Summary: Apostolic church faced human resource issues. Apostles needed to delegate authority so could concentrate on primary calling to pray and preach.
Running a church sometimes just takes common sense. Real problems arise in the Church just like any other institution, however, through prayer, cooperation within the Body of Christ, and some thought even the most complex problems can be solved. Today’s reading from Acts 6:1-7 deals with the early Church’s management problems. Let’s see what you would do in the circumstances.
Our case study begins with grumbling in the ranks of the believers. This is the history behind the dissention. When the early church began, it needed funding to accommodate its growth. Due to its rapid growth the Apostles were having problems managing its finances, personnel, and overall focus. The rapid influx of new believers put a strain on the Apostles and certain groups of people were not receiving adequate ministry. Before I go into specifics, I want to back up and describe how the early Church evolved.
After our Lord resurrected, the disciples where huddled together in a closed room and received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. At this point the disciples became Apostles and they spent most of their time evangelizing and converting people to the faith. The Apostles were missionaries in the purest sense of the word and wanted to spend all of their time praying and preaching. Unfortunately, growing pains evolved. First, the early church had money problems. How were the early Apostles paid? How were churches funded? Where did the resources come from to take care of the poor and needy? Answer, the Church got funding. We are told in Acts Chapter 4 that the whole congregation shared things in common. Property and other riches were sold and the proceeds from the sales were laid at the Apostles feet and they were distributed based upon need. Amazingly enough no one in congregation was in need; there were plenty of resources for everyone.
Despite adequate funding for the new church, distribution issues arose and some of the membership complained about not getting fair treatment. This problem was related the Church’s rapid growth, its lack of formal organization, and dissention within the ranks. Now there were two basic groups of people within the Church: Hellenistic Jews who spoke Greek and were converted to the faith, and Palestinian Jews who spoke Hebrew. Obviously, the Palestinian Jews were from the area and were converted to Christianity while they resided in their homeland. The Hellenistic Jews were born out of Palestine and many came to the region for Passover and Pentecost. After their conversion, they decided to stay in the area. Some of the older Hellenistic Jews relocated to Palestine to live out the remainder of their days. I guess they wanted to retire there like sunny Florida. The Greek-speaking Hellenistic Jews were in the minority.
St. Luke tells us that after the funds were collected from believers, the early Christians found jobs and no longer needed help. The community relied upon the common fund less and less except for the widows who could not get jobs. They still relied on the common fund for assistance. The widows are the center our case study. The Palestinian Christians widows who understood the language continued to receive help from the fund. The Hellenistic Christians widows who were unfamiliar with Hebrew were often overlooked and neglected. The result was that tensions arose between the Greek-speaking and the Hebrew-speaking believers. The Greek-speaking believers felt that their widows were being mistreated and murmurings arose. The Apostles realized that this division was becoming serious and they needed to resolve the issue before it split the church.
The Apostles huddled together to resolve the issue. While they recognized the issue’s importance, they did not have the time to deal with the matter: they wanted to continue to preach the Word of God. The Apostles did not feel it was the best use of their resources to dole out money and food to the widows, other things were more important to the early Church’s survival. So, my friends what would you do? Assume you are one of the Apostles, what is your plan considering these issues:
1. Factions within the Church and dissention within the ranks of believers.
2. Lack of manpower to handle church’s needs.
3. Chaotic situation as the result of rapid growth. Church growing faster than can manage it.
4. Lack of common language and procedures for resolving differences.
5. No defined mission and action plan.
Apostle’s Action Plan
Here’s the Apostle’s action plan. First, they highlighted the problems and set priorities for their ministry. The Apostles realized that it would be impossible to successfully minister to all the communities’ needs. They called together the congregation of disciples and reasoned that they should devote their ministry to preaching and teaching the word of God. Ministering to the widows was important, but it was not their chief priority. The community needed to be strengthened through prayer, preaching, and teaching. The early Church was growing and the Apostles were called to evangelize to all nations. How could they fulfill the Divine Commission if they had to take care of the money tables?