When you read the book of Acts you see there are a number of ‘transition moments’ which are marked by the phrase “so the word of God spread” or something similar. As the gospel went from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria to the ends of the earth, there were key changes in leadership as God brought the church into a new era. We’re 6 months old as a church and it feels like we’re coming to our first ‘mini transition moment’ which we will talk about more at our Sunday Service on 12th April. It has nothing of the grandeur or importance as those in the book of Acts, but nonetheless, it’s important we think strategically and about leadership if we’re to helpfully steward what God is doing among us.
One of the transition moments I want to look at is in Acts 6:1-7 where we read:
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, “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.”
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.
So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.
Here is a summary of the situation with four lessons I want us to learn. In Acts 1 we learn that after Jesus had died and been raised from the dead he spent 40 days proving he was alive and teaching about the kingdom of God. He then ascended to heaven. That left around 120 believers who were terrified for fear of persecution. But then in Acts 2 we learn that the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church and they spoke with great boldness and 3000 were added to their number. And then we read in Acts 2-5 about a number of remarkable signs that God was with this church which included (a) a radical sharing of possessions, (b) a fearlessness to preach the gospel in the face of opposition and death, (c) an inexpressive joy in suffering and (d) numerous signs and wonders which authenticated the preaching of the gospel.
However, whenever God is at work, the devil is also present and active, and we learn about 3 of his tactics to derail this young growing church.
- Physical persecution (to shut them up – i.e jail, physical beating and threats of death).
- Internal corruption (to undermine their integrity – i.e Ananias and Sapphira’s greed).
- Internal strife (to cause disunity in the church – i.e the events surrounding the Grecian widows and the Hebraic widows outlined above).
In the case of physical persecution the church looked to God in prayer and the counted themselves worthy to suffer for Christ’s name. In the case of Ananias and Sapphira their deceit was exposed and judged (by death from God nonetheless). But what about the case of disunity amongst the widows? How was that solved? Answer – strategic leadership appointments. So what lessons can we learn from the Acts 6 transition moment?
Firstly – A growing church will run into new challenges (and that is a good thing!)
One of the signs that God is with you is that people are being added to your number, particularly with new people coming to Christ. However, as the church grows new challenges occur because although we’re made new in Christ, we’re still not perfect. But we should not feel threatened by the challenges. Rather, we should seek God as to how to make the necessary changes so the gospel continues to spread.
Application for CCC – as we move from being a church plant and increase in number we need to make the necessary changes to ensure that everyone is included, nurtured and released.
Secondly – Social action, prayer and evangelism are all vital to church life
What I love about this passage is that the church is tasked with caring for the poorest in society – the widows. In those days widows had no security, no significance and no future. They either needed to marry or look to their close family to provide for them. And into this situation the church stepped up to the plate and made sure they were well fed and cared for. This is what the church should be doing. However, the reason the Apostles want to make changes is because they need to pray and preach the word. They need to keep coming to God in faith, asking him to move and they need to keep preaching the gospel so more people can come to faith in Christ. So social action, prayer and evangelism are not to be set against one another, rather they are all to be prized and prioritised. It would be easy to focus on one and neglect the others and at Christ City Church we want to make sure we get them all right.
Application for CCC – as we move forward as a church let’s keep all three of these front and centre.
Thirdly – We see two types of leadership positions emerging (Elders and Deacons)
The Apostles want to ensure that the widows are cared for but they don’t want to drop the ball on what God has called them to do – prayer and ministry of the word. So they appoint seven men, full of the Spirit, wisdom and faith to take over the more practical duties in church life so they can stay focused on seeking God and teaching the people the scriptures. Now whilst we don’t want to push the distinctions too much from this passage (in chapter 7 Stephen preaches one of the greatest sermons in all of history!), we see here what is clearly fleshed out in the letters to the churches that Paul and Peter write later. For example, Philippians 1:1 says:
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers (elders) and deacons:…
In the New Testament the word overseer is synonymous with Elder and with Shepherd/Pastor. They are used interchangeably (e.g. Acts 20:28 or 1 Peter 5:1-5). These two leadership types, elders who take care of the spiritual oversight of the church and deacons who take care of the practicalities and administration are then spelled out even more clearly in 1 Timothy and Titus.
Application 1 for CCC – as we move forward as a church we’re going to employ Caroline Anderson as an administrator and pastoral care worker to help us facilitate Sunday Services, City Groups, Life Groups, integration of new people and general administration and communications within the church community. Additionally, Caroline will oversee the internship program and act as a PA to Steve. The aim of employing Caroline is our first step to setting up a ‘deacon’ role within church to ensure everyone is cared for and to facilitate further growth.
Application 2 for CCC – to enable us to employ Caroline we will need to increase financial giving at Christ City Church, particularly through monthly standing orders. No amount is too small, everything helps and we encourage those who are students to consider giving even €10 a month. Do read more on why give, the biblical principles of giving and how to give as you consider standing with the church and this decision financially. On Sunday 12th April we’ll talk more about the grace and discipline of giving.
Fourthly – church structures are to facilitate the life of God and organic growth of the church
I love the way the passage ends. After talking about the seven leaders’ appointment which allows the apostles to continue with their job it says:
7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.
Too easily in church life, the structures get in the way of what God is wanting to do. The structures become the focus rather than the people, 1-2-1 discipleship, evangelism, social action and prayer. We’re more concerned about keeping our jobs or titles or practices or decision-making forums and we lose sight of why they were put there in the first place. To use an analogy borrowed from a book on Christian leadership; for a vine to grow it needs a trellis. So the physical structure supports the organic plant which is growing day-by-day. The key thing is to stay focused on the vine and be willing to change or update the trellis to facilitate further growth, rather than stick with the trellis at all costs.
Application for CCC – whilst we establish more structures and appoint more leaders, let’s not lose sight on the organic growing body of Christ which is filled with the Holy Spirit and can never be tamed!
Hopefully this blog post has given you an insight into our strategic plans for the future. Please be praying about how God wants to use you to help Christ City Church continue to grow, reach new people and become a community that reflects Jesus more and more. And please pray about what you are able to give financially.
Steve & Leanne