Good morning. It is great to be here with you this morning.
One of the things I debated back and forth about when David asked me to speak at Renovation was whether or not I should continue on in your series looking at the Book of Acts, or if I should capitalize on the Valentine’s holiday and share a message about love and relationships. In the end I decided that enough churches would likely be showing Princess Bride video clips today and talking about “wuv, tru wuv, that will fowow you foweva..”, so instead I’m going to talk about the Book of Acts. If you are really disappointed about that I’m sorry. You can go rent the movie and have a romantic night watching it with your loved one later.
The reason I chose to teach from the Book of Acts this morning is not because I am a prude who doesn’t want to talk about love. I wuv - wuv. I chose Acts because I think the passage we are going to look at together is particularly relevant and important for a young church like Renovation, and because I think I might be able to get away with teaching some lessons out of it that David may not have been as comfortable teaching.
There’s a lot to get to, so let’s jump in. If you want to follow along I’ll read the passage in its entirety and then we’ll return back to it and break it down some. Sound good? We’ll be reading from Acts, chapter 6, starting in verse 1.
Read Acts 6:1-7
The first thing that we encounter in this passage is the reporting from Luke on the explosive growth of the early church.
1 In those days when the number of disciples was increasing,
This is a good thing right? Luke tells us that the early church is growing and the number of disciples was increasing. This means that people are hearing the Word about Jesus and turning over control of their lives to him and worshipping him as God and Savior in response to that Word. From what I hear that same kind of growth is happening here at Renovation Church and you guys should be celebrating that!
Sadly, in some Christian circles the discussion of numbers in church and idea of celebrating church growth is seen as a negative thing. If you remember, a couple weeks ago you all talked about this in a message called Big v. Small in your Teeter Totters series. I really liked something David said about halfway through the message. He was talking about the way some people can get really negative on church growth and how you’ll occasionally hear the statement, “Well God doesn’t care about numbers!” I thought the way David countered on the error of that kind of thinking was dead on when he said, “…people, are represented in numbers, and you better believe God cares about people.“
Luke’s inclusion of this statement here in Acts 6 proves what David said, and it tells us something. It tells us that God is pleased when his church grows. In fact, the idea that God cares about people, changed people, as represented by numeric church growth, is highlighted by the repeated inclusion of church growth numbers in Scripture.
Here’s just a sampling from the first 5 chapters in Acts,
· Acts 2:41, "So those who received the word were baptized and there were added that day about 3,000 souls." (In Jerusalem.)
· Acts 2:47, "And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved." (In Jerusalem.)
· Acts 4:4, "Many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to about 5,000." (In Jerusalem.)
· Acts 5:14, "More than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women."
Many more times in Acts Luke takes a break from story telling to indicate the large number of people whose lives were being changed by the good news of the Gospel. But, as we’re about to see in the text, just because growth is good, doesn’t mean it is always easy. In fact, growth is usually very hard. And here’s why: where there is growth – there is change, and people DO NOT LIKE change! Change has a way of pushing us out of our comfort zones. And for most people that is ‘uncomfortable.’
DIAPER BAG PROP
My wife Stephanie and I had been married for just over a year when our first son Jacob was born. We were excited to have a baby, but we weren’t ready for how the change in our family size would affect us. I wasn’t ready for interruptions to my schedule for doctor appointments and check-ups. We lost all kinds of spontaneity by having a baby because now there were nap and feeding schedules to work around. Plus there was all that stinking baby gear taking up space in our apartment. I mean, holy smokes! We had clothes, toys, diapers, diaper bags, and bottles everywhere!
It didn’t take long for the wonderful growth in the size of our family to raise unexpected conflict as Stephanie and I learned to negotiate late night feedings, deciding whose turn it was to clean-up after a diaper explosion, and dealing with all the other disruptions a baby brought into our formerly comfortable routines. That is what growth, even good growth does. It raises some conflict.
