Acts 6:1-7 (AD 30)
Jesus’ life and ministry was a stinging and humbling corrective to religious leadership. Along with the public perception of what religious – godly – leadership should look like. The Sanhedrin conducted itself in a textbook ‘abuse of power’ manner. They ascribed laws to God that he never made, they were blatantly misogynistic in their attitudes to the rights of women generally and wives specifically. They demanded praise for themselves, and expelled people from the synagogue on a whim. They were aloof, considering the everyday problems of everyday people to be beneath them, and were interested in control, power and money.
Jesus was the exact opposite. He was deliberately and physically with people for much of his ministry, and when he wasn’t in public he was often to be found training his twelve disciples. He touched lepers, fed hungry people, spoke directly with and explicitly recognised the equality of women with men. And he emphasised the direct relationship that people could have with God.
So it might seem odd when we get to verses 2-4 of our reading, which might appear to be reversing course. Having identified a potentially racially-motivated problem with the distribution of food to poor widows, the disciples said,
“It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables…choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word”.
Isn’t that falling back into the old ways of leaders considering themselves to be above the ordinary folks?
Not at all, and here are some reasons how:
- Praying, teaching and preaching weren’t tasks they gave to themselves, Jesus told them to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), and they were doing that in public places and from door to door.
- Because of point 1, their time was full. Feeding the poor effectively, efficiently and fairly was a job that demanded time, and in order to for them to do it, they would have had to do less of what Jesus had told them to do.
- BUT. It still needed doing, and they were adamant that it must be done, so they empowered leading disciples to appoint men to the role. They gave it the priority it deserved by ensuring it got focused attention and instructing that only wise and godly people were involved. Seven of them. This was no wave of the hand with a dismissive, ‘someone help those folks’. This was a statement that the practical needs of the most needy were the concern of everybody, and the direct responsibility of the community’s leaders.
Some church leaders feel like they should never have to stoop down to do anything practical or lowly. That’s a clear contradiction of how Jesus lived and shows a lack of love for people. But it’s also true that those who are called to the ministry of the Word of God need to be freed up to spend the bulk of their time ministering the Word of God. To be able to give it their focused, undistracted attention is their calling, free from everyday practical concerns that can be taken care of by others.
I want to be led by people who are focused on leading me in the Spirit through the Word, as the early church was by the apostles. I don’t want them pulled into a hundred other things, because that’s when some of the tough leadership decisions and the deep prayer and the meaningful preparation that is their responsibility, falls by the wayside. When that happens, nobody benefits.
Thank God for those forced to earn a living outside a church while trying to lead a church. Pray for your leaders that they will keep focused on their calling from God to lead, encourage, challenge and shepherd you in all truth, godliness and joy in Christ.
This does not in ANY way denigrate those ministers who financially support themselves. After all, Paul the apostle did just that for much of his time in ministry, and without their sacrifice and insanely hard work, many churches would not survive. But it’s not the ideal (ref: 1 Timothy 5:17-18).