Conflict in the Church
Acts 6:1 Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. 2 And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3 Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, 4 while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.” 5 What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6 They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
The church was growing rapidly and the Apostles were facing challenges they had never encountered. This was a loving and sharing community in which people made sure that the needs of everyone were being met. Some of those who had become a part of the church were Hebrew and some were Greek-speaking. There seemed to be a concern that those who were Greek-speaking were being overlooked. They were a multi-cultural church from the very beginning and this challenged the way in which they were functioning. It was beginning to appear that a particular cultural group (the Hebrews) were getting special treatment. This was not the way that things were supposed to be so action had to be taken.
The Apostles faced the concerns head on realizing that they had to become more organized and delegate certain responsibilities. They understood their calling and felt that they needed some good managers to help with the details of waiting on tables — which may have been serving at the tables where money and food were distributed. To select the individuals they didn’t cast lots as they had when replacing Judas. Now, the process seemed to include a new criteria — being filled with the Holy Spirit and those who reflected faith. They also seemed to have managerial skills and another quality — probably they were bi-lingual. Their names suggest that they spoke Greek.
The Apostles lay hands on these individuals — a vision of ordination — and empower them to minister with authority.
The church seems to be adept at conflict avoidance but this passage provides us with a template for conflict response:
1) They acknowledged that they had a problem. Too often the issue put forth here would not be dealt with because our defense mechanisms would not allow us to admit there was a problem. We would probably begin by saying, “No, the widows are not being neglected.” And then we would come up with some lengthy explanation as to how they ARE being served and maybe, we might just be able to blame it on the widows themselves because they probably just weren’t being assertive enough. We never even get to problem solving because we spend too much time in problem denying.
2) The Apostles evaluated the situation and what they believed was to be their role in the community of faith. The process of evaluation allowed them to affirm that their calling was to the preaching of the word and if this were the case, then they would need to find a solution to the current concern. There needed to be people who could manage the tables on a daily basis. If the Apostles would do this they wouldn’t have the time that they felt they needed to preach. They would need to find people to manage the tables.
3) Once they evaluated the situation and realized their need was for people to manage the tables, they set out the criteria for those individuals. The Scripture leads us to believe that they did this with the input of the people. They were willing to listen to engage the community of faith transparently in the decision making process. The people selected would need to have the right skills for management; filled with the Spirit; a track-record of faithfulness; and the ability to speak in multiple languages — especially Greek.
4) With specific criteria in hand they engaged the people in the selection of the right individuals who met the need. There was no cronyism involved. They didn’t just select their friends so that they could be seen as important in the new church but they matched the need to the gifting.
The needs of the community were met by the way in which the Apostles managed this conflict. Instead of the problem continuing, it was solved. Not only was it solved but by facing their problem they created a structure that would help the church grow and expand even further. They created space for new leaders to develop and Stephen goes on to become the first Christian martyr whose testimony lives on to this day.
Conflict could be a gift from God that nudges the church on to growth. Don’t ignore conflict but confront it and let’s allow it to make God’s church a better place.
Lord, thank you for the conflicts and please help me to deal with them well. Amen.
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