Keeping the Table Open: Lessons from the Early Church


May 2, 2024
5 min read

Don't discredit the part you play.


It’s incredible what can happen around an open table, a place of connection, conversation, and community. For some, anything goes when you gather around the table. Nothing is off-limits. Open tables create space for vulnerability and encouragement.

Church should serve as an open table to people – a place where anyone can pull up a seat at any time.

So how do we keep the table open?

Through the lens of Acts 6:1-7, there are key lessons we can take from the early church’s approach to inclusivity, problem-solving, and effective leadership within the church.

“In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 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 and sisters, 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.” This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. 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.” 

How do we make sure there’s always supply for the demand? How do we keep our tables open? There are three observations we can pull from this text. 

Observation 1: The start of a problem can be the birth of a blessing.

Proverbs 14:4 says, “Where there are no oxen, the manger is empty, but from the strength of an ox come abundant harvests.”

It’s no secret that where people go, problems follow. It’s just part of living in a broken world. The good news is that the Church is in the problem-solving business. As leaders, part of our responsibility in leading in strength is budgeting for people’s faults. Allowance for mistakes and shortcomings creates space to solve problems and lead proactively.

When it comes to problems, mature leaders recognize the difference between a petty one and a practical one. Petty problems are self-focused – it’s a problem about your mission. Practical problems are about our mission. 

Albert Einstein said it perfectly: “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” If we stick with our problems, sitting with them a little longer than usual, who knows what blessings might be birthed?

Observation 2: Crushing your role creates opportunities to play a new part.

Everyone has a part to play. Some are intimidated by their role, others are insulted – but all have to invest. We have to understand our role and execute it with excellence.

Think about a restaurant. There are established roles that allow the restaurant to function well. There are hosts and waiters, busboys and chefs. Just like a restaurant, everyone has a role in church. 

When we look at Acts 6, we see an issue of food distribution between the Hellenistic Jews and Hebraic Jews. This is where we are introduced to Stephen and Philip. They were part of a group chosen to serve as waiters, solving the arising conflict. 

Philip went on to evangelize across countries. He baptized an Ethiopian eunuch, who is credited with largely spreading the message of Jesus throughout Africa. Stephen spoke and performed miracles among the people. He was arrested, accused of blasphemy, and became the first Christian martyr.

So, was it Philip the waiter or the international evangelist?
Was it Stephen the server or the heroic martyr? 

Today, we don’t remember Philip and Stephen for the role they originally played. Their role as waiters opened the door for them to play a new part. Don't discredit the part you play!

Observation 3: The right system produces radical results.

Just because a room is full doesn’t mean it’s effective. The best people to have on your team are the ones who recognize that what they’re part of is bigger than the role they play. Even Jesus flipped tables because people started making it difficult to reach the church.

A great system can take a good player and make them great. A bad system can take a great player and make them average. If we want radical, fruitful, miraculous results, we need the right systems. Acts 6:7 is the result: “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.”

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