"Select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task." Acts 6:3
The early church and the contemporary church have at least one thing in common, The Complaint Committee. Their mission statement and life verse:
"A complaint arose." Acts 6:1
After 30 years as a pastor of a local church, and over 40 years in Christian ministry, I believe I can see a pattern. Usually, when a complaint arises, a whiner posing as a leader, will come up with this statement. "I have had two people come to me." They just lied. They don't really have two people who have come to them, with a complaint. It just means that you have not met their expectations, and they are framing the debate, by trying to frame you. Don't fall for it. Ask for names? Invite them to go with you to set the record straight with those "Two People." Expect amnesia to hit them. This only happens...EVERY TIME.
Many churches are not able to identify, with the Spirit-filled expressions, of The Body of Christ found in chapters 1-5 of The Book of Acts. Sadly, they can surely identify with what they find in chapter six. Sad, but true.
Rapid growth of the early church brought about a clash of cultures, loss of existing support systems, expulsion from families, financial crises and an influx of new people. All of these separate streams, coming together, created a patch of white water that threatened to sink the boat of the early preachers. They needed help, and they sought God for it.
"While the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose." Acts 6. 1
Never trust church growth to solve all your problems. It creates more than it solves. It is a lot like marriage. It only takes one person added to your life, to reveal how selfish you really are. It only takes one. The early church had added thousands, virtually overnight. Get the picture?
At the risk of repeating myself, I feel compelled to inject what my early mentors told me, as I prepared to lead a congregation of Southern Baptists. "Where ever you find three Baptists, you will get five opinions." They weren't wrong. Good to know.
Experience has taught me this much. When "my way", "his way", and "her way", meet to find "our way", they seldom see it God's way, until they pray to "The Way." The more they talk, and the less they pray, the rougher the water and the leakier the boat. My advice? TALK LESS! PRAY MORE!
When the first complaints hit The Twelve, they "summoned the congregation and said, 'It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.' " v. 2
If this sounds like a form of elitism, or an unwillingness to do their part, or contribute their "fair share", let me refer you back to the regular beat downs the early preachers took for their passion for the Word of God. They may not have had dish-pan hands, but they had scars on their backs. Big difference.
Managing a crisis or meeting a pressing need of the church, is not the same thing as penetrating the darkness outside the church. The Twelve, knew instinctively, when they started focusing all of their attention, to the needs of those already in the church, the people who needed to hear The Word of God, outside the church, would be neglected.
Their solution? "Select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit, and of wisdom..." v. 3
The Seven were men, not chosen to serve in an official position or church office, but as more of a crisis management team. The Twelve needed men who could be trusted to supervise the distribution of food, to those in need, and to see that it was done fairly, and without prejudice.
The Seven were not chosen as deacons, but traditionally, they have become the model or prototype for those who would later be chosen to serve in that capacity. The standards for their selection were simple, and yet profound.
1. Men of good reputation: to be a witness, to bear witness, i.e. to affirm that one has seen or heard or experienced something, or that he knows it because taught by divine revelation or inspiration. This is the same word for a martyr.
2. Full of The Spirit: souls filled up, as opposed to empty, thoroughly permeated with, complete, lacking nothing in the content of their character of The Spirit of Christ.
3. Full of wisdom: broad and full of intelligence, a knowledge of very diverse matters that can be used to guide and counsel others based the mind of God.
To serve in time of need, in a local church, anything less will never be enough, and anything more will never be needed. These standards set the bar, and should never be lowered.
Notice the subtle emphasis made by The Twelve. They are not abdicating leadership to an ad hoc committee, or a self-perpetuating board of advisers. The Twelve are responsible for what happens to the church, and though The Seven are selected by the congregation, they answer to the leaders of it, not the followers in it. Read it carefully.
"We may put in charge of this task." v. 3b
If The Seven brought them relief, The Twelve would be freed up to "devote themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." v. 4
Recently, I had a rogue Chairman of Deacons bust up a prayer meeting I was having, with his pastor. When he burst through the door, of the pastor's study, he claimed to be carrying a complaint, as an elected representative, from the people. He was not lying, but he was also not being completely honest. His complaint was real, but it was from the mouth of his wife, not the voice of the people. That morning, she was on a holy terror, to have the Lord's Supper table put back where it belonged.
Don't get me wrong, this complaint was serious. Pastors have been fired over lesser offenses. However, the complaint was not about theology, but about genealogy. She had some flowers she wanted to put on the communion table, to honor her deceased parents. She wasn't going to be happy unless that table was put back where it belonged, right in front of the pulpit. Her flowers were going to be put front and center, in the middle of it, for everyone to see. In truth, it really wasn't about a table, flowers or her parents. It was about all about her. Based on even more recent reports, it still is. Pray for this pastor.
The early church leaders placed great value on devoting themselves "steadfastly to prayer and the ministry of The Word." v. 4
Their devotion to prayer and the preaching of The Word resulted in the conversion of thousands of people, and the immersion of them, into membership in the church. This kind of devotion to prayer and preaching was not an excuse to get out of serving or cleaning up after a potluck dinner at the church. The devotion of The Twelve was a passion to take prayer and preaching to the streets, not an escape route to their private study or library.
Prayer and preaching of The Word are still The Spirit's priorities for preachers of the contemporary church. HOW CAN YOU HELP? Pray for your preacher today. He needs it, and you need the practice.
TALK LESS! PRAY MORE!