We finally got settled, but not for long because fifteen months after Jacob was born Stephanie gave birth again, this time to a beautiful little girl. And again, we couldn’t have been happier about the growth in our family. But this growth brought with it new challenges. Any basketball fans here? You’ll understand this. Now, instead of 2 parents watching out for 1 kid, Stephanie and I had to play man-to-man defense.
And, at the risk of sounding like I never attended a Sex-ED class, I’ll tell you that the growth = change thing didn’t stop at Isabelle, because 21 months after she was born our family grew yet again, when Andrew joined the Balvin family tribe. Now Stephanie and I transitioned from man-to-man defense into a zone where we each guarded a different room in the house.
Guys, you know this right? Dealing with the changes that accompany growth isn’t always easy; conflict arises as people feel that the comfort and routines they once had have been taken away. And this is exactly what was happening in the 1st century church as it grew, and, I’m here to warn you, it is what will eventually happen here at Renovation as God continues to bless the church and as it continues to grow.
Back to your text...
the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.
Here what I said was coming. Right after Luke tells us that the number of disciples was increasing we come across a church conflict between the Hellenistic and the Hebraic Jews. Now contrary to what you might guess from looking at the names, Hellenistic Jews were not Jews who were destined for hell. The phrase ‘Hellenistic Jews’ comes from the concept of Hellenism, meaning of Greek influence. The Hellenistic Jews were Jews whose primary language and cultural influences where Greek. Hebraic Jews, on the other hand, spoke and were influenced by Hebrew culture and history.
So what we have are two tribes that have formed in the church. The Hellenistic Jews and the Hebraic Jews. And there is tension between the two. It is like Twins/White Sox. Vikings/Packers. Blaine/Centennial. The church is divided and everyone has broken off into little, like-minded groups. And what happens in a church when people forms tribes like this is never good.
In 31 years I’ve had way too much experience with the consequences of churches diving into teams. I’ve seen people divide over little things like ‘Should Kids Trick-or-Treat?’ I’ve seen pastors leave and the church split over who the new pastor should be. I’ve been a part of factions of people leaving a church because they no longer agreed with the vision of the Senior Pastor or because the Pastor’s house was too big. Crazy things!
Division among believers is devastating not only to the people who are part of a church, but it is detrimental to the faith of young believers and it is destructive to the church’s ability to be a witness for the love of Jesus Christ in the world.
This is why unity among believers is one of the most precious gifts God can give to a church. The Scriptures are filled with encouragements from by the Biblical writers for the church to stay unified.
Here are a few examples:
Psalm 133:1 - How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!
Ephesians 4:3 - Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
Colossians 3:14 - And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Unity is so important that it is one of the things Jesus prayed for the church before he was crucified. In John 17:2-23 Jesus prays, I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
The early church is at a crossroads here. Would the Hebraic Jews look out for the whole church, or just heir own tribe? How they handle this food distribution crisis could be a turning point for the future impact or future irrelevance of the church, and it would be wise for a young, growing church like Renovation, with much in common with the church in Acts, to pay close attention to what is going on, and to learn from the response of the apostles.
The tendency of people when they are experiencing the pains of growth is to join a tribe and lookout for themselves. I once heard a pastor share a story about the growth that was happening in his church as he began to preach about reaching out to the lost in his community. Some of the regular church folk didn’t like all the new faces in the building each week. In fact one family tracked the pastor down after a service and cornered him. They’re faces were red, they were angry. They were big givers to the church who were threatening to leave for good. And do you want to know why they were so upset – “because for 5 years they had been coming to church and sitting in the very same chairs each week and that Sunday some of ‘the new people’ had taken their usual seats and the pastor wouldn’t ask them to move.”
