Unhindered Church

unhindered-posterNow 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. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. – Acts 6:1-7

The early church elects and installs its first deacons in this passage. We’re told about the requirements, reasons and then the outcome of this important office.

So why does this matter?

It’s important that the apostles give up leadership. They don’t control everything themselves. They give over to others, to ones elected from their midst by the people for the people. These deacons have qualifications. They don’t have to be good food managers or relief agents or accountants, though they might be. They need to have a good reputation, show some wisdom and be filled and directed with the Holy Spirit.

However, I think the most important why of this matter is the reason this concern was taken up in the first place. It’s because this strikes at the heart and core of the values of the church. If we’re going to be a church unhindered (the last word in the book of Acts is “unhindered”), we have to take up and care about what God takes up and cares about. And that means the people—the widows, orphans, displaced, disadvantaged, poor and hungry.

Most people don’t think the church could do this again. They might hope it could happen, but they’ve been through the church and been hurt and disappointed. Most people have given up. Some have lost their faith, but most still believe in God just not the church.

It takes too much time for too little gain and too much pain. The church is too irrelevant and judgmental.

But what if the church mattered a great deal in its word and deed ministries? If we were really, really connecting with and helping people? What if we were having fearless conversations with humble authenticity and talking about how God and his people really matter because we’ve seen it and tasted it and know it for ourselves? What if his grace and mercy were tangible in our love for people?

What if we loved people this way? What if we were known for being a place where people could come to and get real help? What if we really said and then put into action that people were welcome to come to us and get help? What if they got help and support when they were with us?

We live in a time of despair. So many of us believe that tomorrow will be just like today, and both are terrible. Elizabeth Gilbert (yep, she wrote Eat, Pray, Love) talks about despair this way, “Once you fall into a state of despair, you don’t even bother trying to alter anything about your life because what’s the point? You become hypnotized by your own stagnation. You resign yourself to sameness because that’s what you’ve tricked yourself into thinking life is: eternal, soul-crushing sameness.”[1]

It can be different. It has to be different. Tomorrow doesn’t have to be the same as today. We can have resurrection hope and power. It will take organization and planning. It will take delegation. People will have to step up to help. We’ll need to give our money, time and resources. We’ll have to spend time with people whom we may not naturally like, but whom we’ll eventually unnaturally love.

I think Jesus and his church would be more believable and beautiful. We’d be far better off. People would notice and want to be a part of something like that. God would be glorified, and the church would grow.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that after we hear about these deacons’ installation, we then read, “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” (6:7)

Word and deed ministry come together as a powerful, compelling evangelistic message. I’d like to be a part of a church like that, and I think I could invite others to join me.

[1] Eat, Pray, Love Made Me Do It, p. xii