Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The Ever Changing Church

When I stopped working in youth ministry over a decade ago we had just entered into a technological age that would change our future. The question of how to handle teens and their cell phones was a significant, albeit not life shattering, issue being faced. These teens had not grown up with a cell phone in their hands, though they were receiving them early in life, and so techniques like setting a basket at the door where everyone left their phones worked. It was a mostly effective solution to a new problem. As long as there has been a church, there have been problems needing to be worked out.  This is clearly evidenced in Acts 6:
The number of followers was growing. But during this same time, the Greek-speaking followers had an argument with the other followers. The Greek-speaking widows were not getting their share of the food that was given out every day. The twelve apostles called the whole group of followers together and said, “It is not right for us to stop our work of teaching God’s word in order to serve tables. So, brothers and sisters, choose seven of your own men who are good, full of the Spirit and full of wisdom. We will put them in charge of this work. Then we can continue to pray and to teach the word of God.”

The whole group liked the idea, so they chose these seven men: Stephen (a man with great faith and full of the Holy Spirit), Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas (a man from Antioch who had become a follower of the Jewish religion). Then they put these men before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

The word of God was continuing to spread. The group of followers in Jerusalem increased, and a great number of the Jewish priests believed and obeyed.
(Acts 6:1-7, NCV)
For the church in Acts 6, the problem was more than logistical.  The church was struggling to understand how people of many traditions (here, Greek and Hebrew) could (or if they even could) come together to truly be one body of believers.  So the leaders of the church came up with a simple plan: have some other men oversee the solution to the problem.  They delegated.

If you have ever worked with a person who used "delegation" as a means to pass off anything they don't want to do, please don't think that's what the church leaders were doing.  They were plenty busy with their work - a very effective work by the ways their numbers were growing - and so they thought it would be best to let another group of leaders oversee food distribution.

It's easy to think that leaders might have considered this work beneath them.  Reading that they didn't want to "serve tables" sounds almost dismissive.  However, by looking at who they chose to do this new work, we can see that it was something they considered essential and important.  Of the seven men, two have significant descriptions. First, Stephen is described as "a man with great faith and full of the Holy Spirit."  Why would you chose this kind of man to be a DoorDash driver food server unless it was a faith-related activity?  You wouldn't.  Clearly, the work being done was to feed their spirits as much as their stomachs. Second, Nicolas was Greek.  He would be a familiar face to the widows they served and would be able to resolve any miscommunication that arose.  He was greasing the wheels, in the best possible way. All seven of these men are described as good, faith filled, and wise.

In this case, church leaders didn't let tradition blind them to need.  They responded with How can we fix this? instead of But it's never been a problem before.   As the church grows and as times change, new problems arise that have serious implications; I think most of us have learned that this year.  However, when we've moved past the problems we faced in 2020, there will be new problems we couldn't have anticipated.  In some ways that is encouraging because it allows us to have hope.  We can look back and see that we've overcome many things before, so we can overcome whatever comes before us next.

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