Monday, 26 May 2014

Waiting on tables.

In the sixth chapter of the Biblical book of Acts, we learn of a problem which was facing the early church. The church was growing rapidly, and demands were being placed on the twelve apostles to organise care of the widows within the fellowship, and settle disputes arising from this. Wisely, the apostles realised that they needed to give priority to teaching the word of God and to prayer. They therefore decided to delegate some of the responsibility of caring for the flock to others chosen for the task.

In the same way, back in the book of Exodus, chapter 18,  Jethro advised Moses that he would become worn out by acting as a judge for the tribe of Israel, trying all day long to solve issues of disputes and relaying God's will for his people whilst they were camped in the desert. He advised his son-in-law to handle difficult cases himself, but to appoint representatives to assist him otherwise.

The appointment of Stephen, in Acts chapter six, demonstrates for us that in God's kingdom there are many different opportunities for ministry within the body of Christ. Distributing food might at first appear to be a fairly menial task, however it seems that because disputes were arising, the disciples saw the need for those who were "full of the Spirit and wisdom."(v3).

Stephen, it seems, was a great choice, consecrated to his task through prayer and the laying on of hands by the disciples. The chapter goes on to tell us that as the fledgling church expanded, he was full of God's grace and power and performed great wonders and signs among the people. He obviously had a great love for and dedication to the work that he was assigned to do.

The Bible tells us Stephen was a skilled apologist, being able to give an excellent account when challenged about his beliefs, so much so that his opponents in the Sanhedrin had to bring false witnesses against him. Stephen's speech to the Sanhedrin in his own defence, detailed in Acts chapter 7, like that of Peter's speech in chapter 2, is inspirational in its eloquence and boldness. Again, we see how the Holy Spirit empowers Christ's followers with the right words to say in a testing situation.

Stephen remained filled with the Holy Spirit right up to the point of his death at the hands of a cruel mob. He was given a clear vision of heaven, a source of comfort to many, and like Jesus, pleaded for forgiveness for those killing him. His conduct no doubt remained as a witness in the mind of a young man named Saul, who stood by watching his death.

What can we as a church body learn from the story of Stephen? I think this story demonstrates the need for members of the body to support their pastoral team by allowing them time for prayer and preparation and teaching of the word. Sometimes in churches we expect the pastoral team to be available 24/7 and to be responsible for every aspect of church life-  a sure path to pastoral burnout.

Stephen's example also demonstrates the need for many within the body to utilise their gifts and contribute in ways that assist the pastoral team and minister to the congregation. There is no such thing as a spiritual hierarchy within the body of Christ- just different giftings and ways of ministering to others.  Stephen may have been waiting on tables, but he obviously saw it as a great opportunity to minister to others and display God's wonder and power. Simple tasks performed for the glory of God can have great effect and be a significant witness. God designed His church to live in unity and operate using the many and varied talents of its members Not everyone is a theologian, or a people person, or a number cruncher or peacemaker, or musician (although most are able to be part of the cleaning roster!).

As Paul tells us:
" For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly" (Romans 12:4-6)

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