Stephen was chosen for his leadership role by the entire church. The apostles merely blessed what the whole church decided.
It’s worth taking a closer look at the leadership style of the apostles.
“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…” (Acts 6:1-2a)
The apostles had a problem to solve, so they took it straight to….tada!….all the disciples. All the Christians. The whole church. And it was not a small number of people: Acts 4:4 says that there were about 5,000 believers.
“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.” (Acts 6:2a-4)
Look at that! The apostles included the women in the process just as much as the men! The apostles trusted that the body of believers had enough discernment to make decisions about church matters. Here they are being trusted to identify and choose their own leaders. The apostles trusted the whole church so much that they committed ahead of time to go with whomever the group decided: You choose the men and we’ll go with them.
“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.” (Acts 6:5-6)
Having heard the apostles’ proposal – not their edict – and giving it some consideration, the body of believers was pleased with the idea and decided to do what the apostles proposed. And they chose seven men. And they presented them to the apostles. The apostles didn’t choose the men and then present them to the body. How opposite to how things work in elder-dominated churches!
And the apostles kept their word and blessed the men that the body had chosen.
How different the experience of church might be if this process played out more often.