In Acts 6:1-7, we read of a strange moment in church history. Some in the church have begun to complain (this is nothing new under the sun) because a certain group, it seems, has been privileged over another. They bring their complaints to the Twelve. And here is where it gets interesting.
Rather than mediate the dispute, offer counseling, throw a pot-luck dinner, the apostles send the complainers away—because they have more important matters to attend to. “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the Word,” they say, “in order to wait on tables” (6:2, NIV). This strikes me as being a blissfully odd response: aren’t pastors supposed to be, well, pastoral? Then what happened here? But these men of God have wisdom enough, and the decision they make is right. Charging others with the task of ministering to the widows, they devote themselves to “prayer and the ministry of the Word” (6:4).
Two implications follow.
First, prayer is a necessary part of the pastor’s daily task. While this seems obvious enough, how many churches function as if this is the truth? Both the pastor and the church face the unceasing temptation to “get busy” rather than waiting on and pleading with God in prayer. But Scripture assures us that prayer accomplishes far more than our human ingenuity and effort ever will: we may plant and water, but God alone causes the growth (1 Corinthians 3:7). Does our approach to ministry reflect our belief in this truth? Suppose for a moment that the pastor were unable to visit all of the sick members of the congregation in a week because he has devoted himself to prayer and the ministry of the Word. How many would cry foul, remind the pastor of his duties (for which he receives fair remuneration), call for a congregational meeting? But it is not right for him to neglect the two ministries to which he has been called primarily. Another can wait on tables; another can visit the sick.
Second, then, is the crucial reminder that the pastor—called by God to equip the saints for works of service (Ephesians 4:12)—must not perform all of the ministries of the church. In Acts 6, the apostles did not dismiss the complaints of the Grecian widows as unfounded and unimportant; they simply recognized that this was not their task. And so they suggest gathering some godly men together to carry out this necessary ministry. Could we not likewise expect that other godly members of the congregation could visit the sick (etc.)—so that the pastor remains devoted to the most pressing tasks in his ministry?
Find a church where the pastor does not spend extensive, regular time in prayer and the ministry of the Word, and you will discover a church laboring in its own strength to accomplish its own priorities. Find a church where the pastor works diligently to divide the word of truth rightly, prays regularly for the Lord’s grace and provision, and you will surely discover God’s blessing and abundant fruit. “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith” (6:7).