I think it is fair to say that Acts chapter 6 describes a turning point for the apostles and their burgeoning community. Like in the preceding chapters, we read that the numbers of disciples continued to increase. However, out of their growth rose a matter that demanded attention.
The community had grown to the point where caring for the poor among them had become challenging. As a result, a complaint was leveled at the apostles that some in their midst were being overlooked. The Twelve called a meeting and rightly determined that they needed to stay focused on their calling to proclaim God's word. So, they asked the community to carefully choose seven men, well-respected and endowed by the Spirit, to lead and meet this need. We know that the manner in which this concern was handled found favor with God because we read in verse 7:
"God's word continued to grow. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased significantly. Even a large group of priests embraced the faith."
There is at least a two-fold lesson to be learned from this.
First, the apostles could have addressed the complaint by taking on the added work themselves but didn't. Instead, they recognized that the Spirit had gifted and empowered them to spread God's word and that was precisely the work to which they remained wholly committed.
This leads to the second lesson. All are gifted, all are called. The apostles wisely turned to the community, made them aware of the need, and asked them to bring forward a group of their choosing to meet the need. And so, the community responded.
The result of these lessons? The apostles stayed true to their calling and their work flourished. The community affirmed the calling of seven new leaders in their midst and their work flourished. God was glorified and the community grew larger still.
May this story be a powerful reminder for those of us who are privileged with ministry as a vocation, both clergy and laypeople alike. All are gifted, all are called. When needs arise, may we follow the apostles' example by praying to discern whether it is a need that demands our specific attention or if there might be someone in our midst waiting to be asked to use their gifts for ministry for the glory of God. I believe if we cultivate and nurture a "culture of ask" in our congregations, people would respond...maybe in droves. Join me this week in praying that we, in the United Methodist Church in particular, recover our identity as a movement - by the people, for the people.
Next week...another turning point and the story of Stephen.