It was only a matter of time before the honeymoon period ended for the fledgling church community. They were increasing in number and as (sadly) happens in groups of that size, someone and their needs ended up overlooked. Those Jesus-following Jews from a Greek background (the Hellenists) felt that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of aid and service. Rather than shut down the complaint, the apostles summoned the full number of the disciples and said, simply,
“It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to wait on tables. But carefully select from among you, brothers, seven men who are well-attested, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this necessary task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word”.
(Acts 6.2-4, NET)
The apostles saw that their true calling and their true leadership of the community lay in their devotion to prayer and to the ministry of the word. They did not feel they had the time and energy to sit and distribute food and financial aid (wait on tables). The practical and financial duties were to be entrusted to seven men…whom [the apostles would] put in charge of the necessary task. The ministry of teaching and prayer is laborious and needs full-time attention, and the apostles knew this.
The community nominates men for this practical service position (1 Timothy 3.8-13) and the apostles pray over the choice and laid their hands on them. Interestingly, the men chosen for this unglamorous yet important task have Greek sounding names (Philip, Prochorus…) and from this we can see that the Hellenists would surely have felt valued by their Hebrew brothers and sisters.
As a result of their willingness to serve and as a result of the apostles’ dedication to their own ministry we read that the word of God continued to increase, and the number of disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. As a result of some being willing to serve in practical and unglamorous ways, as a result of others sticking to what God has called them to do, we see that the community flourishes.
God hasn’t called us all to be the overall leader of the community. We’re not all called to preaching and prayer on behalf of a church. Tables need setting up, chairs need stacking, budgets need planning, money needs counting and distributing, children need caring for, and countless other practical needs need to be met. But for the willingness of people to meet them, our Christian communities will never flourish. Yes, preaching and teaching is important, but so is being met at the door and greeted by name. Knowing that your leaders are praying for you is important, but so is knowing that your tithes and offerings are being stewarded well. The often-overlooked jobs in a Christian community are so important. Those who do them, as Paul writes,
“…gain a good standing for themselves and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus”.
(1 Timothy 3.13, NET)