An underestimated role
“Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:3-4).
Back in its early days, the church in Jerusalem faced a problem. It wasn’t a nasty problem like the flogging of the apostles by the Jewish authorities or the dishonesty of Ananias and Sapphira. It was, in a sense, a ‘good’ problem, brought on by growth. But it was still a problem.
These early Christians used to distribute food to widows. But as numbers increased, some were being overlooked. They complained. The system had been strained to breaking point.
One might have thought that the simple answer would have been for the leadership to work harder, keep better lists or the like. But Luke tells us how in fact the apostles recognised a danger behind the problem. They called the church together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word in order to wait on tables.”
On a first reading that might sound like snobbery - “We’re too good to do this humdrum stuff”. That is far from the case. The danger the apostles detected was that simply, in terms of hours in the day, the ministry of the word (to Christians and non-Christians) would get neglected. This, they knew, would be to apply a tourniquet to the church’s life blood.
Nor does their answer mean that the ministry to widows was unimportant. No, for they picked seven of the best men they could find to do it. Here, many would see the origins of the office of deacons, carrying out some of a church’s practical tasks.
What was true then is just as true today. It is so easy for pastors to get overwhelmed with practical tasks and unable to be properly engaged in preaching and teaching. Many a church suffers from this.
So we need those who will carry out these administrative tasks with servant-hearted wisdom. Strikingly, those who were chosen had to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom - not just good at admin! As we learn later in Acts, two of them, Stephen and Philip went on to be greatly used by God as preachers. It is a mistake when looking for an administrator to look only for admin skills, rather than Biblical wisdom and Christian maturity.
Let me go further. Some of those who undertake these tasks will be those who might also be suitable for pastoral ministry. And some of those on training courses such as the marvellous Cornhill Training Course in London might do well to consider church administration as a real ministry for which this training has equipped them.
Such people will not be short of opportunities. So many churches, including ours, are looking for such servants!
Such ministry is not a second best. This is a vital ministry and recognised as such in the New Testament.