Selection of seven to serve
6 About that time, while the number of disciples continued to increase, a complaint arose. Greek-speaking disciples accused the Aramaic-speaking disciples because their widows were being overlooked in the daily food service. 2 The Twelve called a meeting of all the disciples and said, “It isn’t right for us to set aside proclamation of God’s word in order to serve tables. 3 Brothers and sisters, carefully choose seven well-respected men from among you. They must be well-respected and endowed by the Spirit with exceptional wisdom. We will put them in charge of this concern. 4 As for us, we will devote ourselves to prayer and the service of proclaiming the word.” 5 This proposal pleased the entire community. They selected Stephen, a man endowed by the Holy Spirit with exceptional faith, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. 6 The community presented these seven to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. 7 God’s word continued to grow. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased significantly. Even a large group of priests embraced the faith.
Arrest and murder of Stephen
8 Stephen, who stood out among the believers for the way God’s grace was at work in his life and for his exceptional endowment with divine power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people.
Thoughts on the passage:
When I was in school, my approach to most group projects was to plan on doing most of the work. I was one of the better students in class and so usually I was both more determined to get the project done than other people and often understood the material better than they did. Rather than go through what seemed like a long tedious process of trying to get other people to care about the assignment or do their share, it was easier to just do it myself. I also felt like I was helping them by doing more of the work since that meant they had to do less.
Church growth experts will talk about how there are different sizes of churches, and one of them is a pastor-size congregation that worships about 100-125 on a Sunday morning. The focus of the church is usually around the pastor and the connections that the congregation has to that individual. Larger, program-size churches focus not on the pastor but on the small groups and programs that people connect to. If you take a pastor, who is used to being the focus of ministry and put them in a program-size church, they will often unintentional shrink the church down to a size where they can be at the center of things. Similarly, when a pastor-size congregation starts to grow, one of the biggest barriers to that growth of the church can be the culture of the congregation that is used to connecting to the pastor and that is no longer sustainable because of the size of the congregation.
Obviously, we cannot simply ascribe 21st century church growth theories to the 1st century church, but I feel like we see a similar dynamic that is going on in our story from Acts. As you may know, Acts is the book that describes the history of the early church, from its official birth at Pentecost to its growth around the Mediterranean region. Our selection today comes at a time that the church is starting to really grow. New converts to Christianity have been made both in Jerusalem and around the region. The growth has been so great that now they have a problem. The widows of the church are not getting carried for.
The leaders of the church talk about the problem. They assess their time and realize that to properly care for the widows would mean a change in how they spend their time. Rather than detract from their important work of spreading the faith in order to do the important work of taking care of the widows, they look for help. They do a search and find seven qualified individuals to take on this challenge. In turn the leaders of the church commit to remaining focused on the task that was given to them.
There is a lot we need to see in this story. The initial comments by the leaders can seem dismissive of the issue. After all, they sound like they think they are too important to be bothered to “serve tables.” Quite the contrary, what they see is that they put their best people on the task. They demand that the people assigned to the job be possessed both of wisdom and the Spirit. This is not a job they pawn off on a few interns. In fact, to lead the group they select Stephen, “who stood out among the believers for the way God’s grace was at work in his life and for his exceptional endowment with divine power.” Their decision clearly pays off because they are now able to care for the widows the church but also see the church grow significantly.
I am not going to lie, when I read the book of Acts, I tend to get a little jealous. I would love to see a church that I am a part of grow significantly. Some of that is probably just my own ego and competitive spirit, but a lot of it is grounded in my sincere belief that a growing church is the sign of a church that is having a greater impact both on the lives of the people who attend but also on the community. To me, being a church of resurrection means that we are not only experiencing new life for ourselves, but we are sharing it with others.
The question we have to ask ourselves is what are the barriers that are keeping us from reaching more people with the life-changing message of Easter? What are the things that hold us back from inviting people to worship? What is stopping us from doing more to share the blessings we know in Christ with the community?
Now, I know that one of the things we need to do more of is to actually reach out and invite others to come and join us in worship or in a small group. I know there is a lot more we can do to tell our story with the people who are not already a part of our church. Still, I am not sure that this is the only thing we need to do. If we look at the story from Acts and the commissioning of Stephen, the important step they take is not a new marketing campaign to reach the Hellenist Jews, nor is it a door knocking effort in Jerusalem. What helps them grow their church? It is by getting good leaders to care for the people they already have.
When I look at our church, I wonder if one of the things we could be doing better is taking care of the people we already have. In Acts the problem was making sure the widows were cared for. We would probably instead talk about the need to make sure our shut-ins are visited. Now, some of you may be thinking, wait isn’t that the job of the pastor or the Care Ministries director. I would say, yes, it is. Remember what I said earlier about how churches can shrink so that they can all be cared for by the pastor. I am just one person, and I can only do so much. Susan is just one person, though I swear she does the work of three or four of me. If we build the ministry of our church around what Susan and I can do, we will still not truly be the church of resurrection I know that we can be.
Instead, we need your help. We need people to get involved in our care ministry efforts. We need people to be on the prayer chain and lift our needs in prayer. We need people who are willing to work with Susan and I to visit people who are sick or shut-in, or just need some company. We need people who are willing to care for our youngest members by teaching Sunday school or volunteering in the nursery. We need your help.
I believe that we are a church on the cusp of greatness. I believe that we can truly be a church of resurrection that shares the new life of Christ with each other and the world. I believe that God is ready and waiting to do wonderful things in our church. To make that happen it is going to take all of us. We cannot simply assume that the people who do many things already will be able to do what is needed to get us to the next level. It is going to take all of us stepping up to make a difference.
I think we are like those small groups I was a part of in school. Sure, when I did most of the work, we got the job completed and we probably got a good grade, but a couple of things did not happen. Everyone did not get a chance to learn the material. We did not do as good a job as we could have either. When everyone gets involved, even if the final grade is the same, the learning and the experience is so much better.
The same is true with the church. When we all get involved it is so much better. Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We are not going to do that with just our staff and a few heavily invested volunteers. It is going to take all of us. We need to all be ready to invest our gifts, our time, and our talents so that we can be the church of resurrection that God wants us to be. We need to do it so we can be the church of resurrection that Willmar needs us to be. Amen
Questions to Ponder:
What does it mean to be a church of resurrection?
What gifts and talents do you have to bring to help others in the church?
When you are in a group do you tend to be the one to do the work or the one to sit back and let others get it done?
Who are the “widows” in your life that need to be cared for?
God, you are the resurrection and the life. Thank you for walking along side us in the dark times of our lives. Fill us once more with the joy of the new life that is promised in Christ’s resurrection. Help us to be a church of resurrection that shares that joy and new life with others. Amen