Tabitha: The Creative Leader
36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas). Her life overflowed with good works and compassionate acts on behalf of those in need. 37 About that time, though, she became so ill that she died. After they washed her body, they laid her in an upstairs room. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, when the disciples heard that Peter was there, they sent two people to Peter. They urged, “Please come right away!” 39 Peter went with them. Upon his arrival, he was taken to the upstairs room. All the widows stood beside him, crying as they showed the tunics and other clothing Dorcas made when she was alive.
40 Peter sent everyone out of the room, then knelt and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up!” She opened her eyes, saw Peter, and sat up. 41 He gave her his hand and raised her up. Then he called God’s holy people, including the widows, and presented her alive to them. 42 The news spread throughout Joppa, and many put their faith in the Lord. 43 Peter stayed for some time in Joppa with a certain tanner named Simon.
A Servant Leader
Tabitha as she is known in Aramaic, Dorcas in Greek, was a woman whose story has so much to teach us about leadership. She was a woman well known for her generosity and talents of making beautiful clothing. She was deeply loved and a central figure in her community.
Tabitha first heard about Jesus from Phillip when he came to teach about the Gospel in the coastal city of Joppa and a new community of believers was formed. Tabitha became one of the central leaders.
The significance of her impact on her community of both Jews and Greeks reveals her cross-cultural awareness as well as is a testament her generosity. She was a woman who knew her talents and embraced her gifts wholeheartedly to serve the people. She was aware of the needs of the poor, giving her beautiful clothes to everyone who needed them, no matter their socio-economic status or ability to repay her.
She lived out Jesus’ message to love others and value them above herself. She was a woman who saw the divine in the poor and knew the skills and resources she had been given were meant to be shared for the community and not to be kept for herself.
The Early Church: A Rock in Her Community
Tabitha’s story gives us an insight into the closeness of the early church community and the way that people cared for each other, sharing their resources and talents.
When Tabitha died, her friends sent for Peter to come quickly. He happened to be only about 9 miles away in Lydda. He came to attend her funeral, as she had been washed and placed in an upper room where her many friends weeped over her. When Peter arrived, he raised her from the dead.
Tabitha was a woman who had been a significant support and “rock” for her community in the way Peter is also called the “rock”.
Peter followed Jesus’ lead and prayed and took her hand as he saw Jesus do when he raised Jarius’ daughter in Mark 5:41, saying “Tabitha, get up!”.
The faith of both Peter and Tabitha led them to lead ministries that spread and strengthened the church for its mission.
A Role Model for Creatives
Tabitha was a woman who created a necessity for people, but her garments weren’t just practical, they were works of art. When Peter arrived in the upper room, her friends showed off the tunics and robes with embroidery that Tabitha had made while she was alive. Her ministry was in the way she loved others and the proof was in the works of art she created for them.
Tabitha was not just a woman who had a ministry that served those in need, she was an artist. She used her talent to remind her recipients that they were worthy of receiving goodness and beauty in the world. Even though they may have been people oppressed, widowed and ignored by the culture, they were not ignored in the church community and they were not ignored by Tabitha. She honored each person through the art she thoughtfully created for them.
Reflect: Artists Among Us
Artists bring beauty into places where it often lacks. God has gifted some individuals with creative vision and artistic talents that have the opportunity to reflect the beauty of creation in the world. Artists prophetically call to our imaginations to remember a better way through beauty, thoughtfulness, intentionality and goodness.
Tabitha did not need to embrace her gifts for the needs of others. And she didn’t need to bring her best effort for beauty with each garment she created. But she chose too, and it honored each individual and it strengthened the community.
In what way did her generosity with her gifts and resources lead to a strengthened community and strengthen the mission of the church?