Heather Comstock Connects

Helping nonprofits and other volunteer organizations develop strong relationships and a clear voice in the community.

Start-Up Growing Pains Are Nothing New: The Acts of the Apostles

If only fundraising were this easy! Illustration from the life of St. Peter: Saint Peter paying a fee by extracting coins from the mouth of a fish. File via Wikimedia Commons.

During the Christian liturgical year from Easter through Pentecost, many churches study the Acts of the Apostles which describes the formation of the early Christian Church. As I listen to these readings, I realize the Apostles wrestle with familiar start-up issues: organizational and operational structures and how to grow without sacrificing mission.

Moving on without the Founder. Many start up organizations get going because of the efforts and energy of a charismatic founder who is driven to address a particular issue. Unfortunately, some organizations fail when the founder leaves because the group was reliant on this one key person to continue moving forward on their mission. In Acts, the Disciples who are know known as the Apostles, initially struggle with continuing to carry on Jesus’ mission. Ultimately, because of their own personal commitment, they overcome the loss of their leader and stay focused on their mission. Each one of the original Apostles had their own strengths, talents, and commitment to the mission that would blossom in the coming years. Having the right mix of talent in place ensured the continuation of the group.

Selecting New Leadership. Peter emerges almost immediately as the strongest personality and acknowledged leader of the Christians. Peter was handpicked by the Founder for this role and was carefully cultivated to take over leadership whether he realized it or not. Frankly, he didn’t seem like the best candidate for the job. He had already pulled a sword and cut off the ear of a servant, denied being a follower of Christ, and had run away when things got a little hairy. You can’t deny Peter’s passion though. Passion and charisma were needed to keep this band of Christians together and focused through tough transitional times.

Filling vacant board positions. In the days immediately following Jesus’ Ascension (Acts 1:1-10), the Apostles have to address the vacancy on their “board” created by Judas’ betrayal. Together they elect Matthias from among their followers to fill that gap. As they look for viable candidates, they look to the group of followers who have been with them “the whole time” (Acts 1:21). This is an excellent strategy for board recruitment – tapping individuals who have been involved with the organization, are committed to the mission, and have demonstrated that commitment in other positions.

Delegation of Authority. Eventually, the Apostles realize the mission has gotten so big, they can’t conduct all of the activities alone so they decide to delegate certain administrative functions to others. They realize these activities are crucial so they create a committee to discharge some of these functions (Acts 6:1-7). This ensured that key activities related to the mission such as the food distribution were carried out. It would be easy for activities such as feeding the poor to fall through cracks. Delegation ensures these mission critical activities are accomplished.

Developing policies for future growth. As the geographic territory of the group expanded, the message of the early Christians was shared with Gentiles who did not have the Jewish grounding of the early followers. Eventually a controversy about circumcision emerges as the first major issue that threatens to split the group apart. To address the concern, representatives are chosen to head back to Jerusalem to sort the issue out (Acts 15:1-35). The council makes a decision and then writes letters for dissemination amongst the believers clearly outlining the policy of the Church that took into account the needs of the people being served and ensured there would be no misinterpretation of the decision.

There are other issues addressed in Acts such as growth and expansion and protecting their identity from imposters. The concerns don’t end here either. As you read Paul’s letters to various the churches around the region, you discover that people are people and all groups have internal politics – even 2,000 years ago. One thing is certain, for millenia, individuals who care about their communities have come together to affect positive change. Controversy and challenges are nothing new and they don’t stop just with start-up. Just remember: you’re not alone and nothing is new. These challenges are an opportunity for your organization to grow and become stronger!

Image from Wikimedia Commons: Augustin TüngerFacetiae Latinae et Germanicae, Konstanz 1486, Württembergische Landesbibliothek Stuttgart, Cod. HB V 24a. – Illustration from the life of St. Peter: Saint Peter paying a fee by extracting coins from the mouth of a fish. Available at: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tuenger_Facetie.jpg#file

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