Psalms 116; 145, 2 Chronicles 24:17-22, Acts 6:1-7, Acts 7:59-8:8
On December 26, the Western church observes St. Stephen’s Day (the Eastern church observes it one day later). Stephen was the first martyr of the church. His fellow Greek Christians chose him for leadership when a dispute arose between them and the Hebrew Christians. The leaders of the early church not only preached the gospel, but served the needy – particularly widows – by providing food and financial support. As the church grew, twelve apostles were no longer enough to meet the need and the Greek widows were slipping through the cracks. The Hebrew Apostles asked the Greeks to select seven of their own to serve in this role, and Stephen was the most prominent among them.
It seems these seven were not limited to service, as Stephen was publicly accused of blasphemy for preaching the Gospel. Despite his impassioned witness on behalf of Christ, he was stoned to death. Like his savior, Stephen asked God to forgive his persecutors. His death kicked off a great persecution led by Saul (later Paul). Those who were not dragged off to prison scattered and spread the faith throughout Western Asia.
Stephen didn’t seek leadership, but when called to it he faithfully embraced his responsibilities and his God … even when they led to his death. He could have stuck to “waiting tables” – as the twelve apostles (rather condescendingly) referred to the delivery of the agape meal (or Lord’s supper) – but he didn’t think one duty less important than the other. We remember Stephen not only for his martyrdom, but for his true dedication to servant leadership.
Stephen is an excellent benchmark for choosing our own leaders, and for modeling our own leadership style if we are called. He committed to doing what was necessary, not what was glamorous or safe. He was brave, and to the end he chose to reflect love and grace, rather than hatred and anger, toward his persecutors. When we look at leadership in the church, how many Stephens do we see? If it doesn’t seem like enough, remember it was the people who chose him. Change is up to us.
(For another take on St. Stephen, see Martyrs Vs. Victims)
Comfort: Everyone can help make the church better.
Challenge: Talk with people you respect in leadership positions. Ask them what they find challenging, and how you might support them.
Prayer: Thank you, God, for all the martyrs and saints who helped build Your church. Amen.
Discussion: What traits do you look for in a leader?
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