Good morning, Raintree.
We’re in the middle of the Be the Church series, and the word of the day is organization. It may seem odd to have a message on organization in this series, because there are bigger issues for the church. But where we are right now, moving forward, I think this is especially important. Organization can greatly propel ministry forward and more importantly the spread of the Gospel.
Sometimes we see the organizational or administrative side of church as less spiritual, somehow unimportant. Sometimes I’m tempted to think that we’re just supposed to get together and enjoy each other, read the Bible, and God will take care of all the details. In fact, I’ve kind-of been saying that over the last few weeks, right? Well, for clarity, it’s true that there are only a few things we’re really to be doing as a church and it’s simple in that sense, BUT to do those few things well, we must be organized. The early church was organized; God used people to administrate and lead.
Turn with me to Acts chapter 6. This is where the apostles’ respond to the very first problem in organization of the church in Jerusalem, or at least the first problem like this that Luke records. I think we can learn a lot about how we should respond to organizational problems that come, because they will come.
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. 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.
So, this early church is still growing, like bigtime. Throughout Acts, about 10 times, Luke takes the time to say that the church continued to increase and people were being saved. It’s spreading even to Greek-speaking Jews, which, as we’ll see next week, will frustrate the Jewish leadership to the point where they kill Stephen.
Inevitably, both by accidental and by choice, problems arise in the church, right? Particularly, if we grow as a church, slowly but surely, there will be more people with more opinions with more sin. Sometimes the inevitability of bigger churches bringing more, or perhaps different, problems causes some to hate the idea of churches growing. Now, it’s not about numbers. That’s true, but you can take that truth farther than appropriate and not like the idea of a larger church than we have. “I don’t want the church to grow; I like our size.” Well, the NT church was growing because the Word of God was moving, and the Holy Spirit was changing lives. Surely, we want that to happen. Surely we want to reach our neighbors with the Gospel. I mean, we’re going to have problems in the church whether we grow or not.
In Acts 6, the problem is not a false teacher. It’s not a moral failure, at least from what we can tell. It’s an organizational issue! In the midst of the growth of the church in Jerusalem, Christian widows were also moving to Jerusalem from the Diaspora, in other words, they had fled Jerusalem due to persecution. Now, they were increasingly coming back to Jerusalem, to spend the rest of their days there, because they needed to be cared for because their husbands had died.
Now Hellenists were Greek-speaking Jews, the Hebrews were native Palestinians, whose primary language was Aramaic, and so they weren’t as fluent in Greek. So, most likely, this was a language issue. Could there have been some discrimination or even racism here? Maybe, but it doesn’t say anything about that, so I think it’s more likely that this was just unintentional.
So how did this complaint arise? Well, the gist here is that there were murmurings, grumblings. “Have you heard? Our widows are being ignored and not cared for. Those apostles, they don’t really care about outsiders, they just care about the local people. I thought we were all brothers and sisters in Christ.” That kind of talk probably started happening, INSTEAD of just going to the apostles. But eventually it did make its way around to the apostles.
So, how did the Leadership respond? Three ways they responded, first…
- They cared.
They didn’t ignore the issue. They didn’t pretend they hadn’t heard it. They didn’t delete the voicemail and pretend they hadn’t received it. They didn’t say, well, let’s just pray about it for a few weeks, and see what God does, see if it kind-of just works out on its own No! They cared; they wanted to fix it! How do we know this? Because they did something. They brought the entirety of the disciples together to deal with the issue. I love the openness, the honesty. Hey, let’s fix this.
When one of the most basic things the biblical church is to be doing isn’t happening, something must be done. We must move, change, adapt, delegate, do something. If we care, as a church, to do what God has called us to do, we will do it. The second way the apostles responded:
- They kept their priorities intact.
