Leaders give away ministry!
If you follow Luke’s story of early church history in the book of Acts, by the time you reach Acts 6, the church appears to reach an important crossroads. Up to this point the church has been actively involved in mission and has been experiencing tremendous growth. But with the growth came a huge leadership challenge.
In Acts 6 a dispute arises between Greek-speaking Christ-followers and Hebrew-speaking Christ-followers. One side, sensing injustice, claims that their widows are being neglected in the daily distribution of food, implying that the other side is being shown preferential treatment.
The apostles called a meeting and uplifted the purpose of their leadership, affirming, “We apostles should spend our time teaching the word of God, not running a food program” (Acts 6.2b). In one concise statement, the apostles clearly communicated the vision for their continued leadership of the church.
At this critical point, the apostles could either continue to perform the ministry themselves or they could begin releasing the ministry and sharing it with others. The future growth of the church largely depended on their response. The apostles realized that their role as communicators of God’s Word was being distracted by other tasks. While ministry to the widows was important, of course, it was a ministry that needed to be done by others.
Rather than giving in to the complaints of the people, they chose another route and offered the following solution: “And so, brothers, select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility. Then we apostles can spend our time in prayer and teaching the word” (Acts 6.3-4). By choosing to share the ministry with others, they began to shape a missional culture in the church.
The idea was well received and seven people were selected to help lead this particular ministry. Further, “God’s message continued to spread,” Luke records, and “The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too” (Acts 6.7).
By giving away ministry the apostles opened the door for other leaders to be developed. Some of the men who were selected to lead the ministry to widows eventually took on larger leadership responsibilities.
The decision to give away ministry, instead of doing it all themselves, had huge implications for the early church. I believe it has similar implications for the church today. If pastors do not give away ministry they become the limiting factors in their congregations. To expand ministry and reach new people, pastors must release the ministry and share it with others.
Of course, some of the clearest instructions for pastors comes from one of the early church leaders (Paul), who wrote, “Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4.12). Christ-following leaders are called to equip others to do God’s work!