Can I be honest with you all - AND David did not ask me to say this - like it or not, it is inevitable that as this church grows someone’s feelings are going to be hurt here. There will be a moment when the ‘brand-new’ sensation goes away and some of you will start grumbling about this or that. There will arise the temptation to claim that ‘my needs aren’t being met’ at Renovation anymore. You’ll whisper that Pastor David doesn’t pay as much attention to me any more now that we have all these new people and all these new issues to deal with. You might feel like your tribe is being over-looked and just like the Hellenistic Jews you will start to complain.
Please don’t do that. And don’t enable someone else to do so either.
Attitudes and feelings of bitterness and anger and jealous are corrosive to the church and if left unchecked they will seep through the cracks and begin to eat away at this church’s effectiveness to change lives and change the world. I don’t want that for you. Decide now to embrace the difficulties that change can bring, and commit to remaining unified as you face those challenges.
Let’s keep reading, we’re all the way to verse 2 now....
2 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.
Ok, so here’s what happens. The 12 are the 12 elders of the church, 11 of whom walked with Jesus as his first disciples and 1 more who was added to the group to replace Judas. These 12 men gather the entire church together to figure out the food distribution issue. They’ve have heard about the problem, they have discussed the solution, prayed about it, and they gather everyone to announce the solution.
Are you tracking with this? This behavior makes sense. But here’s what I find odd. In the official statement they don’t immediately acknowledge the concerns of the Hellenists. Did you notice that? In fact, it almost seems like a put down doesn’t it: ‘it would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.‘ I imagine the widows we’re feeling a bit down after hearing this.
But it isn’t that the Twelve were neglecting the needs of the widows. We’ll read in a minute that those needs were acknowledged as important and there was a plan to care for the widows. What the Twelve do so effectively here, is keep the church on mission and they use this crisis as an opportunity to teach and develop the young believers in the church.
The Twelve remind the church of what a pastor or elder’s paramount responsibilities are, and then they empower the people to do something. We’ll look in a moment at exactly how that empowerment happens, but first I want to say a word here about the pastor/elder’s ministry of prayer and preaching, because sometimes it is a hard for a pastor to say this himself to his church.
Friends can I be honest with you? I do not believe there is anything more important for David to do as your Pastor than to be alone with God in prayer, to hear from him what he wants to do through Renovation, and to impart that message to you – primarily trough preaching. I might seems weird and I know there is already a stereotype out there that pastors only have to work a couple hours a week. But God’s Word in Acts 6 teaches us that the ministry of prayer and preaching is paramount to the position of a pastor.
Here’s how it works:
Prayer empowers preaching ---> Preaching engages people ---> People experience life change ---> Changed people change the world
10 years ago I was a Youth Pastor in a church plant and I know first hand that leading a church plant can be an exhausting ordeal. There is an overwhelming amount of things to do, and because it often seems to the planter like the success or failure of the church rides on every little decision, it is the tendency of the planter to wear a heavy coat of responsibility for all the ‘table waiting’ that needs to be done.
There is a website to maintain, a program to create, sermon graphics to design, small groups to attend, evangelism to lead, books to read, meetings to go to, people to care for, and whiners to placate. And, oh yeah, there is a sermon to write…often times on Saturday night in the early morning hours thanks to a little friend named 5 Hour Energy drink. For a planter it is easy to get your priorities out of whack!
Let me give you an example. I visited a church plant once and I noticed the Pastor, who was seated in the front row, kept disappearing around a corner near the front of the stage to dim the lights up and down. I couldn’t believe it. Now maybe the pastor was a major control freak that wouldn’t let anyone else move the switch, or maybe he didn’t feel like he had anyone who would volunteer for that job. Either way he was distracted from the ministry of preaching that morning because he was doing the ministry of light switch moving.
The Twelve were wise to understand early on in the life of the church that they wouldn’t be able to effectively lead the church if they were trying to handle every issue, every dispute, and every hurt feeling as the church grew. Think about it from another angle. How effective of a coach would new Vikings head coach Leslie Fraizer be if he had to call the plays, then throw the ball, catch the ball, and kick the ball. The only team that would be worse than the Vikings would be the Detroit Lions! Fraizer’s job is to set the direction of the team, empower his assistant coaches, and manage the game. The players on the field do all the other table waiting.