What was the very first thing they said to all the church when they brought them together? “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.” Now when you first hear that, it may sound a bit condescending or elitist. It is not right for us to give up preaching the Word of God to serve tables. “Ugh; we’re too good for that.” Sounds a bit like they think that’s below them, but it’s not that way in the Greek. There’s no implication that this was a lower job at all, it just wasn’t the primary role to which the apostles were called. They were called to be devoted to the Word, and to pray, and this particular issue within the organizational side of the church, apparently, was starting to distract them from this main calling.
The funny part about this is that it seems, with the way that they said this, “It is not right”, it seems a bit defensive, like somebody had pointed out that they, the apostles, should take care of this. They should jump in and do this. They, being our primary leaders, should make sure that this happens, they should do it themselves! But, even in the midst of pressure, even in the midst of a real need, they kept their priorities intact: the Word and prayer. If our priorities changed with every problem that came, the leadership would be incredibly inconsistent in their leadership!
You know, a major part of my job, as a pastor, is to be a theologian. In leading this church, the elders, are to guide and protect the truth. I’m to study, learn, really present to you truth that I know is truth on Sundays, in small groups, in counseling, and even in just spending time with you. I’m to answer questions, and help guide you to the truth. Preaching, teaching, praying for you takes time. Some of you have asked me how I’m so good with names. Honestly, it’s not because I’m naturally good with names, at all. You ask Lauryn how good of a memory I have; she’ll tell you the truth. It’s not because I have a good memory; it’s because I care. I want to know you, and I want to take seriously the call to pray for you. In praying for you, I remember your faces. The elders, especially in the future, are going to pray for you, a lot.
Now, obviously, praying isn’t only our jobs, as elders, right? We’re all to be praying. We’re all to be sharing the truth, and be devoted to the Word, but even more so, particularly so, the elders are to be devoted to this.
But, it’s easy, in the midst of everything going on, especially with changes coming in January, and problems eventually coming up, it’s easy to say, we’ll, I can pray anytime, I’ll just jump in there immediately and fix it all myself. If I’m just transparent with you, that’s my tendency. I want to jump in, do it all myself. But, what might happen if I do that? I could neglect my time in the Word, and praying for the flock and for myself.
You may wonder, is it really all about the Word and prayer though? Is that really all that important? Does that really take priority over everything? Yes! Have you noticed what has spread throughout all of Jerusalem and beyond? Have you noticed how people have become saved throughout Acts?
- 6:7- the word of God kept on spreading, the Word’s influence kept moving and spreading, reaching Jewish priests! Did you catch that from verse 7 that we read?! MANY of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith!
What is happening? What is the POWER behind all of the this? The Holy Spirit! Acts 1:8- “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses.” The Holy Spirit is the power behind all of this. But what is the tool being used for this power? The Word of God! Again, vs. 7 of today’s text, “The Word of God kept spreading.” The Holy Spirit transforms people through the Word of God!
If we get together and just have a good time, or I give you some neat, creative things I’m thinking or wanting to do, we might be trusting the Holy Spirit to move, but we’re ignoring the very tool through which he moves! That’s why, when we gather on Sundays, I’m not even going to pick a random text that would be meaningful for your life this week. This is a conviction very specific to my heart, but I believe in going through books of the Bible, primarily, because it forces me not to pick and choose what to talk about, what to emphasize, but it simply puts the ball in God’s court, saying YOU move, YOU speak, yes, use me, use the elders and other teachers, but we’re going to LET THE WORD SPEAK FOR ITSELF, because that’s the where the power is. The Holy Spirit changes lives through the Word of God. Even with this series, I didn’t plan on going through a major portion of Acts. I had my series put together based on what I thought was best for the church, jumping from text to text. There’s not anything necessarily wrong with that, but when we got into Acts, I didn’t want to leave. I feel that the Holy Spirit is moving through the Word of God, letting it speak for itself, and as much as possible, me just getting out of the way!
This is our first priority as your leaders. I promise you, from this point forward, to be in the Word so as to be able to guide you effectively, through His Word by the power of the Spirit, and I promise to pray for you every day, name by name. I hope you will support me in that endeavor, even when it means occasionally delaying in doing other things.
