What is the heartbeat of our ministry? And what does that look like in daily life and planning? In a short series, we’re going to consider the central element, and what that means.
Acts 6:1-7 was a clarifying moment for the early church. Burdened by the demands of spiritual growth and physical need, their structures were creaking and the apostles were over-stretched. So they elected seven men, ‘full of the Spirit and wisdom’ to take care of the practical elements and leave the apostles to their task: ‘prayer, and the ministry of the word’ (6:4).
Peter is not playing status games, as if he is too important for the task. He says, ‘it is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve (diakonein) tables… But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry (diakonia) of the word.’ ‘You serve up the pizza, we’ll serve up the preaching.’ ‘Serving’ is such an ordinary word that it can be used equally for the Spirit-fuelled preaching of the apostles, and sorting out the food queue.
Nor did it let those seven off their role in evangelism. When they reappear later in Acts, none of them is serving food: the next story in Acts concerns Stephen, and he turns out to be a wonder-worker, a magnificent preacher and a martyr (Acts 7); another, Philip is given a different specialist title, Philip the evangelist (21:8).
Nevertheless, the pattern is set. Later on we find echoes of that pattern in a wider ring of churches. Paul tells Timothy about the respective qualities of both ‘deacons’ and ‘overseers’ (1 Tim 3:1-13), and it fits with what we have seen that the overseers have to be ‘able to teach’ (3:2), but that is not said of the deacons.
Wise pastors today surround themselves with people to sort out the budget, the acts of compassion and sorting out the roof.
So what are they left with? ‘Prayer, and the ministry of the word.’ A careless pastor neglects either one of those at the risk of damaging the church. Who would dare to preach without soaking their thoughts in prayer? Who would dare to preach without working hard at every letter of their passage?
And already I have made the slip. I have made ‘ministry of the word’ equal ‘preaching’. As if all faithful pastors do is preach sermons. But in reality there are a number of aspects to ‘serving up the word’, and they are more than enough to fill our diaries.
- Pastors: do you make time for this double responsibility? Honestly, how much time to you spend on each? What else displaces them in your diaries?
- Church members: do you place unrealistic expectations on your minister? What could you take from them?
- Deacons: are you so busy doing practical tasks that you are neglecting evangelism?
Next post: preaching – what it contributes, and what it distorts.