Monday, October 15, 2018

Priorities for Growing Leadership

We're walking through the book of Acts. The church is on a roll. Despite the Ananias and Sapphira scandal, the growth of this Jesus movement continued! Acts 5: 14And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women. Next, the apostles were jailed and beaten by the Jewish religious elite. But they rejoiced they were counted worthy to suffer for Jesus. They didn’t shrink away or retreat, they kept the foot on the gas. Chapter 5 ends, 42And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus. Which resulted in growth. Chapter 6 begins: 1Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, That’s a good thing! Notice Luke did NOT say “converts” or “attendees" were increasing. He said “disciples.” What’s a disciple? Someone who has followed Jesus, who is being changed by Jesus, and is on mission with Jesus. By use of the term disciple, Luke is making clear that their primary concern is not the quantity of followers, it is the quality. But it's obvious they do want to increase in number! 
I want to clarify something. At Providence, we have said our goal is not to be a megachurch. But that doesn’t mean we don’t want to increase in number! We do! We are actually going for world conquest! If we are the kind of church God wants us to be, we WILL grow. The question is HOW do we want to grow? Our strategy is to make disciples and plant churches that make disciples. We just planted Bridge Church, we are already looking to plant another. We’re praying for a planter and for God to show us where the next plant will be. 

As we pick up in Acts, there is only ONE church, and it’s in Jerusalem. They will be planting churches soon, but God has to push them out of the nest with persecution as we shall see. But for now there is only one huge megachurch. And with size comes problems! Look: "...a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution (Luke 6:1b)." Here’s what’s happening: Widows in that patriarchal culture were in a vulnerable place. Without a husband they often couldn’t get a decent job, had very few rights, and many times they suffered. There was no government welfare and as Jesus pointed out, those in the religious establishment took advantage of them. So, as has almost always been the case, the church stepped in to meet the need—it was a great way to be the hands and feet of Jesus. But by addressing this need a faction that had formed in the church was revealed: the Greek-speaking, popular-culture-embracing “worldly” Jews who are now Christians (the Hellenists), are feeling like the more traditional, Hebrew speaking, Bible-thumping Jews are apparently getting more of the benevolence help! What is it about money and stuff?! I’ll say it again, money is a great tool for God, but it is such a temptation for problems. And fallen human beings are as they always have been: given to envy and jealousy, tempted to team up and divide, tend to get their feelings hurt—especially when stuff is being given away. Suddenly there’s a problem that could really divide the church. It’s a terrible thing when a church—a family of believers—choose sides and stop trusting each other. It’s hard to recover. It’s important for the leadership to deal with it openly and swiftly, and that’s exactly what they do:  2And 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 [where we get the word “deacon”] tables." The apostles, who were essentially the elders of this first church, were wise in seeing the temptation of being distracted from their primary responsibility—proclaiming God’s Word. I must say, the Devil works really hard to get pastors to do just that—be distracted by doing everything else! Is there any wonder why there is such a lack of transformational preaching today and why so many Christians and churches are so weak? Hear what Paul said to the young pastor, Timothy:

2 Timothy 4:1-5 
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdompreach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (Note: I don’t think there has ever been a generation that better fit this description than ours!) 
As for you, always be sober-minded, (note: that means to be aware of what’s going on, but be steady and not sucked in to fads and trends. The NIV renders it, “Keep your head,” and the HCSB, “be serious.” Be disciplined.) endure suffering, (note: because there is suffering involved, trust me!) do the work of an evangelist, (note: that means share the gospel and plead for people to believe and surrender to Christ) fulfill your ministry.

