“In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews[a] among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2 So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3 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 4 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” Acts 6.1-4
The honeymoon is over. The early church, which had been going along fairly smoothly, was beginning to fight against what our modern churches face — complaints from within the church. The controversy was between the Hellenistic Jews and the Hebrew Jews. It’s an interesting distinction. (For more on the distinction of Hellenism visit https://www.jstor.org/stable/3210348).
When we think of Jews, we almost automatically think of them being Hebraic, Israelites who are Sons and Daughters of Abraham. But in truth, Judaism had spread so that non Hebrews were also Jewish. And those who were non Hebraic were from Greece, Rome, Persia or anywhere in between. They were merging Greek culture with the modern culture of whatever country in which they lived.
And to add a twist, these Jews were now Christians. And as the church was growing so much, divisions between social, ethnic and politic groups were rising up even within the church. The Hebraic widows were being taken care of but the Hellenistic widows were not. And so, the twelve Apostles are faced with a dilemma, do they stop or “neglect” ministry of the word and prayer in order to ”wait on tables?” I should think not.
This brings up the reason why the Methodist church, my own denomination, has ordained Elders as well as Deacons. Deacons are “ordained Methodist clergy who lead the church in relating Christians to their ministries in the world through worship leadership, preaching, teaching, nurturing spiritual vitality and leading ministries of service, love, and justice. Elders, in contrast, “are ordained ministers that have the responsibilities to preach and teach, preside at the celebration of the sacraments, administer the church through pastoral guidance, and lead the congregations under their care in service ministry to the world.” Deacons focus primarily on service to and of the Church whereas Elders focus on ministry of the word and sacraments.
These orders might have been developed at this very time when the Apostles needed to teach, preach, perform healing miracles and guide the life of the church with sacraments, word and order. They needed someone to care for the multiplicity of issues that would be arising from a growing population. It’s interesting that we follow these guidelines today in ministering to the Lord and His family.
It’s not that one is better, I lean toward ministry of the Word, sacrament and order because this is my calling. At youth camps, for instance, I am not in the kitchen cooking for 300 students like my wife and her cook team. They are supporting the work we are doing in leading worship, bible studies, and overseeing the programmatic arm of ministry. Each calling is significant and necessary. If the twelve Apostles/disciples neglected preaching to wait on tables, then who would preach, convert, teach and grow the church spiritually?
This key conflict developed into a healthy and beautiful expression of ministry as we know it. Some are called to preach and teach, and others are called to serve and meet the needs of the physical needs of the people. Both are necessary and both are essential to the growth of the Gospel of Christ.
What is your calling? What is your commission? Have you embraced the ministry which God has placed within you. If not, pursue that through prayer, discernment and spiritual direction so that you might be a part of God’s Kingdom and all that God has called you to be. By His grace and for His glory.
“O Lord God, what a blessing it is to minister to you and your people. The longer I am in ministry the more I see my role with clarity. I am called to teach, preach and proclaim your word. I am called to lead leaders and to raise up the next generation of pastors. Come now, Holy Spirit, and use me for your purposes. Help me find my strength in you. For you are my source and my rock. I love you Lord and praise your name. For you are good and your love endures forever.” Amen