God’s Looking for a Few Good Men
THE BIG IDEA: God’s looking for a few good men… and women and children… to accomplish His will on the Earth. If each member of the church will do their part, it will help the other parts grow, so that the whole church is healthy and growing and full of love.
“In every century, on every continent, warriors such as these are the ones who press toward the kingdom of God. They lay aside the distractions of life to do exploits in the spiritual realm. Whether or not they become famous on earth is beside the point. They are heroes and heroines nonetheless.” (Jim Cymbala, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire).[i]
The Incredible Growth of the Early Church:
Jesus said, “I will build my church!” (Matthew 16:18b).
The book of Acts is the chronicle of the amazing, rapid growth of the early church. This wasn’t just a little body of believers that met on a street corner and had a holy huddle on Sunday morning. This church may have started small – with 120 people in the Upper Room – but it got bigger and bigger. This was an influential church.
Some people would argue, “We don’t need church growth. We have a nice sized church here, and we should be happy with what we have.” But if we want to model our churches after the Book of Acts, then we need to be a church that is growing. Anything that is alive and healthy is growing.
We want to grow and see more people come into the church because we really do have the most important, life-changing message the world has ever known – God loves us, Jesus died on the Cross so our sins can be forgiven, and our lives be changed. We would be selfish if we didn’t want people to hear that message. We want to see the church grow so people can be saved, delivered and healed. People whose lives are broken can find healing and restoration. People who are in hopeless situations can find hope, peace and joy that can only be found in Jesus Christ.
Luke found it important to emphasize the fact that the Christian church was continually growing:
- 2:41 – Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them
- 4:4 – However, many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.
- 5:14 – And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.
- 16:5 – So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.
Some people would protest, “I’ve seen big churches, and I don’t like them because they’re so unfriendly. We don’t want to be like that.” The problem is not the size of the church. It is the heart and mission of a church that determines whether or not love prevails there. You can have a small church with only a dozen members, and find it unfriendly and cliquish if they don’t emphasize loving people. While it’s true that a church must ensure it maintains a sense of family and belonging, we must not shy away from our God-given mission to grow just because some churches have lost their caring focus.
If you’re still not convinced that it is God’s desire for our churches to grow, consider the words of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself (since it is His church, after all). “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32). Jesus is building a healthy, growing church that will impact and influence our world.
How Do we Grow?
What was it about the early church that caused such incredible growth? In our last chapter, we saw how signs and wonders are tools God uses to contribute to the growth of the church. When miracles take place, many believers are added to the Lord. Another important key to the Christian church’s growth is described here:
“Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them. Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly inJerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:1-7).
Luke intentionally framed his account with a description of church growth. The story starts, “when the number of the disciples was multiplying” and ends with “the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem.” Here, we read about one of the first threats to the growth of the early church. We will see how they dealt with it.
“Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.” (Acts 6:1).
As we study the early church, we see that they were a majestic, glorious and powerful church, abounding with signs and wonders, healings and miracles. How great it would have been to be a part of that church! But sometimes we paint an unrealistic picture, thinking that because they were a supernatural church they must have been perfect. That is not the case. There were problems in the early church. If there is more than one person in your church, there will be challenges. That’s the reality of living life with other people. Even though the early church was powerful, doing great things for God, they weren’t free from contentious issues.
To help you to understand what was happening in this story, realize that there were two groups of people in the church. There were the Hellenists – the Greek speaking Jews – and there were the Hebrew speaking Jews. There was some cultural tension going on here. When the church was birthed, they began to care for the poor. “All the believers were of one heart and mind, and they felt that what they owned was not their own; they shared everything they had… There was no poverty among them, because people who owned land or houses sold them and brought the money to the apostles to give to others in need.” (Acts 4:32,34-35, nlt). However, in the midst of this feeding program, the widows of the Hellenists were being neglected in the daily distribution of the food, and they complained to the church leaders.
