1Now 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. 2And 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. 3"But select from among you, brethren, seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. 4"But we will devote ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word." 5And 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. 7And 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. Acts 6:1-7 NASB
Here we see a problem in the church in the area of people being looked after in a practical area of care.
The apostles' response:
* Realised the need was legitimate and needed to be met.
* Summoned the congregation.
* Understood that is was not desirable for the apostles to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.
* Instead, got the congregation to select some spiritual men from their own number to meet this need!|
* Result: Good outcome -- the need was met, the congregation approved, and the church continued in growth'maybe even increased in growth (cf increasing in v1. increase greatly in v6)
Comments: There are many legitimate needs in any church. Pastoral needs seem to have a way of being urgent in nature quite often. The apostles recognized. however, that it is not desirable for them to neglect their area of ministry (prayer and ministry of the word) to meet this particular need. Nor is it desirable to simply legislate a possible solution to the whole church (e.g. everybody needs to help the widows). Nor is it desirable to ignore the need. This is where we can easily make mistakes!
Error #1: Existing leadership attempts to meet all needs themselves as the needs arise. The net result of this action is to place increasing burdens on existing leaders and dilutes their effectiveness in other ministry areas.
Error #2: Leadership dictates certain course of action for whole church (e.g. Everybody needs to do xxxxxxx).
Error #3: Do nothing because the need is so great and the resources so seemingly few.
Error #4: Simply "ask for volunteers."
Solution: As needs increase, the base of those meeting the need must also increase. This is axiomatic, clear and common sense:
1. Leadership should acknowledge the need as soon as possible and assess what resources are required to meet the need (e.g. it's going to take 7 men to oversee this one).
2. Go back to the congregation highlighting the need and asking the congregation to select some from among them to take responsibility for meeting this need. Note: Leadership nominates requirements for the role (e.g. seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom) to be put in charge of the task. The congregation nominates the individuals.
3. Congregation selects.
4. Leadership ratifies and commissions the selection.
5. Everybody happy!
What is key here is the congregation is asked to accept responsibility for finding the resources and meeting the need. This is very different to our normal practice of trying to meet needs with existing resources, asking for volunteers or allowing the need to remain unmet.
A note on the psychology going on here: Congregations look to their existing leadership for solutions. That is just the way that it is. However, it is not unreasonable that the solution take the form of congregational involvement and expansion of the serving group. If it turned out that there was no one who was able to meet the need after examining the whole congregation, then psychologically that has to be OK with the group. Also, and this is the important part, the congregation takes on the responsibility of finding the resources. The big negative is only if there is no or inadequate response from existing leadership to the need in the first place.
-- Andrew Kitchen (Sydney, Australia)