High Quality Preaching - Acts 6:1-4

1In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2So 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. 3Brothers, 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 4and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”
Acts 6 (NIV)

A pastor once quoted that part about “waiting on tables” to me. His point was that as a minister of God’s Word he should not be expected to serve.  Had I the gusto, I would have responded:
And whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Mark 10:44-45 (NRSV)

Of course, I didn’t have the gusto and so the pastor and I parted ways. He represents an all too common historical perspective. Many ministers have seen their calling to proclamation as more important than anything else, including family, emotions, inclusion of different opinions, and health. Unfortunately that perspective can also led to the assumption that this special calling makes them and their position special.[1]  Too many have seen preaching as the highest of Christian ministries.
I know that this seems like an exaggeration, but in older
church designs they built the pulpit high above the
audience to remind everyone of  the height of importance
that the preacher's words bore. 

The reality, however, is that this passage from Acts isn’t about a quality difference between servanthood and preaching.[2]  It is about human limitations.  A daily distribution of food is a huge task.  The twelve were handing over a “responsibility,” not the call to individual servanthood.  I can’t imagine how long it must have taken to make sure that everyone, especially widows, had food.  They can’t have all lived in the same household in Jerusalem, probably not even in the same quarter of the city.  So first you have to get the food, then you have prepare the food, then you have to make sure you know where you’re going, then you have to get it there and make sure that no one is being left out.  That’s a full time job. 

Think about it in our own context.  If I added the planning and executing of Simple Supper to my regular responsibilities I’d be unable to do them all well.  Hungry people would suffer. You would suffer. I would suffer.  Now imagine if we did Simple Supper every day.  I think you get the idea.  I am indisputably called to servanthood.     But I am also not expected to live so far beyond my means that my efforts become a detriment to the movement of God. If the first church was going to meet the needs of widows with equality and efficiency[3] there had to be a team for that responsibility.  That does not excuse the Twelve from following in the Son of Man’s footsteps of servanthood.  Instead, their attitude of delegation allowed for all to participate in following Jesus.  In other words, their handing over of the responsibility shows they did think the distribution of food was important, too important to screw up.

A Jesus community is a community of servants.  It is not a community where only the leaders serve, nor where the leaders are absolved from service.  It is not a community that honors one ministry to the neglect of another.  It is a full-bodied way of life that includes outreach, proclamation, foot washing, encouragement, and care for physical needs.  It is also a community that utilizes everyone to accomplish these things.

[1] Certainly being a pastor ain’t easy and it presents unique challenges that require specific treatment from the congregation (like a salary, vacation, formal accountability, a high sensitivity to family needs, and a not so small dose of encouragement).  Trying to follow Jesus as an accountant or garbage-person is also tricky and presents unique challenges that require specific treatment from their friends.
[2] For one thing, “the ministry of the word” is not a synonym for preaching. Certainly it involves teaching (2:42), but I think what they’re referring to also involves public proclamation (5:20), debates/discussion in the synagogues (9:20), and defending their cause before officials (5:27).  I suppose there are similarities between such things and preaching, but I always know who I’m talking to, I can assume that the audience has chosen to hear me, I know I’ll have time to prepare, I take my cues from a specific chapter, I am typically trying to cultivate an idea that the audience is already familiar with, etc. 
[3] More on this theme on Sunday. 


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