This situation, if not handled correctly, could have been the beginning of the end of this fledgling church. They could have gone from being a growing church with multitudes coming to the Lord, to a declining church with crowds of people leaving. The people could have said, “You’re not loving. That’s it, we’re leaving the church!” The church leadership addressed this crisis head-on.
Delegation and Devotion:
“Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.” (Acts 6:2). Based on this response from the church leaders, I get the feeling they might have been on the defensive. I wonder if someone suggested to the apostles that they should be the ones to wait on tables. Whatever the cause or motivation, the church leaders were confident in what God had called them to do, and they weren’t going to compromise that. The New Living Translation puts it more bluntly: “We apostles should spend our time preaching and teaching the word of God, not administering a food program.”
How did they respond to this crisis? They said, “Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (verses 3-4). They recognized that the needs of the Hellenists’ widows were valid, and they needed to help meet those needs, so they did two things: Delegation and Devotion.
Delegation: When a need arose, the first thing they did was delegate. They knew that caring for widows and for the poor was an important part of their calling, so they delegated. Delegation is a hard thing for many leaders to do. I find it hard myself. I take the burden of extra tasks rather than troubling someone else with those responsibilities. I realize, though, that if I am going to effectively fulfill the call of God upon my life and go the distance, there are duties that I must pass on to someone else.
Devotion: The apostles knew their highest calling was to devote themselves to the ministry of the Word of God and prayer. This is a challenging word to all pastors, preachers and teachers: Is your personal prayer life, and the ministry of God’s Word, your first priority? As a pastor involved in full time ministry, I know what it is to be called on and pulled in many different directions. Even after over seventeen years of full time ministry, I must continually remind myself of the prominent place prayer and the Word must take in my life if I am going to remain effective.
In the fall of 2009, my wife Liza and I had an opportunity to get away for a week long sabbatical retreat at Genesee Home in California.[ii] At one of our evening meals, the host, Charley Blom, shared an interesting interpretation of this story in Exodus. Moses had gone to Pharaoh to ask him to let God’s people go so they could worship him in the desert (Exodus 5:1-3). Pharaoh responded by saying to his taskmasters, “You shall no longer give the people straw to make brick as before. Let them go and gather straw for themselves.” (verse 7). He shared with us how our highest calling as church leaders is to spend time with Jesus, in His Word and prayer. But as Pharaoh burdened the people of God by making them go out to gather straw, there are people who will try to place burdens on pastors and teachers by getting them to do things God has not called them to do. As leaders, we need to maintain a devotion to God’s Word and prayer, and be willing to delegate those things that fall outside of our God-given responsibility.
Even if you aren’t a leader in the church, there is still a lesson in this Scripture for you. You too need to devote yourself to the ministry of the Word and prayer. Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.” (John 8:31). All Christians are called to abide in the Word, and abide in Jesus in prayer. Jesus also said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing… If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you willask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” (John 15:5-7). If we’re not reading our Bibles, and spending time with Jesus in prayer, we’re not going to grow and become mature believers.
How did the people respond to the apostle’s delegation?
“And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them. Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly inJerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:5-7).
Would the Word of God have spread if the church leaders hadn’t devoted themselves to the ministry of the Word, and had not delegated the task of caring for the widows? Probably not. Thankfully, God gave them the wisdom they needed to respond to the crisis and the church continued to grow. “Luke celebrates this solution. The widows were cared for, and the ministry of the Word of God was not forsaken. Both were utterly crucial. Either could have undermined the church and ended its amazing growth. The solution was the diversity of gifts and calling. The solution was a new kind of teamwork in the body of Christ.”[iii]
[i] Jim Cymbala, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire. (Zondervan, 1997).
[ii] Note: Genesee Home is a safe haven where Pastors can reflect upon their calling and rekindle relationships with both God and their spouses. I highly encourage and recommend all pastors to take a regular sabbatical. For more info about Genesee Home, visit http://www.geneseehome.org.