|Volume 21 Number 8 August 2019||
Cecil May, Jr.
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 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 prayed and laid their hands on then. (Acts 6:1-6)
“A complaint by the Hellenists arose.” The KJV translates, “there arose a murmuring.” Murmuring is a serious sin (1 Corinthians 10:10), and Christians are warned not to engage in it (Philippians 2:14). “Murmuring” is not an acceptable way to communicate a problem to the leadership. However, instead of condemning murmuring, the apostles listened and understood there was a genuine problem. Solving problems, pacifying people and keeping peace were all deemed more important, so the apostles responded as if the problem had been called to their attention the right way.
The apostles needed to continue giving their attention to prayer, preaching and teaching, but the daily distribution of food to the widows also needed to be handled equitably. Therefore, the latter task was delegated. Similarly, elders have important oversight and shepherding tasks. Delegation works when deacons understand their responsibilities, when elders trust their deacons and do not micro-manage, but when deacons are held accountable for doing their work well. As a business axiom correctly says, “You cannot expect what you do not inspect.”
The biblical model for selecting leaders is seen here. “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.” Today, an eldership is often a self-perpetuating group. Present elders pick new elders. In this biblical model, qualifications are stated, and the congregation selects. The ones who appoint or ordain are not the ones who select. Some seem to follow the biblical examples they like and ignore others they prefer were a different way.
A Model of Concern
for the Neglected
Grecian rather than Hebrew widows were being neglected. Of the seven men selected by the congregation, every name is Grecian. There is not a Saul, Samuel or Simeon among them. Those being neglected are the ones selected to correct the problem.
[Editor’s Note: We are thankful to brother May for his insightful observations from Scripture regarding Christian leadership. ~ Louis Rushmore, Editor]
Bodies are composed of many members with differing functions (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12), and this is true of the Lord’s body—the church—as well (Colossians 1:18). Ephesians 4:11 states that some were given as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists and some as pastors. No one alive today meets the qualifications to be an apostle (Acts 1:21ff), and prophesy was a miraculous gift of the 1st century and as such is no longer present. (Only apostles could pass on the miraculous gifts, Acts 8:18). This leaves us with evangelists and pastors. The evangelist is the one who proclaims the Gospel, and pastors are the ones more commonly known as elders (Acts 20:17, also known in Scripture as shepherds or pastors, Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2).
Deacons are important to the body as well, but their task is a different one. According to their establishment in Acts 6, their purpose is to meet physical needs while the leadership focuses on the spiritual needs. This doesn’t make one role more important than another, just like one part of your body is not more important than another. What this means is that for bodies to function properly, the different members need to be present and working together to bring glory to the Head—Jesus.