Up to this point in Acts, the witness of the Scriptures about leadership in the early Ecclesia has really only described the selection of an “apostle” to replace Judas. The criteria for that selection was clear – it related to one being an eye witness of the life of Jesus, from His baptism to His resurrection. (Acts 1:21-22) The number of those who fit this description was limited in time and geography. Those who could be this kind of witness would only be around for so long. And while you could draw fair implications – there was no mention of any character qualifications for that position.
Now in Chapter 6, there is a need for a specific kind of service: to see that the Greek widows were provided for in the food distribution. We noticed that at this point there were at least 5000 in the company of the disciples (4:4), and Jesus had earlier set the precedent of serving food to this number with the twelve near the Jordan River (Mark 6:41, Matt 15:29-39); But now the twelve find they cannot give the attention needed to avoid overlooking the Greek widows among the disciples, and still continue giving witness to the life of Jesus (serving up the “Word”). They need to delegate this “ministry” to others.
Two things struck us about this passage:
1. Here is the first time that character qualifications are mentioned in selecting disciples for a specific task – Seven who were:
- of good reputation,
- full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.
The requirement of being full of the Holy Spirit is impressive to us – this was not mentioned in the selection of an apostle to replace Judas in the work. We think of this Acts 6 passage as the selection of “deacons” – people who would “wait on tables”. Today if we thought that someone was “full of the Holy Spirit”, we would more likely make him Pope, or at least a pastor of a very large church…but they were selecting table waiters. What the heck?!
2. The other thing we noticed actually helped us make sense of this. When we studied through the life of Christ, we noticed that He dramatically opposed hierarchical leadership. He made a point of contrasting it with His own way of leading when He taught the disciples in Matthew 20:24-27, and when He showed the disciples in the washing of their feet (John 13). The reality was, the Twelve didn’t think of this as a “lesser ministry”!! The selection of the seven was not an appointment of a spiritual “B-Team” as we suppose, but a recognition and delegation of disciples to carry the apostolic mission to the Greek widows. The text bears this out not only in the qualifications stated, but in how it refers to the two tasks. Both the “serving of the Word” and the “serving of tables” (6:2 and 6:4), though translated “ministry” and “serving”, respectively, are described with the same Greek word: diakonai. The point of this is that the twelve eye witnesses of Jesus’ life and resurrection did not think of themselves as superior to the seven – That’s OUR bias, not theirs!
For our part, I think we need to repent of our hierarchical view of leadership in the Kingdom of God, and return to Jesus’ teaching on this. It has corrupted our reading of Paul’s instruction to Timothy about appointing leaders (1Timothy 3), and so our whole view of leadership in the Church.
May the Lord restore us to simple, servant leadership. Amen