In Acts 6:1-7 we catch a glimpse of the early church struggling with the dual roles of proclaiming the message of the gospel and serving others as an expression of the gospel. Throughout the biblical accounts we see Jesus healing the sick and at the same time proclaiming the Kingdom of Heaven. Peter tells us to speak the utterances of God and serve with the strength God provides (1 Peter 4:7-11). Paul prays for the Colossians to live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:10). Gospel service and gospel speaking seem to be closely related throughout the New Testament.
Peter Drucker said that non-profits exist to change lives. He’s right, but we must remember that ministries exist to change lives for eternity. Effective Christian ministries use a wide array of tools to make changes in time and eternity.
Historically, ministries that focus on meeting physical needs have drifted away from their gospel roots. And those that give attention to spiritual needs may become oblivious to the physical needs of people around them. For ministries to be truly effective their efforts must be grounded in the gospel; both what they say and what they do.
The early church addressed this issue head on. Hungry people needed to be fed and the Bible needed to be studied and preached. The leaders realized that physical and spiritual needs were both priorities that required attention. The leaders also realized that they needed to remain steadfast, doing what they were uniquely designed and called to do – pray, study and preach.
In response to the need to feed the hungry and the concern about ministry-drift, the apostles organized a meeting and laid out a plan. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word." (Acts 6:2-4)
Without neglecting the very real needs of hungry people, the Twelve stayed on task, guarding their responsibility to pray and share the truth of God’s word. They chose godly leaders and empowered them (more about this next week) to meet the needs of the hungry. Yet they remained committed to prayer, study and teaching God’s word. Both ministries were crucial to the success of the young church. Neither branch of the unified church tried to minimize the importance of the other. Together they provided a comprehensive, God-honoring ministry.