Sunday, March 13, 2005

The Acts of God

Here are some assorted thoughts from my sermon this morning on Acts 6:1-7 ...

Several matters are mentioned more than once in these few verses: ministering with the word, prayer, the work of the Holy Spirit, believers being “disciples” and God blessing his people with growth. Why would such thing be repeatedly mentioned unless they were precisely the sort of things that were their priorities. This was a church that had its priorities right!

But wherever God is found working, Satan will be found there working, too. So it should never come as a surprise to find that every church has problems. It has been so from the beginning. The church is people and people have problems.

As difficult as serious church problems may be, as multi-dimensional and convoluted as they usually are, they mustn’t receive a quick, superficial patch or, worse still, indifference or interminable waiting to see if they go away on their own. No, they must be squarely faced. The only alternative is to enable chaos, something God is never the author of.

The church’s troubles here in Acts 6 revolved around inadequate care of some of its poorest and weakest members. Would to God more church troubles revolved around such a concern for their needy and weak, dependant and aged! Churches and their leaders all too often act just like the world - showing most of their concern for the care and keeping of the strongest, best-looking or most well-to-do.

The way the Jerusalem church overcame its troubles was by trying something new, something they had never done before. Somehow they got over the natural “we’ve never done it that way before” sort of thinking and moved on to a supernatural way of thinking – “we’ll do it God’s way, for his glory and do whatever it takes to get the job done.”

When faced with troubles, church too often keep existing structures/organization and change people, then, ironically, they wonder why their systemic problems remain unsolved over the years. The Spirit-filled church in Jerusalem handled problems differently – they kept (and enabled) people, and it was their structure/organization they changed. When people, not programs, have the highest priority in our mind, we are best equipped by God’s Spirit to deal with spiritual problems.

Delegation of responsibility is essential for the church’s work to get done. In the words of Dwight Moody: It’s far better to put ten men to work than to try and do the work of ten men.” Trying to do it all will stunt your growth and the church’s, too. Trying to keep close tabs on it all (micro-management) will not only stunt growth, but will eliminate it. Give good people (reputation) what it takes to get the job done (empowerment) and get out of their way (responsibility).

Church leaders should be selected not on the basis of prominence, power, clout, connections or wealth, but on the basis of their being known for being people who trust God, have practical wisdom by which they live lives full of ministry and are just generally known for being people who are controlled / led / filled by / bear the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit.

What an inclusive mind this church and its leaders had when it came to selecting people for leading ministry! All seven of the men they chose were very different (Hellenistic Jews) from the apostles (Hebraic Jews). Leaders, show inclusive ways as you involve and engage members in ministry. How the Lord blesses such ways and how good it is to see a diverse church dwell together in unity!

The apostles looked at the work of the church in a holistic way – taking care of widows (i.e. – “to wait on tables”) was, in their mind, just as important as ministering with the word and prayer. Humble service toward the weak was not a second class ministry compared to teaching and preaching the word. But what the apostles wanted to make sure did not happen – and what we must make certain does not happen in Christ’s church today – is for the demands of one vital ministry to crowd out the resources available for another essential ministry. There must be balance and for there to be balance, there must an eye for the whole of things. God, ever give us leaders in your church who have a vision for the whole, for the big picture, and not just for a segment of the church.

The seven men selected by the church as a whole and authorized by all the apostles to care for these most vulnerable of members, had a reputation of faith, wisdom and Spirit-led ways of living – things every Christian ought to be ever striving to mature in daily. Where will godly leaders come from, but from a church full of people determined to be known as disciples of Jesus, growing in godliness?

Members, agreeably follow your leaders. Positively follow their positive plans for ministry. In doing so, fewer people are neglected, more people are united and the body as a whole is blessed.

Never limit in your mind what God can do with a church that dares to be different, cares for the weak as well as the strong, seeks unity with diversity (not uniformity at the cost of creativity) and leads the church by example and not edict. It was just such a church – is members and its leaders - that God blessed mightily in Jerusalem and could bless mightily anywhere today.