Well I think the goat post is going to have to wait. There are goats in the church. I think everyone knows it. It’s time to move on…at least until later. I think this is more important right now.
“1Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. 7And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.”–Acts 6:1 – 7 (ESV)
In v.2 I notice that the twelve state the reason for creating the office of ‘deacon’. It was because ‘it is not right’ for them to give up the preaching of the word of God to serve tables.’ The office of deacon, when properly defined, proved to be a catalyst for several things. The word of God increased, the number of disciples multiplied greatly, and even a great many priests came to be ‘obedient to the faith.’ Their duty here appears to be anything that keeps the twelve from the ministry of the word. (v.3) The distribution, or the service to the widows was something that took a great deal of time. It takes a lot of time to take care of folks. I did notice that the word for ‘distribution’ was pretty close to the word for ‘deacon’ as if the two were rooted in the same Greek word. If that’s the case then I would have to say that it supports the notion of the office deacon being for service, not for leading the church.
When I compare this model with what most Southern Baptist Churches use I am surprised we get anything done. I am also not surprised that so many pastors burn out early or quit the ministry all together. They are on their own in a position that demands support and yet they usually have none. Praise God that He lifts these men up so that they are willing to do this work as they do. Most of them throw themselves into it no matter what it costs them in health and even their relationship with their wives. But do they really have to do this? I don’t think so. In fact I think we have a biblical imperative here to do whatever is necessary to see that their prayer and study time–the ministry of the word–is not disturbed. In v.4 the twelve, after creating the office of deacon and assigning them this duty they say that the deacons will take care of the distribution “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
Now here is something that should perk up the ears of the most die-hard church growth guru. In v.7 we see that when the twelve–arguably ‘elders’ at this point–are left to the ministry of the word the result is that ‘the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem…’ It was so effective that even a ‘great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.’ It’s pretty obvious that if we’re so concerned about our baptism or membership numbers that we are focusing on the wrong issues. This is one of the issues that must be dealt with if we are going to close the wide open back door to the SBC. It can’t do anything but help the church to have men devoted to prayer and the study, preaching, and teaching of the word of God and other men devoted to allowing them the freedom to do so.
It doesn’t take long for this to take hold in the church either. As early as Acts 11 we see that Saul and Barnabas send a letter to the ‘elders.’ Also, in Acts 14:23 we see that they also “…appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” This wasn’t a passing thing. This was something that Paul instituted in ‘every’ church. It wasn’t just a Jerusalem idiosyncrasy, something that is only pertinent to the first century church. It was something that was meant to be a permanent fixture in the church.