Yes, the apostles cared, while also keeping their priorities intact, the Word of God and prayer. The last way that they responded…
- They empowered the people to lead.
They empowered OTHERS. Verse 3: “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.” They empowered the people!
The leadership is called to equip YOU for the work of the ministry. That’s Ephesians 4:11-12- “He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, for what?” To do all the ministry? No! Vs. 12: “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ.”
Am I, as your pastor, to do ministry? Yes, but that’s mainly because I’m a Christian and am part of the Body. In one sense, funny enough, I am called to ministry no more than any of you, even though I’m your Lead Pastor. Now, I’m to be a model of ministry, and be above reproach, and serve the people, but the main way I do that is by leading and equipping and empowering YOU for the ministry.
That’s going to be a distinctive about Raintree. While we may very well hire more staff one day if we grow, let me just be clear: we will never hire more staff so that they can do all the ministry, or even most of the ministry. Current staff and leaders, and future leaders, their jobs, will be to administrate, organize, and guide the flock in ministering. We want to empower you, like the apostles empowered these 7 for this work.
And I do want us to take note of the fact that while they delegated these responsibilities, and “appointed” them, it seems as if they did not micro-manage them. They set them before the apostles, prayed for them, and laid hands on them. It was a commissioning to service! To leadership! To being empowered! To running with it! To visioning on how to fulfill that ministry! Sure, we may guide and give expectations, but we truly do want those serving to go for it!
I love what happened when they empowered the people while keeping priorities intact, even in the midst of problems, vs. 7: “The word of God continued to increase (meaning its influence and audience increased), and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of even the priests, Jewish priests in the capital of Judaism, Jerusalem, became obedient to the faith.”
It’s remarkable how much administration and organization matters, and will matter more and more when we start to grow, slowly but surely grow, as we are obedient to the Great Commission.
This is why we’re presenting today, right now the future of Raintree, Raintree 2016. You can see in your bulletins, if you open them up, on the far right, our mission: Guiding people to a Christ-centered identity and influence. The beauty of this, is that it’s not new. Raintree has always and will always be Christ-centered; we’re just articulating what we’re all about with this mission statement. Both in our identities and our influences, both inside of our hearts and in our spheres of influence our goal, as individuals as well as a church, is to be Christ-centered.
Because organization matters, we also want to lay out how someone goes from visiting to belonging at Raintree. This isn’t just for guests, but for members as well. There are members of every church who may not feel like they belong. Our plan for helping with that is three fold, and these we’re calling our Next Steps.
- Covenant Membership, 2. Groups, 3. Service. Instead of telling every new person that comes in our doors the 25 different ways they can get involved, we’re going to, generally, encourage people to jump into our class called “Raintree 101.” 3 weeks, learn about what Raintree is all about, get to know the elders, understand that membership at Raintree really means something, involves love and accountability. We have this exact class starting in three weeks, Sunday mornings, 9:30am, you can email me, Ryan@raintreechurch.com to sign up. Our next step after membership or if you’re already a member, is groups. Our goal is for all members to be in a small group, because that is where you’ll find accountability and really help each other grow. Then, eventually, we hope every single member will serve, which will talk about more in just a minute.
Our new schedule, you can also see right there.
- 9:30am- all ages, anyone can jump in, as I mentioned earlier.
- Wednesday night- all ages. Same thing, we’re hoping to start a good number of adult groups that meet primarily in homes on Wednesday nights, as well as other nights of the week.
- Also other things: women’s groups that meet on Tuesdays, Discipleship Groups, and prayer meeting as well that will be on the schedule, but this is just to give you the main gist of our schedule.
Now, Sunday morning at 10:30, our main worship time, I want you to take note of a change we’re implementing for Children’s Church. Children’s Church, starting in January, will be for Preschool-2nd grade only.
- Why keep 3rd-5th graders?
- More than half of 18 year olds leave the church. I think at least part of this is because they didn’t really become a part of the church. To me, the earlier and more they are in with the whole church, the better this will get.
