Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.
And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
– Acts 6:1-7
The typical exhortation/sermon/homily/teaching from preachers and church leaders falls along this basic form:
Reading or printing a passage of Scripture
Anecdote or witty remark (typically story in their own lives or in current events) that loosely ties into a theme in the Scripture
Explanation of the Scripture passage
Pointing out how far we have fallen from the Biblical ideal
One or two practical ways we can get back on the path to reaching that model in Scripture
I don’t always follow this model. Sometimes I simply mess up and fail to put in or emphasize one of those five points enough. Other times though, the Scripture itself – in relation to the people I minister with, simply calls for a different form. Today is one of those days.
Having served in about ten different churches and leading several para-church ministries (ministries outside an “official” church congregation), I have to stop and say that the two churches I now serve have some of the best attitudes towards the ministry of the laity in the church. When my people see a need, they do something about it. If a meeting is required, they have a meeting, but they do not let those meetings come to wasted words. They pray, visit, and minister to those outside of their own congregations. They love people as they are and encourage them to grow in Christ. They do not pretend to be any more than they are – people loved by God, sent into His world to share that love.
Now, I realize that some of the motivations behind this attitude about service may come from a lack of other options at times, perhaps not quite enough people to pass the buck along to without looking rather silly, or even simply out of a sense of family values – that mom and dad always did it before me… but the truth is, the Early Church may not have been that much different. Most of the time people made decisions about serving in the church, about ministering to one another, it was not in response to a voice calling down from the sky or any other form of divine intervention. The vast majority of the time ministry happened in the early church, it was because someone (who was already prayerful) saw a need that they could help with and stepped up to the plate.
I am not attempting to minimize the activity of the Holy Spirit in this work. To do so goes against Scripture and certainly Luke’s intent in writing Acts. Rather, I am pointing out that often the miraculous works of God follow after our faithful steps in service. John Ortberg, in his aptly titled book explains – “You can’t walk on water until you get out of the boat.”, reminding us that we, like Peter, often do not experience the miraculous wonders of God until we take those first few steps onto uncharted waters.
The Scripture above tells the story of one of the first problems in the early church: the unequal distribution of food. Prejudice. A division within the blessed unity they all had experienced together and a cut to the heart of their Koinonia. Without inspired dreams or heavenly portents, they made a decision to put seven trustworthy, Spirit-filled, and wise men in charge of serving the food. Not very exciting. However, these food-servers would go on to change the fate of the church more than many of the apostles. They understood that faith is not running from one miracle to the next, hoping that one day you will be there right as it happens. Faith is walking in prayerful obedience and finding those miracles in the footsteps you leave behind.
Thank you for being faithful churches.