Renovation Church, just as the Twelve were not to be deterred from their primary calling as preachers to wait the tables of the widows, Pastor David and Pastor Zach and Pastor Rachael will not be able to meet all of your needs either. And here’s the thing churches miss or ignore all the time. They ARE NOT SUPPOSED to! God designed his church so that the tasks of the church are carried out through the talents of the people.
Look at what the Twelve tell their congregation in verse 3,
3 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 4 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”
What the Twelve effectively do is this. They say, “We’re going to focus on leading this team. We’ll call the plays and hire the personal. Now you go out and find the RBs and QBs and Lineman and Kickers who will get on the field and play the game.” The Twelve establish their God-given priorities and then they empower the people of the church to do the work of the church.
Let’s look at the result of the Twelve’s decision, starting with verse 5:
5 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. 6 They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
I love verse 5 because it tells us that the people ‘got it’! Friends, the majority of ministry that happens in a healthy church happens because men and women, who are full of faith and the Holy Spirit, respond by serving according to the talents God has given them. And as this church grows I cannot stress to you how important it will be for you to partner with church leadership in doing ministry.
Let’s finish looking at the text together this morning. Verse 7 tells us what happened when the apostles did what God was calling them to do, and when the people of the first church did with what God was calling them to do.
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.
Earlier I said that this was a potential turning point for the young church in Acts. There was a real danger that disunity and ethnic tribalism would split the church apart. There was also the danger that the church leadership would take on too much, get burnt –out, and thus be unable to fulfill the mission God was calling them too. And there was the unmentioned, but very real, consequence that the people in the church would miss out on the joy of being used uniquely by God to do the work of ministry.
Praise God that didn’t happen. The result of the Twelve focusing on the ministry of prayer and preaching, and appointing Godly men/women to care for other ministries in the church, is that the young church continued to thrive and grow.
Acts 6:1-7 is a text packed with teaching about how the church should function. It is exciting to read about the church growing, but it is also important to study and learn about the kinds of things that can impede or derail the growth of a church like Renovation. Friends, in 3 years Renovation will not be the same church as it is now, and if you want to stay on mission and continue doing what God is calling you to do, namely to be a people changed by God to change the world, then you must be ready to handle the struggles that growth necessitates.
Let me end with this reminder.
When Jesus Christ was on earth he joined no tribes, nor did he try to be all things to all people, running around meeting every need. Instead he spent his time in prayer listening to the Father for direction, and he empowered his disciples to go and be world changers. He lived, died, and rose again so that sinful, God dishonoring men and women like you and I could be made right with God. To paraphrase Pastor Tim Keller, “Jesus Christ lived the life we should have lived, and died the death we should have died.” And he did is joyfully so that you and I could live in unity with God and with one another.
If you have never acknowledged Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior I want to invite you to do so today. It is as simple as confessing to God that your way of living isn’t working and that you need his help, acknowledging in your heart that you are in need of a Savior, and asking Jesus Christ to come and transform your life. He will do that. I promise.
And for those of you who are already believers, I encourage you to ask God “What can I do to build unity at Renovation Church and how can I best serve here?” Pastor David he told me that most of you are in small groups and that there is a strong volunteer base at Renovation. That is awesome! Continue to do that. Continue to use the talents and gifts that you have been given by God to be a player in the game and not a spectator in the stands. And, if you are not ‘waiting any tables’ at Renovation, consider what talents God has given you for the completion of tasks here. Here’s a challenge for you. Contact the church and see what things you can take off your pastors’ plates.
Would you all pray with me?
Copyright: Brenton Balvin
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
You may use this material all you like! We only ask that you do not charge a fee and that you quote the source and not say it is your own.