As awkward as it is for me to say it, my job is important! It must be fought for. For me, proclaiming his Word to the folks at Providence accurately, transformationally, evangelistically, and contagiously is at the top of the list. I admit there have been times when other things have taken precedent—good things—and God was not pleased. At risk of sounding self-serving, I make an appeal to any church members (at Providence or any other): allow your teaching pastor to do what God has called him to do for the church and to keep the priority high. Help him by hiring staff that can do other duties that are also important and allow them to do that. Help him by not having unreasonable expectations. Help him by also sharing with him the ministry needs of people in your church. That’s what the first church did. 
The apostles continued: 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 (Acts 6:3). That is a great description of what is required for leadership in ministry. Notice it’s all character-related, not skill-, experience-, personality-, or knowledge-related. We MUST select leaders—particularly elders and deacons—with the same criteria. Other criteria might be helpful, but these are essential: 
1. They must have a good reputation. Their past—their good name—matters. 
2. They must be full of the Holy Spirit. Their spirituality—their daily walk with the Lord and the visibility of the fruit of the Spirit—matters. 
3. They must be wise. The practical outworking of their faith in wise living matters. You can have knowledge and intelligence without having wisdom. 
These things matter most. The apostles continued: But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). They said this because it takes time to pray. And it takes time to preach. I speak from experience. I know some aren’t going to understand and it sounds self-serving for me to say it, but it’s important that the primary teacher/preacher of any church dedicate much time for prayer and preparation for preaching. I am thankful that I had a pastor that took these priorities seriously, and I am here because of him. I have seen many pastors who didn’t take ample time for these most important duties and their churches suffered: they were weakened and sometimes divided as the Gospel was not pre-eminent. I have also seen churches drift away from sound doctrine when the Word was not central. It is a shame, and both the pastors and their churches are to blame. My doctoral dissertation makes the case that sincere and relevant biblical proclamation is the hope for the church in postmodern America. All churches need praying, Word-preaching pastors.
So the Jerusalem church affirmed the idea, and chose seven men who all had Greek (rather than Hebrew) names, indicating they were probably Hellenists, and Luke wants us to know that one of them was not even racially Jewish! That brought some diversity to the leadership. What was the result of this organizational move? "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 6:7). Wow! We've seen "added," and "multiplied," and now "multiplied greatly!" Christ’s church just keeps reaching more people—including some Jewish priests! God’s Word is powerful! Don’t you want to be a part of a church like that? 

I think we can if our churches recognize three priorities:

1. The ministry of the Word is important. 
For my part (and any pastors who preach), it takes dedicated prayer and preparation. This takes time (and discipline to set aside ample time) for these purposes. I have seen various surveys that show that the average pastor spends as little as 6 minutes a week in prayer. There’s your answer to the question, “Why are so many churches dying?” A prayerless pastor is powerless. I have also known pastors who brag that they need only two or three hours to prepare a sermon. I had a pastor friend who told me proudly that he only needed to prepare for 30 minutes! I would rue the day I stood to proclaim God's Word so unprepared. I actually have nightmares of standing up and not being prepared! Seriously, I ask the people of Providence to hold me accountable to do my job well. I ask them to pray for me, and to never let me (or anyone else who may have my job) take this lightly by cutting corners, compromising doctrinally, diminishing the Gospel, or being out-of-touch. If I do, they should replace me. 
For your part, make hearing the Word a priority, hear with your heart what God is saying to you (not some preacher), and apply what you hear (James 1:22). Even if the sermon isn't as polished or interesting or inspiring or in-depth or even accurate as you would like, God can still speak. I visited about 10 churches this past summer and got something out of every sermon I heard. Sometimes the problem is the receiver not the quarterback.

2. Choosing good leaders is important. Five tips from the passage we just read: 
  • We must organize to meet people’s needs and ministry priorities. 
  • We must insist on character qualifications first. 
  • We should choose leaders with a process that includes every member’s voice. 
  • We must encourage diversity in leadership (e.g. race, age, and religious background).
  • We must intentionally grow disciples to lead God’s growing church.

3. Quantitative growth is important, but quality is more! 
In fact, quantitative growth won’t happen (or happen sustainably) if we are not growing people spiritually. Yes, quality is more important than quantity BECAUSE QUALITY (making disciples) RESULTS IN QUANTITY. A church might be able to grow numerically for a while, but without quality, it will not last. That’s the main reason the bigger-is-better, numerical-growth-at-all-costs, mega-church model often fails. The charismatic lead pastor will leave or die or fail morally. The big show on Sunday services will eventually lose it’s wow factor. Eventually the breadth will require depth. So let’s make disciples. That starts with you. Are you a disciple? Have you followed Jesus? Are you being changed by Jesus (that means growing—are you closer to Jesus—more like Jesus than you were a year ago)? Are you on mission with Jesus? That means you’re praying and seeking to be used by God to influence others. IS THAT YOU? If that’s not you, it can be. I pray it will be. Will you ask God to make you a disciple? See, Disciples make disciples. Disciple-making churches plant churches. Don’t be an attender. Don’t be a fan. Be a DISCIPLE. World conquest will be the result!

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