Perhaps the needs had grown so large that it was impossible for the leaders to stay aware of them all. That easily happens.
Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. (Acts 6:1)
Even in an environment where “all things were common property” (Acts 4:32), preferential treatment crept in. And with it, naturally, complaining intensified. Some things never change! The Hellenistic Jews were grumbling . . . blaming . . . whining. (There’s a more colorful way to translate the word, which I learned in the Marine Corps, but I won’t go there!) Watch how the apostles dealt with this complaint. Their response is instructive.
So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:2–4)
Let’s not misunderstand the apostles’ words. There’s nothing wrong, per se, with serving tables—with meeting physical needs. Actually there’s everything right about that. The problem is when meeting those needs requires a neglect of the Word of God.
Good Things Out of Balance
Jesus experienced this issue as well. When His ministry enlarged so much that the physical needs of the people became all-consuming, Christ withdrew by Himself to pray. The apostles searched for Him and told Him that everyone was looking for Him. Why? They wanted healing. Christ responded by modeling for His disciples the importance of priorities:
Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for. (Mark 1:38)
Jesus knew the priority of keeping prayer and preaching central to His ministry. The apostles must have remembered, since they applied that same standard when the needs of the church increased.
No one will ever demand that you pray more and give greater priority to the Word of God. Physical needs will always shout louder. And the predictable will occur: we’ll spend so much time greasing those squeaky wheels that we neglect prayer and the Word of God. We can become so absorbed with trying to “do church” (whatever that means) on our own that we turn to pleasing people with impressive marketing techniques and corporate organizational strategies instead of keeping first things first.
But What about Growth?
But wait a minute; doesn’t Jesus want the church to grow? Absolutely. In fact, He has promised to do it. So what is our task? What are our priorities? A properly functioning church stays committed to its four biblical essentials: teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer (see Acts 2:42). Read that sentence again . . . please!
In the first church on record, it was Christians who planted the seeds and watered them, as the apostle Paul reminded his readers, “but God was causing the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6).
It remains the same today.