In the early days of the church, at least as told by Luke in the book of Acts, there was exponential growth followed by a few hiccups and then more exponential growth. Acts 6 describes one of those situations where an error, lack of judgement, or a simple oversight lead to the neglect of a segment of the newly forming congregation. Let’s take a look:
Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. Acts 6:1-6
And the results? The word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. Acts 6:7
What happened to those who didn’t make the cut? They were all ‘church brethren,’ they were counted as being part of ‘the group,’, and apparently they were all active, but doing what? Before going on, I think it would be hard to establish any sort of hierarchical ecclesiology or system from this passage or its description of the division of work. But yet, there is a division of the work here. There are those whose concentration was prayer and the ministry of the word, others who ‘served tables,’ and then everyone else. What was everyone else doing?
The scripture relays much information about the ‘greats,’ like Paul, Peter, James, and John, but doesn’t get into the everyday lives of everyday people. It doesn’t, for the most part, explain the work and struggle of the everyday disciple in there ’normal’ contexts. What did the larger and unmentioned part of the congregation do when others were out ministering the word, praying, and serving tables?
As Neil Cole asks in his book Primal Fire,
“Are deacons simply junior varsity elders who do the unglamorous work that the elders don’t want to do? Do they simply serve the meals, count the offering, hand out bulletins, and clean up after the potluck?
To that I’ll ask if there is also a third string made of up those who are doing ‘none of the above,’ or something else?
What is the mission of a normal run of the mill congregant?
Doesn’t everyone have have the ‘duty’ to make disciples by preaching the gospel etc.?
Who are the ones who didn’t get chosen in Acts 6, and what was their mission?