Society of Fellows
Fresh from the halls of theological academia, I arrived at the fertile fields of the Mississippi Delta for my first pastorate. Early on Saturday morning before my first Sunday to preach, I met Brother George, the chairman of the deacons at the church. I was thinking we would prepare for Sundays services and he was thinking the same thing. Except we were on two different levels of thought. That Saturday morning Brother George showed me how to turn on the heating and air-conditioning unit and informed me which doors to unlock on Sunday morning. I assumed this as part of my regular ministry at this church for the next four years.
Leaving the Mississippi Delta, I moved to Northeast Arkansas to serve as pastor of my second church. The first week I was on the church field the chairman of the finance committee wanted to give me the combination to the church safe. I saw where this might be leading so I graciously and quickly declined his offer. I was determined to protect my calling to be a pastor from a task that could be handled by someone else. It was not that I was unwilling or unable to do this task for the church. I was seeking to be faithful to Gods call to a ministry of prayer and of the Word.
All pastors have experienced this struggle of doing the good and, often, necessary things as opposed to doing that which God has called us to do. In the infant days of the Church, the apostles faced similar struggles. How they handled the struggles and the priorities they chose can be a great help to us today.
First, lets look at The Situation Which Caused This Struggle, found in verses 1 and 2 of Acts 6. The devils attack upon the young Church was threefold. One, the Jewish authorities sought to persecute the believers. Two, Ananias and Sapphira were instruments of internal corruption. And three, the squabbling widows were a source of distraction from the main task. As John R. W. Stott has said in his commentary on Acts, The Spirit, The Church, and The World, If he (the devil) could preoccupy the apostles with social administration, which though essential was not their calling, they would neglect their God-given responsibilities to pray and to preach, and so leave the church without any defense against false doctrine. This was a serious struggle for the apostles and the church.
The Jews had established a very meticulous means of providing for the poor and needy. The early church had adopted a similar plan. Yet, due to some circumstances or the lack of organization, all was not going well with their plan. A group of the Hellenistic Jewish widows were neglected in the daily provisions. The apostles caught wind of the murmuring among the congregation. The issue was more than one of cultural tension. The apostles discerned a deeper problem that would threaten their time for the task Christ had specifically given them, namely: prayer and preaching. The apostles did not regard social work inferior to pastoral work or even below their dignity. It was entirely a question of calling.
Dr. R. G. Lee in his Sourcebook of 500 Illustrations tells of a revered black preacher who once told his congregation, Folks, when something hard to handle hits you, the Lord votes for you, the devil votes against you, and you cast the deciding vote. Dr. Lee goes on to say, In the church, we find at times the same situation. There are members who leave all the work to be done by the pastor and the chosen officials. The British financier, Lord Josiah Stamp, once made the statement: It is easy to dodge our responsibilities but we cannot dodge the consequences of dodging our responsibilities. We can be grateful the apostles did not dodge their leadership responsibility or take on more than they could handle.
Second, lets look at The Solution That Helped the Apostles Handle Their Struggle, as seen in Acts 6: 3-6. The obvious solution was the selection of the seven men chosen according to clear qualifications to handle this task of meeting the widows needs. This wise decision allowed the apostles to give undistracted attention to their primary calling. The important truth seen here is that God calls all of His people to minister and He calls different people to different ministries.
Again, John R. W. Stott commenting in his book, The Spirit, The Church, and The World has some important advice for pastors based on this passage. So many preachers instead of concentrating on the ministry of the Word, become overwhelmed with administration. Sometimes it is the pastors fault - he wants to keep all the reins in his own hands; and sometimes it is the peoples fault - they want him to be a general factotum. In either case the consequences are disastrous. The standards of preaching and teaching decline since the preacher has little time to study and pray. And the lay people do not exercise their God-given roles since the pastor does everything himself. For both reasons the congregation is inhibited from growing into maturity in Christ.
The ministry of prayer and preaching make a perfect pair. The pastor must sacredly guard times to be alone with God in private conversation concerning the needs of his own life and ministry and those of his congregation. Prayer is a spiritual battle that gives us a mighty victory against the enemy. Martin Luther in his Greater Catechism of 1529 said, We know that our defense lies in prayer alone. We are too weak to resist the devil and his servants. Let us hold fast to the weapons of the Christian that enable us to fight the devil. No pastor should ever give up the place of prayer for a secondary assignment that can be accomplished by others.
The ministry of the Word must not be neglected by the preacher. Dr. R. G. Lee in his book, The Bible and Prayer says, The Bible is Gods wonder book. It is supernatural in origin. It is divine in authorship. It is infallible in authority. It is personal in application. It is immeasurable in power. It is infinite in scope. It is sure in its promises. It is secure in its guidance. If every God-called preacher adopted this lofty view of Scripture, we would carve out the necessary time to wait upon the Holy Spirit to speak to our hearts through the Word. The apostles could not distribute bread to tables and fail to distribute the Bread of Life. Neither can we as preachers today.
Now, let us see The Significance That Resulted From This Struggle, as pointed out in Acts 6:7. This verse is one of six brief reports (6:7, 9:31, 12:24, 16:5, 19:20, 28:31) that Luke gives throughout the book of Acts. Each of these reports tells either the tremendous effect the Word of God was having or the resulting increase in the number of believers. Sometimes both! This teaches us that when pastors stay true to Gods call, God uses him and other believers to fulfill the Great Commission. All pastors desire the results that are stated in verse 7. They are ours when we give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the Word.
Written by Robert E. Connerley
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rev. Robert E. Connerley has been pastor of Brownsville Baptist Church, Brownsville, TN since 1989. He holds a BA degree from Mississippi College and a Masters of Divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Patsy have one daughter and three sons.