In a couple of previous posts I’ve written about the challenge of ‘growing pains’. In this post we see the response of the apostles to this challenge.
The solution: change
The solution is change. The solution is new structures with greater delegation and specialisation. Acts 6:2-4 says: ‘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.’
Back in 4:34-35 it seems that apostles were involved in the distribution of the food. But as the church continues to grow they can’t minister the word and administer the money. They’re doing a good job at ministering the word, but a bad job at ministering the tables. Perhaps they could do a good job ministering at table, but that would mean doing a bad job ministering the word. So:
- they delegate – they appoint seven men to take responsibility for the distribution
- they specialise – they give themselves to the ministry of the word and prayer
The result: more growth
The result is more growth. First, there is numerical growth. Acts 6:7 says: ‘So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly.’ The new structures enable the apostles to focus on preaching the word. As a result, the word spreads and more people are saved.
Second, new missionary fields open up. Verse 7 continues: ‘The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.’ The gospel reaches new people – in this case some of the temple priests. One of the strengths of a small church is its close relational network. But that can also be a weakness because the church can struggle to reach people beyond this network. But as the church in Jerusalem grew it was able to reach new groups.
Third, there’s spiritual growth. People often worry that a focus on numerical growth will lead to a drop in discipleship. That’s a danger. If going for growth is just about getting people to make a decision without driving the gospel into everyday life then spiritual growth will suffer. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Verses 8-10 say: ‘Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called) – Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia, who began to argue with Stephen. But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.’
Who’s Stephen? In verse 5 he’s named as one of the seven appointed to wait on tables. The seven are given a new responsibility. And that encourages them in their discipleship.
Specialization doesn’t mean a few people now do ministry while everyone else becomes mere supporters or funders. It’s so striking that the very next thing that happens is a man set aside to minister the tables is found ministering the word. And doing it to great effect (6:10).
Or look at Acts 8:1, 4-8: ‘On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria … 4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralysed or lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.’
Everyone except the apostles is scattered by a wave of persecution. But these ‘non-apostles’ ‘preached the word wherever they went’ (8:4). Luke focuses on Philip. And again who is Philip? He’s another of the seven set aside for ministering at tables (6:5).
We may have to assign roles to people, to revise our structures, to delegate responsibility, to get people specializing. But no-one needs a mandate to preach the word. Acts 8:8 says: ‘So there was great joy in that city.’ We will bring great joy to our city as we preach Jesus the Messiah.