Hello and welcome again to Lechem Panim.
Models of Growth-- Being a pastor for close to a decade, I have read a lot about church growth; the different kinds of growth, what healthy growth looks like, how it happens, etc. And one of the things that any church growth book worth its salt will tell you is that there is a difference between the organizational structure of a small church and that of a large church. And though an organizational model may have worked out great when a church first started out, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will continue to be the best model moving forward. For instance, in every church I have pastored I have always been the primary source of pastoral care. I have been the one to visit people in hospitals, to visit them in their homes; to serve them communion; to perform all the funerals and those kinds of things. And that’s fine when your church is small. But let’s say a church grows to 200, 300 or more people. That pastor better not be the only source of pastoral care for that congregation because 1st) There’s too many people for him to be able to give quality care to, 2nd) It’s going to take away time from his sermon preparation and prayer time, 3rd) It’s going to rob his family of his time, and 4th) He’s eventually going to get burned out and probably leave that ministry. Churches must change as growth takes place if they are going to remain stable and effective.
Growing Pains-- Now in today’s passage here in Acts chapter 6 we see that the Early Church is starting to face problems. And this wasn’t a bad thing. I don’t know if when you were young you ever experienced growing pains or not; l know I did. My bones would just ache for no apparent reason. It often happens when you are just growing really fast. My son now has the same thing going on in his body. But that isn’t bad pain; it’s good pain. And you are always stronger and more physically mature on the other side of it. Well, the same was true here of the Church in Acts 6. You have thousands upon thousands of people coming to faith in Christ, joining the Church; and (as with any organization) the system which worked fine when the organization was smaller didn’t scale up. Remember the Church is growing at an incredible rate. Early on they were able to keep track of the number of converts (2:41) and members (4:4). But even then those figures only represent the men. And now the Church has grown beyond count. According to some estimates, it was probably around 20,000 at this point. And so the apostles were finding it increasingly difficult to minister to everybody. The old structure wasn’t working. And so it is no surprise that it says in…
Acts 6:1 (ESV)-- 1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.
Satan’s New Strategy— Now up until this point there had been many ways that Satan had sought to cripple Christ’s Church. In 4:1-31 and 5:17-41) he had tried persecution. But that only caused the Church to grow faster; because they responded to that persecution in the right way. Next Satan (in 5:1-11) tried to introduce sin into the body of Christ in and through Ananias and Sapphira. But the Church immediately (with the God’s full backing) dealt with that sin. And so now Satan tries a third tactic: dissension.
The Two Battleships-- There’s a story of two battleships that met in the night and began to attack each other. In the conflict, a number of crewmen were severely wounded, and both vessels were damaged. As daylight broke, the sailors on the ships discovered to their amazement that both vessels flew the English flag. Sometimes it is easy to forget that we are on the same team, even when we might not see eye to eye. And Satan can often use the smallest of issues (like the one in this passage) to divide the Church. And so was the threat in our passage today.
The Hellenist Widows Overlooked-- Because the issue here in this passage had the potential to create a LOT of division in the Church. That word used to describe the first group of people is “Hellenists”; and here that term is referring to Greek-speaking Jews from other nations who had come to Palestine. Now the second description (the description “Hebrews”) here is referring specifically to the residents of Palestine; and they could speak both Aramaic and Greek and often Hebrew. But most of these Jews from outside may not have been able to speak Aramaic or Hebrew. And they used the Septuagint (a Greek version of the Hebrew Bible) rather than the Hebrew Scriptures. Now they had remained loyal to Judaism, but at the same time they had absorbed some of their surrounding Greek culture. And that made them suspect to the Palestinian Jews, especially the Pharisees. But they were a minority in the church, which helps explain why their needs were overlooked.
Care For Widows-- Now care for widows was a traditional part of Jewish society; clear instructions for their care being given in numerous places in the book of Deuteronomy. God cares about widows, which is why He made sure the Law laid out specific guidelines for their care. And because at this point Christianity was mainly a Jewish phenomenon, this by default carried over into the early Church. Paul (in 1 Timothy 5:33ff) clearly defines care for widows as being one of the chief responsibilities of the Church.
