"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."
I’ve had the wonderful privilege of spending the last three weeks in Ireland, Albania, and Czech Republic, respectively. I taught about twenty-five hours each of the first two weeks, at the Irish Bible Institute (IBI) in Dublin and the New Life Institute in Tirana. This last week I’ve accompanied my wife, Fran, during one of her two weeks of doctoral seminars at the International Baptist Seminary in Prague, visited some missionary friends, and spoken twice at the Christian Library in Prague.
I’ve been struck once again by how crucial it is in missions work to turn leadership over to indigenous Christians as soon as possible, and to recognize that such a time arrives usually before the missionary thinks the local leadership is really ready! Although there are a variety of foreigners hovering around IBI at any given time, it is completely Irish-run and flourishing (educationally, though not financially given how hard the recession hit Ireland). The New Life Institute, the wing of Campus Crusade for Christ in Albania, has over a hundred full-time indigenous staff workers—in universities, high schools, business and finance sectors, and with family life ministries—and has now branched out to Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Turkey with fledgling enterprises as well. The leader, Ylli Doci, a Denver Seminary graduate and one of the first converts to Christianity in the 1990s when the country opened up to the West, is a gifted leader, scholar, and churchman, with a wonderful sense of humor and an immense passion to reach his people for Jesus. Numerous churches have been planted in all three countries by Western missionaries, but for the most part, as long as the missionaries remain in control, the endeavors are small. When people begin to perceive them as truly part of the local culture, primarily because of local leadership, they typically start to grow.
This principle is exemplified already in the passage in Acts cited above. Hebraic and Hellenistic Jews were both Jews, but the Hebrews were native to Israel, while the Hellenists were immigrants from the diaspora. They often brought little or no facility with Aramaic or Hebrew, speaking Greek instead. It’s little wonder that if anyone was to be neglected by all the Hebraic Jewish Christian apostles, even unintentionally, it would be members of the Hellenistic Jewish Christian community. The solution the apostles adopted was not only to delegate the responsibility for meeting the needs, because their time was already full with what God had called them most directly to be involved with, but to have the community appoint members of the Hellenistic community itself to supervise meeting the needs. All of the names of those selected are Greek; in fact, one man is said explicitly to be an African, while another is a proselyte even to Judaism before becoming a follower of Jesus.
Missionaries today are doing much better than in many eras of Christianity of working themselves out of a given job as fast as possible, but there are still plenty of places that need to learn this principle, or at least to implement it or implement it more quickly than they are doing. May God help each of us to have a better understanding of our dispensability!
Dr. Craig Blomberg
Dr. Craig Blomberg joined the faculty of Denver Seminary in 1986. He is currently a distinguished professor of New Testament. Dr. Blomberg completed his PhD in New Testament, and he received an MA from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and a BA from Augustana College. Before joining the faculty of Denver Seminary, he taught at Palm Beach Atlantic College and was a research fellow in Cambridge, England with Tyndale House.