September 26 – The Challenges of Starting Something New

Acts 6: 1 – 7  NLT

“Seven Men Chosen to Serve

But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food.

So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers. They said, “We apostles should spend our time teaching the word of God, not running a food program. And so, brothers, select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility. Then we apostles can spend our time in prayer and teaching the word.”

Everyone liked this idea, and they chose the following: Stephen (a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit), Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas of Antioch (an earlier convert to the Jewish faith).These seven were presented to the apostles, who prayed for them as they laid their hands on them.

So God’s message continued to spread. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too.”

Aah – the difficulties in starting something new!  We might look at our own church, and think my church certainly is not new, yet in some ways things are new. The pandemic has definitely affected churches. For almost 2 years, churches have not operated with the sense of community they used to have. People have attended church wearing masks, did their best to stay physically apart (in and out of the building quickly), and many programs were put on hold. As we take a  look at the scripture verses we read today, think about how we can get our churches thriving again.

That new testament church was rapidly multiplying.  The last number mentioned was 5000 men.  Wow!  Can you imagine a church with that many people?  Where in the world would they meet?  (Oh – I know – an arena or stadium. lol)  Actually, it has mentioned that they met in Solomon’s colonnade in the Temple, an area where Gentiles were allowed to be.  I looked up some information and diagrams of the Temple to get an idea of how big it was.  A couple of details that struck me were that it was about 20 stories high.  A walkway that joined the area where money was exchanged to the Temple was the width of a four-lane road. So, we’re talking about a big place.  

Your church today might seem more empty than before. Some people are still watching the services online. But you may also see some new people coming. Remember that God has given you your building, and you can pray and plan how to use that space as churches resume their programs.

We’ve also read in the first chapters that the church was dedicated to helping those in need. Here is where the first problems came up.  Apparently, there was some discrimination about who got the help needed.  And, the apostles were feeling overwhelmed with all that needed to be done. And you know? That is not that uncommon.  When something is started and grows very quickly, problems do crop up. That’s life.  So … how do the apostles solve it?

First of all, they did not tolerate any idea of discrimination.  Believers that came from a Greek background were just as important as those that came from a traditional Jewish background. They wanted to make sure that everyone had what they needed. That is something the church today needs to be known for.  It doesn’t matter what ethnic background you come from, it doesn’t matter what age you are, it doesn’t matter if you are wealthy or struggling to make ends meet, etc..  Everyone must feel welcome and important. 

Take a good look at your church. How do we make people feel welcome? Do we need to do more than just say hello at the door? Do I need to say hello?

Then they called “a meeting of all the believers”.  I can’t imagine what that meeting looked like. That’s a big meeting!  Then they told all those people – “brothers, select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom”. (v.3)  We don’t know the details about how they managed to get all the suggestions and come up with seven names.  But the fact that they wanted everyone in the church to be included in decisions is important.  Today, there is a tendency in church government to run things from the top down.  The pastor sets the agenda along with staff, and the congregation goes along with what they decide. There is this unspoken idea that staff is paid to run the church, and the rest of us are too busy to be involved with the decision making. That was not the first church in Acts.  

Nor should it be in our church today. We need to listen to what is needed to get a church to run smoothly. Everyone needs to volunteer to help in some way. Churches need to meet and discuss what they need and their hopes and prayers for what is ahead. For example, there is going to be a Town Hall at LSA on October 2. It’s important to be there and take part in plans for the church.

They were also aware that different people had different gifts.  The apostles needed to “spend our time in prayer and teaching the word.” (v.4) They needed people who were gifted in administration – getting the job done in practical ways.  Now that didn’t mean those people weren’t devoted Christ followers. Notice the qualifications for those organizing and distributing food – “select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom”. (v.3) Notice the description of one of the men chosen – “Stephen (a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit”. (v.5)  Today when we choose people for administrative positions – such as, taking care of the building or keeping track of the finances – do we look for people with a strong faith as well as good skills? Who are those people who are “all in” at your church? People who love the Lord and want to serve Him.

When these seven men were chosen, the apostles “prayed for them as they laid their hands on them”. (v. 6) This idea that everyone, no matter what their job, is important and that they need God’s blessing and guidance makes me think.  Again, today we tend to say prayers over someone who has just come in a pastoral role, but we don’t pray over the new custodian. Perhaps we need to become more aware that everyone serving in the body of Christ is important, and needs God’s guidance and our public blessing. How can we actually do that in our church? How can we make sure everyone who serves knows they are important?

The result of all this new arrangement in the Acts church? “ So God’s message continued to spread. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too.” (v. 7)  Stop for a few minutes right now, and pray for your church. Pray for everyone involved at the church, not just the pastor and staff. 

Pray about how you personally can be involved.

Our song for today is Build Your Kingdom Here by Rend Collective.