In 1968, the Swiss dominated the watch industry producing 65% of the watches in the world and 80% of the profits. Yet a short ten years later they had only a 10% market share. What happened? The Swiss were guilty of “paradigm paralysis” and could not see the future.
Ironically, Swiss researchers invented the electronic (Quartz) watch. However, the Swiss executives rejected it, believing no one would want to buy a watch they could not wind up. They were so confident in their belief they did not copyright their own invention, and instead displayed it at a trade show as a novelty. Japanese executives saw the invention as the future of the watch industry and snapped it up. In 1969, Seiko produced the world’s first Quartz watch.
It’s not just watch makers that get trapped in their own paradigms. People and churches can fall victim to the same disease and assume the world will never change. Acts 6:1-7 describes a church that was flexible enough to adapt to a changing culture. The passage demonstrates the principle that deacons serve wherever they are needed.
Philippians 1:1 states that there are two offices in the local church—overseers or elders, and deacons. Both are chosen on the basis of their character qualities (1 Timothy 3:1-13). The elders are tasked with leading the church while the deacons are to serve the church. The elders shepherd the flock—feeding, leading, protecting, caring, and modeling for the church. The deacons adapt to meet the changing needs of the body. The elders have a fixed job description while the deacons have a flexible one.
Acts 6:1-7 suggests several principles churches can employ to meet the changing needs of the body:
- Growth brings changes, complaints, and challenges (1). A growing church will face numerous changes—increased numbers, different needs, racial issues, maturity problems, to name a few. However, just because a complaint arises doesn’t mean there are problems. It could mean that the enemy is trying to nudge the leaders off center.
- Leaders must establish and maintain clear priorities (2, 4). While the apostles recognized that caring for widows was a legitimate issue, they rightly understood it was not one they needed to handle directly. It could be delegated to a group of deacons. Leaders must always wrestle with what could be done versus what must be done.
- The church must adapt to meet changing needs (1, 3). When you are a group of 120 in an upper room (Acts 1), you don’t need much structure. When you number several thousand people (Acts 6), no one group of leaders can do everything. The leaders need assistants. What got you here won’t get you there. You have to adapt.
- Leaders practice delegation and involve others in serving (3). This passage is a classic example of delegating up—“WE have a problem that YOU should fix.” The apostles proposed a solution but allowed the congregation to make the decision and implement it.
- Servants are chosen on the basis of their character (3, 5). The first group of deacons/servants was full of the Spirit, wisdom, faith, and a good reputation. Today’s deacons should not be any less (1 Timothy 3:8-13).
- The result is that the church moved forward (5-7). Unity was maintained, needs were met, and the church continued to grow.
- When the task is complete, servants move on to the next one. Deacons were not intended to spend their time in board meetings. They are task oriented and flexible. It is interesting to note that Stephen went from waiting on tables (Acts 6:1-7) to a ministry of preaching (6:8-15) and Phillip moved on to an evangelistic enterprise (8:26-40).
Applying this passage to a modern day church, I believe we can support the following conclusion. When elders and deacons serve well in their respective roles, priorities are maintained; needs are met; unity is preserved; evangelism is fruitful; the church grows; and God is honored.