Tuesday Re-mix –
those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 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. 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 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. Acts 6:1-6
I think I was made a partner in my law firm pretty close to the same year I was ordained as a deacon in my church. To be honest, they felt quite a bit the same to me. In both cases, I felt like I was being recognized for some qualities and characteristics which, in reality, I may or may not have possessed. In both cases it felt like an achievement, an honor, a privilege and a terrifying responsibility all at the same time. In both cases, it would cost me, but I was more than happy to pay the price. In both cases, it meant stepping up into both servanthood and leadership. Both occasions were spiritual markers in my life…and, in both cases, the “honor” raised a great deal more questions in my mind than it answered.
You see, in the “law firm” world, being a partner may have the universal meaning of having some level of ownership in the firm, but beyond that, it means a lot of different things to a lot of different people (even within a single firm). That may be news to you, but this next sentence will not be. In that same way, as it turns out, being a “deacon” has come to mean a whole lot of different things to a lot of different people (even within a single church). In fact, I would go so far as to say that deacons in Baptist churches today are experiencing quite the identity crisis, trying to juggle a variety of definitions involving servanthood and leadership and a whole spectrum of ministry responsibilities. Interestingly, some of the messiest church conflicts I have seen in recent years have involved this question.
But then, if we take a step back into the broader Christian church, we see that there is an equal amount of “debate” over the role of lay leaders among and between the denominations. We all read these first few verses of Acts 6 and we all immediately claim them as the authority for our way of doing lay leadership.
My Baptist friends would say this passage signals the birth of the office of deacons. My Community Church friends would say it is the birth of elders. My Episcopalian friends, the birth of the Vestry. And so on and so forth…you get the picture. I will not engage here in the semantics of it all, i.e., what should we call lay leaders in the church and what is their role, etc. Those kinds of arguments seem so shallow to me in light of the pressing business the church has before it today. Do we really have time to be arguing over labels and job descriptions and whose structure is more Biblical?
I know I play the “I am not a theologian” card way too often (it is a luxury, I know), but I honestly do not speak Greek and I honestly do not know all the intricacies of the early church cultural norms. But I can read the stories in the Bible. And when I read this story, it looks an awful lot like the apostles (those responsible for prayer and the Word) needed some spiritually strong leaders to come around them and help them solve problems. They needed to be able to hit the “help” button and know that there were leaders qualified to respond. That is what I want to be for my pastor…a problem-solver who is growing spiritually and who loves the church. I do not really care what he calls me. I just want him to feel comfortable calling me.
P.S. – being a partner in a law firm wasn’t all it was cracked up to be…in fact, it pretty much paled in comparison to being a leader in the church. Just sayin’.