Lessons on Serving and Leadership from Acts 6:2-4

It's been a struggle lately.  My Bible Reading plan says I’m supposed to be reading Judges. But all I wanna do is read Acts. 

Firstly, I’m reading a fantastic book by Wayne Meeks called The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul. While looking on Amazon at this book, I was reading a negative review that stated, “If the words ‘Rigorous New Testament Scholarship’ make you tremble with anticipation, buy this book.” And I said to the reviewer out loud, “Why, yes. Yes it does.” That was all I needed to add it immediately to my cart.

Secondly, I’m just noticing all these fantastical little details in Acts that I’ve never noticed before. Let’s look at one today. 

Acts 6:2-4 (and I threw vs 1 in there for context)

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists[a] arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.3 Therefore, brothers,[b] pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”


Ok, so here’s what we’re looking at. The church, explosive with growth, is feeling the natural church growing pains. Suddenly the staff or team you had is no longer adequate for the amount of work that needs to be done, and excellence is falling through the cracks.  The Twelve call a meeting. 

Let’s Dive Into The Greek

I want to note the weird way the ESV puts this: “the full number of the disciples”... they’re translating the greek (and I don’t have a greek keyboard so this WILL not be 100% the way it should look) “ho plethos ho mathetes” “the congregation of the disciples” --what they’re trying to convey is EVERYONE. Men and women. They called EVERYONE in the congregation.

Anyway. They say “it isn’t right we should give up the preaching the word of God to serve tables.” Ignoring the 1st half of that verse, what the greek actually says is:

Kataleipo “to neglect”

ho (article)

logos “the word”

ho (article)

theos “God”

diakeneo “in order to serve”

tapeza” “tables”

Diakeneo is Strong’s G1247. Get used to it. We’re going to be with it for a moment. 

Diakeneo (verb) means- 1. To be a servant, attendant, domestic, to serve, wait upon. 2. To wait at a table and offer food and drink to the guests. C. to minister i.e. supply food and necessities of life.

Diakeneo is the word that’s (in my opinion, weirdly) used when Jesus, fresh out of his confrontation with the Devil in Matthew 4, is being “ministered” to by the angels. Also the same word used in the whole Martha/Mary instance, and in relation to Joanna and Suzanna in Luke 8:3. It’s rooted in reality: actual food, actual bread. Physical stuff.

It’s a cool word, but here’s the neat part. In verse 4, the disciples dedicate to devote themselves to “ministry of the word.”  And guess what the word they use for “ministry”? Diakonia, the noun version of diakeneo. It’s only 1 Strongs number off: 

G1248 - diakonia (n) - 1. service, ministering, esp. Of those who execute the commands of others. 2. Of those who by the command of God proclaim and promote religion among men...5. The service of those who prepare and present food.

Still rooted. Still real. 

So if diakeneo and diakonia are so close, what’s the root word?  Don’t need to look far. It’s the next Strong’s word: 

G1249 - diakonos (n) - 1. One who executes the commands of another, esp of a master, a servant, attendant, minister. A. the servant of a king. B. a deacon, one who by virtue of the office assigned to him by the church, cares for the poor and has charge of and distributes the money collected for their use. B. a waiter, one who serves food and drink.

Both diakonia and diakeneo deeply rooted in serviceDiakonos is the word Matthew and Mark use to convey when Jesus commands that “whoever would be great among you must be your servant.”

No matter whether we are feeding the people literal bread or the word of God (logos theos), we are serving them at the command of another. The pastor who gets on the pulpit and preaches, gives people the word of God that cleanses their souls and heals their wounds….and the person who prepares lunch for an after-church meeting….same ministry of service. 

I say this because it’s easy to think one is more important than the other, or one serves more than the other. They are both called to serve what the people need. One serves food for their soul and another for their stomach.

When we preach, we are preparing the spiritual food for the congregation. It’s important that we give them what they need. Not what we think sounds great. Not what we think we do best. Not what’s easiest. What they need. It doesn’t matter if you made the most fantastic steak if your congregation is sorely lacking in vegetables.  When we preach, we serve the people. Which means the congregation or whoever we’re ministering to is the most important person in the room. Not us. 

Back in Acts, the Twelve are purposefully equating the services they are bringing vs the services they are requesting being taken over. They aren’t saying one is more important than the other, they’re saying they’re not ready to sacrifice quality attempting to control both. Remember when we broke down the Greek of verse 2? “To neglect the word of God”...meaning, the quality was lacking because of the sheer business of their schedule. Better pick one avenue of service and do it well.

Let’s shine a leadership light on it for a second and realize that their church, like every other that has experienced growth, needs a bigger team. 

Here’s some leadership takeaways:

It begins with a mind shift from the top leadership - they have to realize what got them here won’t get them there. 

You can bet the Twelve weren’t the first to realize the quality of either the tables or the preaching was lacking. In fact, leadership is usually the last to catch on when something at the bottom doesn’t work. Having open communication throughout the organization is CRUCIAL. And, if you’re at the top, having the guts to admit when things aren’t working is huge. And, even if you can admit when things aren’t working, it’s one more step many don’t take to actually do something about it.

They have to expand the team.  

They didn’t bring on new people. It doesn’t sound like there was a lack of volunteers, but a lack of good leadership of their volunteers. They promoted people who were already well-established in their team. They realized they were the bottleneck to getting things done, and they had to give up authority and step out of the way.

The Twelve have to trust the persons appointed to the duty -- if the Twelve continue to micromanage, they’ll continue to neglect what God has called them to be excellent in. 

I can imagine the Twelve were tired. They just *sound* tired when they made that statement. They’re juggling way too many ministry hats and one has to go. But, if the Twelve just appoint people then come right back to micromanage them, it will be like nothing has changed. They’ll still be tired with the responsibility of it all, and the 7 will be frustrated the bottleneck still exists.

No matter what level of diakonos you serve the people of God, this week, go do it excellently.

Hope you enjoyed this little dive into Acts 6! More to come!

(special thanks to Blue Letter Bible for literally...making this whole blog post happen. If you haven’t downloaded a BLB app yet...do it now.)