tax collecting contract or a highly respected position as a Pharisee, they were prepared to give it all up because Jesus is far more important to them. It meant putting aside their insecurity about their future. It involved changing their social circles; for Paul, his friends and colleagues would become his enemies. It required commitment and demanded absolute trust in Jesus. They had to be prepared for change, even very unpleasant ones.
These most unlikely of candidates did well. Simon Peter and John became the most prominent leaders of the early church, James became the first Apostle to be martyred, and we got the Gospel of Matthew from Levi. Paul planted and strengthened several churches and gave us many of the epistles in the New Testament. The other Apostles were all people whom we would have doubted too, but they (with the exception of Judas Iscariot) created a legacy that has impacted people through the centuries, and touched even our lives.
Jesus’ ‘questionable’ choices should give us hope. It is through our weaknesses, that the power of God is exhibited. He will equip us with the strength we need and transform us with His power.
Through the power of Jesus, uneducated fishermen become leaders, a traitorous tax collector saved his own people, and a persecutor of Christians became a missionary. There is no doubt that Paul’s excellent training as a Pharisee equipped him to debate and expound on the scriptures, but he was also a magnet for persecution. Imagine what you can become through Jesus' power.
Do you doubt your ability as a leader? I am glad you do, you ought to put your faith in God. Do you wonder if you're worthy to be a leader? Of course you're not worthy, leadership is as much by grace as salvation is.
What traits do we look for in the people we train as leaders? What qualities do we focus on in our own roles as leaders? Do we spend more time honing our skills than preparing our hearts?
For older leaders, we don't really lose the skills we've picked up ages ago. Skills may get a little rusty from lack of use, but they don't really fade away. However hearts do. I find that I've got to spend more time preparing my heart than preparing a lesson. It is easy to ride on the knowledge we've accumulated over the years. And it is even easier for our hearts to get corrupted by pride.
Let’s remember what Jesus looks for... a heart that is fully committed to following him.
Chan Gin Kai
Gin Kai is a film producer who believes in the power of media to inspire positive changes. He has spearheaded disaster relief and capacity building projects in impoverished communities across Asia. In church, he serves as a mentor to young professionals in the EDGE Ministry. He describes himself as "just a sinner who wants to get right with God".