Acts 6:1-7 and Church Leaders Refusing to Do Work

Acts-6-praying-for-the-7I have been in pastoral ministry in a local church setting for almost sixteen years now. Over that time I have served large churches and small churches, suburban churches and rural churches. One thing that is consistent across all types of churches I have experienced is the innate belief that the pastor should be doing most, if not all, of the ministry. This is not healthy, as it is a recipe for burnout. It is also not biblical:

Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait at tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.’ What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

I love this scene. The Christians who are Greek-speaking Jews are being neglected in the division of provisions among the Church. They think it is intentional and even a little segregational. They approach the leaders, the Twelve Apostles, and say as much. They want the leadership to see the problem and fix it.

Here is where things get interesting from a modern congregational point of view. Essentially, a group of parishioners just came up to the pastor (or pastoral staff) and leveled a serious complaint that could derail the entire church, cause division, and ruin the ministry. The Apostles’ response–That’s not our job. You fix it yourself. Our job is to preach and pray. Many congregations who operate on the call system for hiring their pastor would follow that response up quickly with, “Yes, and you can add packing to that list because we are going to find a new pastor.”

But look at how the Church in Jerusalem responds. They agree! They know that the work the Apostles are doing was directed to them by Christ. They do not want to take them away from their God-given responsibilities. Instead, the whole community chooses leaders who can oversee this ministry and ensure equality. Another interesting thing to point out in this episode is that all seven people chosen to oversee the food distribution have Hellenistic names. Not a single one has a Hebrew name. This probably shows that the ones with the grievance, the Hellenists,  were allowed to choose the people whom they wanted to lead this ministry, and the whole Church agreed to it. As a result, the Church grew tremendously.

When congregations expect and demand that the pastor or pastoral staff be involved in every ministry it is a sure way to slow or stop the growth of the Church. This is because one pastor can only minister to around 80-100 people effectively and 100-150 people somewhat effectively. Even with a pastoral staff of for pastors, that gives a maximum number of people who can be somewhat effectively cared for as 600. Beyond this number, it is just numbers. People come for a while and then go again. There may be a crowd, but Jesus wanted us to make disciples, not gather a crowd.

Now if others are empowered to be active in ministry, then the number can jump exponentially. If a solo pastor has an empowered congregation, who take leadership and ownership of the ministries in the congregation while still following their leader who was called and sent by God to preach and pray, just imagine the results. One pastor and four lay people can effectively minister to 500 people. As the church grows and more lay people are trained and empowered to be in ministry, that number grows. If just five out of every 100 new people becomes a ministry leader, then after the first 500 people the potential effective reach of that congregation is now 3000 people (30 leaders x 100 people). After that first 3000, the potential would be 15,000 people (150 leaders x 100 people)!

This is why the Early Church grew so rapidly with committed disciples. Church leaders refused to do all the work. They enabled the rest of the Body of Christ to use their God-given gifts for the building up of the community. And God blessed that work.

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