In the previous stories we learned about how the group of disciples that were with Jesus before he died received the Holy Spirit and began preaching about Jesus in Jerusalem, how the early church grew by thousands and thousands of people very quickly, and how the religious leaders in Jerusalem persecuted the disciples by threatening them, putting them in prison, and whipping them. But all the while, the disciples kept preaching about Jesus.
In this story, we learn about a man named Stephen. We will focus on his service as one of the first deacons and on his death as the first martyr in the church.
Stephen as a Deacon
The early church was growing quickly and they were happy to share everything they had with each other (see Acts 4:32-37). Widows (women who were living on their own) were especially poor in those days, because their society was based on men working, owning land, and providing for their wives and children. If a woman didn't have a man to provide for her, she was often poor and needed a lot of help. So the early church began taking special care of widows and apparently had already set up a program where they made sure the widows had food each day to eat.
The problem was that there were divisions among the church. Some Jews were following Greek customs and traditions and some were following strict Jewish customs. Unfortunately, the group that was following strict Jewish customs was getting more food than the ones who were following Greek customs. Those who were passing out the food weren't being fair to the Greek background widows.
The 12 disciples that were the leaders of the early church were getting overwhelmed by all this and they felt like they were being distracted from their main purposes: prayer and preaching. So they decided to appoint 7 men who would take over the daily distribution of food - some of them would be from the Jewish background group and some would be from the Greek background group so everything would be fair. Stephen was one of those 7, and he was probably the leader of the 7. This allowed for the church to take care of everyone, but still focus on preaching and teaching the word. "So God’s word spread. The number of believers in Jerusalem grew quickly." (Acts 6:7)
This story is where we get the word "deacon" from. In Acts 6:2, the Greek word for "wait on tables" or "serve" is diakoneÅ, which is where the English word "deacon" was derived.
Stephen is Stoned for Preaching About Jesus
Not only was Stephen one of the first deacons, but he was also used by God to teach others and do miraculous signs in the name of Jesus. But he was also persecuted like the other early believers were. Some Jews from around the region began hearing about his teaching and his miraculous signs and began to spread lies about him to get him in trouble. They eventually got him arrested and brought to the Jewish council (called the Sanhedrin - the same group of people who condemned Jesus to death and who persecuted Peter and John) for questioning.
And just like Peter and John, Stephen decided to be bold and preach about Jesus to the people who arrested him. His speech in Acts 7:2-53 is basically a summary of the majority of the Old Testament and how Jesus was the prophet foretold by Moses and David. Here was another disciple, accusing the Sanhedrin again of being responsible for putting God's promised Messiah to death.
This made them so furious that they immediately drug him out of the city and threw stones at him until he was dead. One of the Jewish leaders was named Saul, and he stood by holding the coats of the men who were stoning Stephen. We will learn more about him in the coming weeks.
The Church is Scattered
This event set off harsh persecution for all the Christians in Jerusalem. They ended up scattering throughout Judea (the old Southern Kingdom) and Samaria (where the Northern Kingdom used to be). Remember Acts 1:8?
get your kids talking and engaged
Have you ever been to a restaurant where there was a waiter? What would you do if the waiter brought everyone else's food except yours?
Today, we're going to learn about a problem the early church was having in how they were giving out food to those that needed it. And we're going to meet a man named Stephen who helped solve that problem!
teach a holistic story
(Note: portions of this story may be intense for some children, especially the younger ones. Use your discretion for which parts of the story to focus on. We have provided two coloring sheets for each part of the story so you can focus exclusively on Stephen's role as a deacon if you do not want to focus on Stephen's death)
Read story from a Children's storybook Bible for younger children.
For older children, read the story from an age-appropriate Children's storybook Bible or read directly from the Bible.
give them basic Bible skills
Scripture for Kids to Read Aloud: Acts 6:1-7; 7:54-8:3
make sure they understand the story
First, ask the children if they have any questions about the story. What to do if you don't know the answer?
help them apply the story to their lives and open up a conversation about faith and the gospel; close with prayer
hide God's Word in their heartThis is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24 (ESV)