Richard Coekin, the Senior Pastor of the Co-Mission Initiative, gave a thought provoking talk a few weeks’ ago. He was encouraging the Apprenticeship Trainers to teach our Apprentices to think more about delegation. To do that, we looked at Acts 6:1-7.
I’ve heard him before on this passage. And I’ve seen him change his mind. He used to say that Bible teachers ought not to be deflected from their responsibility of praying and preparing talks. He still says that. And rightly so. But he’s added to what he says. He’s noticed that Apostles didn’t just ignore the provision of social care. They handed over the responsibility to someone else. They delegated ministry. There were lessons for us to lear, Richard argued.
In his treatment of Acts 6:1-7, he made these three observations.
1. Their problem was distraction (1)
The Apostles became aware of a serious and pressing injustice. It looked like favouritism; the Greek widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. But rather than simply being aware of the issue they became involved in administrating the issue. It was clearly distressing. It was clear that something had to be done. Of that the Apostles were sure. But they were also equally sure that it had to be done by someone else.
2. Their priority was word and prayer (2)
This mercy ministry was a right ministry for the church to be involved in. How could they not provide for the Greek widows? Love demanded that they get involved and look after them. But it was a wrong ministry for the Apostles. The fact that they had a ministry of word and prayer meant that they should prioritise that. Richard drew the distinction between ‘creation’ ministry and ‘gospel’ ministry. It’s not a great distinction but I can see what he’s trying to do. It’s helpful to draw a distinction, as long as we don’t separate them. He’s saying that our work in subduing the creation through our normal day jobs isn’t the same as the work we do in proclaiming the gospel. He argued that we all have both ministries. They’re both aspects of our sacrificial worship. We need to do as much of both as we can manage. But where they compete for our attention, we’ll need to make a choice to do one and not the other. When that happens, we need to maximise our gospel ministry, not because its effects are eternal, but because it saves people from hell for heaven in the next world and helps people live well in this one.
3. Their proposal was delegation (3)
The Apostles didn’t neglect the injustice. They just didn’t deal with it themselves. They delegated the issue to some of the finest men in their congregation. I can sometimes be good at prioritising things. But I seem to prioritise by neglecting. I’ve decided that I need to get better at recruiting, envisioning and authorising others in the congregation to take up the good things that need to be done. Then I can get on preparing teaching material. Of course, most of the individuals we’d choose have full time jobs and so we’ll need to be sensitive to people’s capacity and opportunity.
As a result of that decision two things happened in Jerusalem.
In the first place they heard great sermons as the word was preached. And secondly, they saw great love as the hungry were fed. Their decision led to a win-win!