The Apostolic Method
By Rodney Shaw
In the ongoing conversation about technology and its role in the church, it would be easy to lose sight of our true apostolic responsibilities. Without regard to what anyone else thinks about technology, I have to face my local congregation. I have sinners to convert, saints to counsel, and a responsibility to God for the stewardship of His people. With or without technology, the local church is the focal point of revival. Do I have opinions about technology? Sometimes. But without regard for those opinions, I have a clear biblical mandate and model left by the Apostles. It is to this precedent that I am most committed.
Part of our Apostolic identity is claiming the ministerial office gifts of Ephesians 4. These offices are specifically given to bring the church to a point of maturity so that the saints can do the work of ministry. The real question is whether or not I am fulfilling this purpose.
In Acts 6 the Apostles appointed seven men to carry out the daily administration to the needy. The task was evidently to time consuming for the Apostles. The Apostles were very transparent concerning their dilemma: “Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables”‘ (v. 2). Accordingly, they advised the church, “seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business” (v. 3). When such men were selected, they were ordained by prayer and the laying on of hands (v. 6).
It is apparent from this passage that these men were seen in a fundamentally different role than the Apostles, and this may have been the institution of the office of deacon. In any event, they were not looked upon as primary leaders concerning spiritual things. The Apostles, to the contrary, were involved in the highest level of spiritual leadership. Appointing these men allowed the Apostles to resume their spiritual tasks: “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (v. 4). The implication is obvious: it was not the primary role of the seven chosen men to give themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word.
The results of this apostolic pattern follow in verse 7: “Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.
Interestingly, the work of these men did not stop with administrative work. Two of these men, Stephen and Philip, were responsible for two great revivals. Verse 8 says, “And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.” Stephen caused such a stir that he was martyred. Philip is the evangel who carried the gospel not only to the despised Samaritans, but also to the courts of Ethiopia (Nubia). (See Acts 8.)
Whatever God is doing through the church is not limited to a single class of people. When God’s people are permitted to engage in ministry, they are well able to do the work of ministry. Not only so, but the Spirit prompted these men without first prompting the Apostles. Although there was a special role fulfilled by the Apostles, this did not discount the legitimacy of other spiritual gifts that were operating in the church.
As we create an Acts 6 environment, people will be used by God in ways that supercede our intentions. When this healthy environment is fostered, vocational ministers will emerge as needs demand and as the Spirit calls. Philip, who began with an administrative call, is ultimately known as “Philip the evangelist” (Acts 21:8).
Admittedly, arguing about technology is much easier than equipping God’s people. But the debate, more so than the substance of the debate, could be a distraction from the apostolic task to which we have been called.
So what is the role of technology in all this? I don’t know that I can say. But if we are to witness apostolic revival, our focus must be on empowering God’s people. My goal this year is to spend a lot less time in conversation about technology and a lot more time equipping the saints for the work of ministry. That’s apostolic.
This article is excerpted from FORWARD Magazine, January-February 2008