Find the text of Study 2: The Overlooked in the Church below. If you’d prefer to listen to the study, you can watch the video — the content is the same. We hosted a Zoom meeting for discussion of this study the week we first posted it. If you have questions or would like to discuss this study, you can email us at email@example.com or send us a message (anonymously, if you’d like) through the website here.
Read Acts 6:1-7 (NIV below):
1 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. 2 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. 3 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 4 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” 5 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. 6 They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. 7 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.
When we read this story, we often rush over these preliminary verses and plunge into the rest of chapter 6 and chapter 7, where Stephen is falsely accused of blasphemy and is consequently stoned to death, thus becoming the first Christian martyr. But when we first meet Stephen, he’s just one member of a team chosen to oversee food distribution to Jewish widows. The problem was that among the growing group of Jesus’ disciples, the Jews among them who had adopted the Greek language and culture (“Hellenistic”) complained that their widows were being “overlooked” (6:1) when food was distributed.
We’re not told overtly whether this was being done on purpose or not. Several translations use the word “neglected” here, which sounds a little more intentional, and one translation (the NLT) even uses the words “discriminated against.” But if this were a coordinated, intentional discrimination, we might expect that the solution agreed upon would be a reprimand of those who were being unfair. Instead, it was the creation of a team to be in charge of the food distribution, implying there had previously been a general lack of oversight that may have contributed to the problem.
- Have you ever felt “overlooked,” or have you had someone close to you feel overlooked?
- What was that like?
- Did you have a sense whether the “overlooking” people were doing so on purpose, or if it was a mistake?
Whatever the cause in this story, we know that some Greek-speaking widows were being overlooked and not receiving the same food their Hebrew counterparts were getting. And their plates were empty whether or not this was an honest mistake. We also know that other Hellenistic Jews knew about this problem, that they stood up for their widows by complaining to the authorities in charge; and that these authorities listened to the complaint, gathered together to discuss the problem, and thoughtfully and prayerfully selected a team of people to oversee the process and therefore make sure the problem would be fixed.
- Who have you seen speak up for people who were being overlooked?
- Have you ever seen the church, or people in the church, do this?
- Have you seen other groups do this?
- What happened as a result of this speaking up?
Our Acts 6 story is an acknowledgment that people can be overlooked by the church — whether intentionally or accidentally — and has become a blueprint for how that can and should be addressed. But if this kind of problem happens today, it may not always work out the same way. Sometimes people may not notice that others are being overlooked; sometimes those people who notice may not speak up; sometimes those in charge may not listen; sometimes they may listen but not do anything.
- Where do you see people overlooked in our world today?
- Do people, maybe even those inside the church, ever feel overlooked by the church?
- Do you know of anyone who has felt like that?
- Have you ever felt like that?
Is there anyone you have been overlooking? If so, is there any action you should take?