Meeting God Where He’s Working-- And so the Church had to deal with this problem of the Hellenist widows being overlooked in the daily distribution (which was an outflow of what you remember happened in Acts 4:32, where we saw how the Church came together to pool their resources to help any that were in need. Now if a Church is Biblical, it will align itself with what the Holy Spirit is already doing. It meets God where He is at rather than trying to pull Him into their own organization and structure. Does that make sense? And God is interested in the needs of people; every need, no matter what it is. And so the TRUE Church is always characterized by a willingness to respond to the needs of people. That’s why most of our hospitals have names like St. Mary’s or St. John’s or names like that; because people who are truly awakened by Christ are awakened to the needs of the world and have in their hearts an awakening of love that drives them to meet those needs. Now hospitals have structure, but it is structured in accordance with the needs of people; or at least it ought to be. The same with the Church. The needs of people ought not to conform to the structure of the Church. The structure of the Church needs to conform to the needs of people.
A School’s Flexibility-- One of the things that impressed us about our kids’ school was how quickly they adjusted when Covid-19 hit. I mean they didn’t even miss a beat. They recognized the needs of the children for an unbroken education experience and immediately switched to an online format that honestly (even at its early stages) was very solid. But it’s no coincidence that the school was born out of and is an intimate part of a thriving Church. The Church is thriving because of its adaptability to the needs of people; and therefore so was the school.
Our Flexibility During Covid— And similarly, those Churches that are doing the best during these Covid times are not those who have said “We are either going to meet in person or not at all”, but rather those that immediately recognized that the needs of people were going to change very dramatically because of this epidemic and were willing to adjust the way they did church in order to meet those needs. Now I’m happy to say that our church was one of those churches. Right off the bat we had online giving up and running; our worship went online; our messages went online; our website was upgraded. And though we had to make some tough decisions as a leadership team, we made them and not only did we maintain, but we even grew our numbers during that time. And that has been the experience even of churches that were willing to just make bare minimum changes. Our leadership here at Renton Park Chapel didn’t see Covid as just something to get through; no, we saw it as God’s means of doing something new in His Church. And because we strived to bring ourselves alongside what God was doing (and is still doing), He saw fit to bless us. And that has been the experience of many churches.
Our Individual Flexibility-- Now what is true of the Church as a whole is also true of the individual. The people who make the best church members, the best parents, the best friends, the best employees, the best co-workers are those men and women who are malleable and shapable in God’s hands; who can take a hit without floundering and who are able to stand firm even when things get messy.
The Flexible Church— And Churches that are going to be most effective at reaching the lost are those that are filled with people who are flexible. Because let me tell you; lost people are not always pleasant to be around. They may not act nice, look nice, or smell nice. And they will often drag all their brokenness and baggage right into the Church.
The Drunk Visitor-- I remember a number of years ago a man came into the church I was pastoring at that time drunk. He hadn’t bathed in who knows how long and he smelled to high heaven. But he came and sat in the back pew. And it was not a pleasant experience to be around him. And you know how it is when an outsider like that comes; people are somewhat disturbed. And it is disturbing and disrupting when somebody like that comes; because we want our services to be nice and neat and distraction-free. And sometimes we just don’t know what to do. And we may wonder, “Why’s that guy here?” But you know why this man had come? He had come because his mother had just died (in fact I had just done her funeral) and he wanted to visit his mom’s church. Now I was proud of how the congregation responded. Yeah there were some who turned their nose up; there’s most often a couple of those in any church. But most were willing to pray for this man and come alongside of him in his grief. And you know that’s the kind of Church that God can honor.
The Central Mission-- What we find with Jesus and will see with the disciples here in this passage is that the mission is always the focus; never deviating from the task of meeting the physical and spiritual needs of the lost. And so let us not deviate. Let us also keep Christ and His mission central. Let’s do so. Amen.
Rev. Cameron Ury graduated from Asbury University in 2007 with a B.A. in Bible and Theology. From there he continued his studies at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, MS. It was there that he met his wife Tanya, who graduated from WBS with her M.A. and M.Div. degrees. Cameron and Tanya got married in 2009. Cameron then graduated with his M.Div. degree with a pastoral concentration in 2011.
After shepherding churches in both Mississippi and Ohio, they joined the ministry team at Renton Park Chapel in January of 2018, where Cameron serves as Senior Pastor and Teacher.
Cameron is also the founder and host of Lechem Panim, a weekly radio show that airs on KGNW 820AM "The Word Seattle". The ministry of Lechem Panim is centered around leading people into the life-giving presence of God in and through Bible study, prayer, and active discipleship with the aim of ministering to a world that is in desperate need of the healing touch of Jesus Christ.