- We desire for Raintree, during our main gathering time, to be a church for all types, races, and ages of people.
- While they may not absorb much of what I’m teaching up here, the impact will be twofold: 1st. They will learn and know that Big Church is not just for big people.
- We’re going to engage them with children’s bulletins, like the ones you have in your bulletins, that go right along with the text that will be covered in the sermon.
- We’re also going to engage children every single week in one other way, which will be different every week: Children’s Time with the pastor one week, a kids’ worship song the next, things like that.
- We also already have the fellowship hall available in case a particular Sunday your 3rd grader goes crazy, or crazier than normal.
- We want children to grow up fully being a part of our main gatherings, and knowing that Big Church is not just for big people. Also, we think there is potential impact in…
- 2nd Impact: Growing together with the family, your children watching you open the Bible each week, watching you care about what it says, watching you be impacted and even convicted by the Word. The potential impact, long-term.
We’ve presented this to many leaders a month ago, at the Family Meeting 2 weeks ago, and I mailed out to most of you info on this change this week, but if you still have questions or concerns, let me know, particularly if you’re a parent of a 3rd-5th grader.
Now, this may all sound great… But you may be wondering how this will happen…
Serving at Raintree
We have listed every single volunteer position at Raintree (or at least the high high majority of them), in your bulletins under “SERVE”, & at RaintreeChurch.com/serve. If you currently serve, I am officially freeing you from your responsibility starting January 3rd. Over the next few weeks, I want everyone here to sign up for a new service opportunity or two that will start in January. If you are serving already and would like to keep the same spot, you are welcome to, but we want you to sign up by calling the church office, or preferably, at Raintreechurch.com/serve.
Your commitment to serving is for 6 months, through June, then you can signup for either the same spot or a completely new one. We are not going to guilt anyone into serving, nor are we assuming you will serve in that same way for the rest of your life. Every volunteer is required to go to one of the two trainings we’re having in December, one on the 6th and one on the 12th, only an hour and a half long, you can choose whichever one works with your schedule. We want to pump up our volunteer base, introduce several new challenges and expectations for volunteers, and get you excited about serving. Every single volunteer, if you want to volunteer, must go to one of those trainings, or meet with your point person 1-on-1 if you truly cannot make either of those dates.
Certain positions require background checks, which isn’t new. But, certain positions also require you to be a member of Raintree, which is new. Why are we adding this? Well, the reason is because we don’t have real accountability for non-members… There’s no real accountability. And if you’re serving with our children, at least on Sunday mornings, there needs to be real accountability. That may not sit well with some of you, and please, come talk to me if you take issue with that, but I’m hoping you’ll be cool with that, and become a member in December. I know many of you have been here a long time and basically are members, but I’m praying you’d be willing to make it official. Even if it’s mainly so you can serve with our kids on Sunday mornings, I would highly value knowing who, exactly, by name, I’m to give an account for when I die. As your shepherds, we elders will give an account for your soul according to Hebrews 13:17. So, I really want to encourage you to join, or at least talk to me about it!
Our goal for our volunteers is that everyone serve in a weekly capacity, AND a monthly capacity, you can see that all our facilities jobs are monthly, IF we get enough to sign up. With this, we think instead of 30-40 doing 3-5 jobs each, we could have 100 doing 1-2 volunteer positions each.
Our goal is not to have a bigger church, a bigger building, more and more highly talented and hip staff. Our goal is not to provide a nice, comfortable, feel-good, positive atmosphere that you can be a part of each week. Our goal is not to satisfy what you or even I think a church should be, not to do everything we can to accommodate your or my desires. The goal is to see the Word of God and disciples increase. That means your pastors must be dedicated to studying the Word of God and to prayer. I must guard my time, which I’m learning to do in my first two months of being a lead pastor. It means also that we need leaders, lots of them, to step up and be empowered to lead and to serve freely!
We want to be a New Testament church where the Word of God transforms lives and where people are equipped to make disciples, and guess what, that involves organization, and involves ALL of us stepping up and leading.