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Here in chapter 6 a problem occurs and the early fellowship responds to it: Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. 6And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.
A practical problem arises within the fellowship and immediately a practical solution is put in motion. NOTE that the congregation of disciples were gathered together to figure out a solution. They didn’t call a meeting of all of the church members, but a meeting of the disciples. There were no church members, only disciples. The solution was to place 7 men into a service-kind of ministry. Some call them deacons or ministers. You see, this service ministry was needed not only to solve the problem at hand, but it freed the disciple leadership to do two things. 1. To devote themselves to prayer. 2. To devote themselves to the ministry of the word.
This is a picture of pure fellowship and ministry in action. The top leader–disciples devoted themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word while the service ministry disciples handled more of the administrative responsibilities. These seem to be the two basic functions of leadership within the fellowship. And when the fellowship is simply functioning in this way, the growth will be inevitable both in quantity and quality. The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.
Now here is what blows my mind as far as how these service ministry disciples functioned. They were not just administrators; they were the disciples who worked in the trenches from house to house. NOTE verse 8: And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people.
Did you get that? Stephen was full of grace and power and performed great wonders and signs among the people. This level of leadership spent their lives right in the middle of ministering to the needs of the fellowship. We’ll see more of this later in Acts.
So, here’s what we have here in the early fellowship: 1. Leaders who devoted themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word of God. We might call them elders. 2. Leaders who did the work of the ministry in the trenches of life. We might call them deacons and deaconesses.
So, where are the committees? Where is the board of trustees? Where is the senior pastor? Where is the Sunday School? Where is the youth ministry pastor or the music pastor? Where’s the missions pastor, the small groups pastor or the program pastor? Are these really necessary within the fellowship of believers or are they necessary “evils”?
It seems the more pastors and leadership heads you have, the greater the distance is between leadership and the people. In fact, if you are becoming so large and so organized, you may run the risk of being too cumbersome or find yourself putting all your energies into making your “service” most attractive for the many spectators you will inevitably be producing. Maybe the early fellowship was on to something after all. Maybe this simplicity of leadership is at the core of why the early fellowship grew so fast and did so in multiples.
Two major questions come up for me here: FIRST-Do you know any pastors who are able to devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word? Or, are your pastors too busy in meetings, making decisions that really don’t matter in the eternal scheme of things?
SECOND-Do you know any deacons who are going house to house performing miracles among the people? Or, do your deacons spend most of their time in meetings, making decisions that really don’t matter in the eternal scheme of things?
So, wouldn’t it be better for us to get back to the simple ways of the early fellowship around Jesus–where the Jesus–fellowship itself is the attraction and not the entertaining show. Where we function in a dynamic, lively organism rather than a dull, dead organization that must be continually pumped up. Where we are into the vibrant movement of the Acts of Jesus rather than building more monuments? Jesus said, “I will build My church.” I think what Jesus is looking for is for us to give up building the church and spend our time and energy BEING THE CHURCH.