Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Twelve and the Seven

One of the challenges faced by pastors today is the expectation of some church members that the pastor be the CEO—Chief Executive Officer—of the church. Well, in reality, some church members just want the pastor to be the manager of the church so they won’t have to deal with things like roof repairs, leaky plumbing, janitorial service and failing audio-visual systems. A pastor friend recently commented to me, “Seminary just did not prepare me to be the business manager of a church.”

Certainly, there are some administrative details that every minister must assume whether he or she is comfortable with them or not. I also agree that many of the systems of the church—financial, personnel, facility management—should be conducted by the best business practices available. But where did we get the idea that the minister is the one responsible for these things?

Please note this passage from the Acts of the Apostles:

During this time, as the disciples were increasing in numbers by leaps and bounds, hard feelings developed among the Greek-speaking believers—"Hellenists"—toward the Hebrew-speaking believers because their widows were being discriminated against in the daily food lines. So the Twelve called a meeting of the disciples. They said, "It wouldn't be right for us to abandon our responsibilities for preaching and teaching the Word of God to help with the care of the poor. So, friends, choose seven men from among you whom everyone trusts, men full of the Holy Spirit and good sense, and we'll assign them this task. Meanwhile, we'll stick to our assigned tasks of prayer and speaking God's Word." (Acts 6:1-4, The Message)

The action of “the Twelve” (the apostles) did not mean that they did not care about the poor. They did want them to receive proper care, and they certainly were concerned about the internal conflict produced by alleged discrimination in the care of widows. They simply decided that there were those who were more gifted to deal with such matters. There is certainly a spiritual dimension both to the selection of “the seven” and their work. They were spiritually mature, trustworthy, and had common sense. At least two of these men, Stephen and Philip, had significant ministries of their own—Stephen as a preacher (although his ministry did not last long) and Philip as an evangelist. They were assigned a practical (read “business”) responsibility, but they were gifted in other ways as well.

The minister of a church cannot abdicate his or her responsibility to deal with the practical matters of the church, but there are gifted laypeople—men and women—who can come alongside and share this responsibility. I have been blessed to serve alongside such people on church committees. They may not feel “called to ministry,” but their work helps things to go more smoothly in the daily operations and work of the church. They are diakonoi or “servants” of the church in the fullest sense. They need to step up to the task and be thanked for accepting it.

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