God-Soaked World Bible Guide – Day 38
April 12, 2017
Wednesday, April 12– Acts 6:1-7
1 Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. 2 And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3 Therefore, friends select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, 4 while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.” 5 What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6 They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
7 The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
Points of Interest:
- As the faith community in Jerusalem grows, their problems gain complexity as well. Jesus told his apprentices to spread the news in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, which in Acts will mean Rome. We’re only at the Judea phase here, but there are lessons in culture and organizational health to be learned already.
There are now Greek-speaking, culturally assimilated Jews (Hellenists) as well as Aramaic-speaking Jews (Hebrews) sharing space in the same community, and as usual in multi-cultural settings, there are some inequities and conflicts that arise. In this case, the destitute widows whose culture and language match the leaders are getting more attention and resources than those who don’t. Leaders tend to favor people in their communities that are most like them, whether or not they mean to. In this case, the overlooked widows speak up.
- Clearly, we’re looking at a successful case study. What goes well here?
First off, the leaders listen. Their reaction to complaint is non-defensive reaction. It’s easy for leaders to take complaints too personally or to dismiss them entirely. One mentor told me that complaint is great if you don’t take it too personally, because it always teaches you something about people and about the system they’re part of. So the leaders listen; they let complaint teach them.
The leaders here also have a non-reactive response. They don’t just dump what they’re doing and start finding more food for the Hellenist widows. Instead, they adapt and restructure. They realize that they can’t stop the work they’re doing, but need to appoint new leaders to important work no one else has been doing.
And lastly, they develop a multi-ethnic leadership team. Apart from their other qualifications, the new cohort of leaders is made up of Jews with Hellenic names, chosen by the Hellenic members of the community themselves. Their own cultural background, we think, matches, the under-served people in their community, which is both just and effective.
- One downside, from my point of view, is that all the leaders selected are men, as are the original twelve apostles that appointed them. The New Testament indicates that Jesus and the first century church were more progressive on women in leadership than anything else going on in their first-century Greco-Roman, second temple Judaic context. But they were still operating in a pretty patriarchal culture and not entirely free of its influence. It’s too bad when people today cue off the patriarchy, not the elevation of women.
- Apart from being men, the job prerequisites of these new leaders are good reputation, healthy and potent spirituality, and transferable skills like wisdom. It’s interesting that this first church HR move prioritizes character and hard-to-train transferable skills over easier-to-train job specific skills, like food distribution.
- New leaders are equipped and empowered and released to do their work with full authority, while the old leaders keep doing the work they’ve been doing with whole hearts and great skill as well. This seems to be really effective. Team Jesus is thriving in all corners.
Prayer for your workplace – Call to mind your place of employment. If you’re not working at a job right now, think of any other organization you are part of that has leaders and systems – your church, your extended family, your school, your government, somewhere you volunteer. Pray that leaders there will be non-defensive, proactive, and wise about responding to complaints and concerns, particularly from people of less privilege. If you have a leadership position, pray all this for yourself as well.
Spiritual Exercise – This week our spiritual exercise will focus on hearing an invitation from the Spirit of God to a joyful life and welcoming the power of the Spirit of God to that end. How would being part of a healthy, growing organization bring joy to you today? Is there any wisdom God can share with you today that might help? Any people of wisdom you might want to pay more attention to? Ask God to give you and others the power to lead wisely and to bless and empower any choices you and others make to be responsive leaders.