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Jan 14, 2018

Servant Leadership: Deacons

Servant Leadership: Deacons

Passage: Acts 6:1-7

Speaker: Michael E. Karunas

Series: Servant Leadership

Category: Leadership

Sermon Delivered at Central Christian Church 


This… is a story by Dr. Seuss called “The Sneetches.”  It’s not important to know what a Sneetch is, only that there are 2 kinds – some with green stars on their bellies and some without.  Those with stars felt superior to those without and flaunted it over them.  Those without felt inferior and excluded.  They hated the fact they were treated so poorly.   So they found a way to put stars on their bellies and this, they thought, was the solution because now there was no distinction between the two groups of Sneetches.  But… those with stars first didn’t like this at all.  They still felt they were better and wanted a way to distinguish themselves from those who had stars second.  So they found way to take the stars off their bellies.  And the story goes on with the two groups putting stars on and taking them off, until they finally realize that all this division is ridiculous because they were all really the same, whether they had stars or not. 

It’s not a Christian book, per se, but it does address something that the earliest Christians had to deal with as well – How to bring together two groups into one community who see themselves as different but who are more similar than they realize?  Our reading today comes from the Book of Acts, which is about what happened to the followers of Jesus after he left them.  After Jesus died on the cross, he rose again, and then spent 40 days with his followers before he ascended into heaven, leaving the Apostles (those first 12 that he called) in charge.  The Book of Acts is about what happened next?  Read Acts 6:1-7

Here’s what we know about “what happened next?”  First, those early Christians had “all things in common.”  They lived communally.  When you became a Christian, you gave all your possessions to the Apostles, who then gave things back out to people as they were needed.  Secondly, all the first Christians were former Jews.  Remember, Jesus was a Jew.  So were the 12 disciples.  And so it went, at first, that the earliest converts to the new Christian movement were previously Jewish.  Thirdly, there were two groups of former Jews who were now Christian.  Group one spoke Aramaic.  Group two spoke Greek.  And the Apostles (the leaders) belonged the Aramaic group.  Fourthly, Widows were given special attention in the early church.  From the very beginning of Christianity those who were most vulnerable and the least fortunate (like widows and orphans) were given extra special care.  The letter of James 1:27 even says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled is to care for widows and orphans in their distress.” 

So with all that in mind, a problem emerged in that early Christian community.  Because all of things were held in common (even food), it seems that people lined up every day (or week) to receive enough food for that day (or week).  And some of the Christians (the Greek-speaking ones) felt that their widows were getting cheated and that that Aramaic-speaking widows were getting more food, better food, and food faster; that the Apostles, who were also Aramaic-speaking, were favoring their widows over the Greek-speaking ones.  And they understandably felt slighted, neglected and excluded. 

How would you respond if you were one of the Apostles?  How do you think they did?  First, they listened – earnestly.  They didn’t dismiss the Greek-speaking widows as being crazy; they didn’t take it as a personal attack – as we, and our leaders, sometimes do today.  They understood that feelings matter and that perception is reality – that if I feel excluded, I am, in a real way, excluded.  But they also understood that if the movement Jesus started was going to become “one,” they were going to have to find a way to bring people who were different together.


So… secondly, they created a Division of Labor.  They established two groups of Christian leaders.  The Apostles would have the job of focusing on the Word of God and making sure the people in the community had their “spiritual food.”  The Word of God could not be neglected.  But.., they also needed leaders to take care of the physical food – the real bread – so that everyone would be fed; that no one would feel excluded; that no one would feel neglected.  They understood that everyone needed to feel as though they are treated fairly, and there was just too much work for them (the Apostles) to do alone.  They needed help.

Therefore, third, they chose seven people to be “servants of the food.”  These were men of “good standing,” meaning that they were well respected in the community.  And they all spoke Greek.  All their names are Greek names (Philip, Stephen, Parmenas, Nicanor…).  The leadership of the church was intentionally bi-partisan.  The Apostles spoke Aramaic, but they understood that for people to feel like they are treated fairly, it helps for them to see people like them in positions of leadership. 

And what was the result?  The church grew!!!  Both groups of leaders were important to that growth.  To build the kingdom of God, all servant leaders are necessary.  All gifts of the spirit are needed.  Some might be more public, while others are more behind-the-scenes, but all are necessary and valuable.  Whenever we hire a nursery staff member, I tell them that they are vital to the growth of our church.  Because long before the family bringing children to the church hear me preach or enter our beautiful sanctuary or listen to our magnificent choir (band) and organ, they will drop their children off at the nursery.  And our nursery attendants will make the first impression on behalf of our church.  My role may be more public and we might invest more resources in this role, but their role is just as valuable.  We learn the same thing from our scripture today.  The church grew as a result of its leadership being shared among more servant leaders, each doing something different but all contributing to the overall building of God’s kingdom. 

And… one more thing about those 7 servants of the physical food in Acts 6.  They were eventually given a name.  Deacon.  In fact the word “Deacon” (diaknoia) means “to serve” / “servant.”  And throughout history, Deacons have taken their cue from these first 7.  Their mission has always been to take care of the physical needs of the members of the community.  Caring for the least fortunate; the most vulnerable.  Historically in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Elders have played the role of teaching the Word and being part of the governance of the church.  While deacons have been the ones leading the programs that help take care of physical needs.  Today, in our church, a Council handles most of the governance, though many elders are part of the council.  And Committees handle most of the programs, though many deacons are also on committees.  But we see the role of Deacon in the Disciples church best at communion – when it comes time for our community to “eat.”  At the communion table, the elders play the role of the Apostles, speaking words about the spiritual significance of the food we eat; showing how the bread on the table is connected to the Bread of Life.  And Deacons continue the work began by Stephen, Philip, Nicanor, Parmenas and the others all those years ago.  Deacons make sure that the physical bread is distributed, making sure that no one is excluded or neglected – no matter what language they might speak, who they are, or how different they made feel.  Deacons – then as now – ensure that all are treated fairly to the love of God in Christ Jesus. 

(9:00) At our 9:00 service we also have elders do the serving of the physical food, but that’s because we were starting on a small scale and wanted to make sure we had all roles covered.  But now that our service is growing, it’s time to invite you into the serving role of Deacon if you are called to do so.  We’ve been using volunteers over the past few months but we want to be more formal in our organization and training.  We already have 6 people signed up as interested in serving as Deacon (and helping us serve communion each Sunday) and if you’d also like to join in this servant leadership role, we’d love to have you sign up after worship.  See MEK / TM if you have questions.

(Traditional) Those who serve communion at our traditional worship are Deacons nominated for service by the Nominating Committee and then elected by the congregation.  The nominating committee will be meeting later this year to consider Deacons for the future and if there are any here today who are not deacons already, but who would like to be considered by the nominating committee in the future, we’d love to have you sign up and let us know who you are.