Sustainable Impact

In the book of Acts, the church was impacting people and growing rapidly as a result. The disciples were facing persecution outside the church, but inside, things were wonderful…They were turning the world upside down, and the future was bright. But then something happened.

In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” Acts 6:1 (NIV)

Suddenly, there is an internal problem. Division and complaining have begun, and at the heart of it is racial tension…

Even today, most everyone likes the idea of impacting a growing number of lives—until people start showing up who don’t look like them or act like them. It’s all good until they find themselves sitting next to someone who doesn’t use deodorant. Or “that family,” the one with kids who run wild in the hallways, starts coming every week…Or people start coming who don’t have anything to give, but have a long list of needs…

Back when the disciples were in the upper room praying, they didn’t have to worry about foreigners and Gentiles…But once the church started growing, a number of Gentiles and Hellenistic Jews were converting and relocating in Jerusalem.

This led to silos. Camps. Division. Racial Tension. Things were getting messy….

Another kind of messiness happens when a church is having impact. The systems, structures, and processes of ministry evolve and change…just as [they] did in Acts 6.

So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.’” Acts 6:2-4 (NIV)

The solution the disciples proposed for delegating the responsibility of serving food makes sense to us because we assume that serving food back then was the same as serving food today…anyone can pass out food and clean up tables. But there is a historical nuance that makes their solution radical.

It was customary for the leaders to collect money and food for benevolence and then to oversee the distribution. Trusted leaders were expected to handle the money and resources…

The solution proposed by the disciples went against religious tradition and cultural expectations. But because the disciples understood the priesthood of believers and had other responsibilities to focus on, they implemented a new and unorthodox process.

When a congregation grows, it requires the church to come up with new ideas, new solutions, new processes, new roles, and new expectations…The temptation is to assume what we are doing and how we are doing it will continue to work. But…an impacting church that is expanding service and reaching more people must think differently and act differently. Its leaders may have to make some decisions that break tradition and expectations…

On top of things being messy and in flux, sustained impact requires risk….

The solution to the growing congregation in Jerusalem required the apostles to empower seven new leaders with positions of responsibility and leadership (Acts 6:5-6). The apostles had to relinquish control and turn responsibility over to people they likely didn’t know, or at least didn’t know well. All seven of these men had Greek names. They were likely foreigners who had not been raised in Jerusalem, and at least one was a Gentile convert…

Being part of an impacting church is an exciting and rewarding adventure. But make no mistake about it…it comes at a cost…Growth is messy and risky. It changes everything, and it requires a divine and human partnership. When a congregation understands this and embraces it, they nurture an environment that is conducive for lasting growth and sustainable impact.

--from Chapter 7 of Dirt Matters: The Foundation for a Healthy, Vibrant, and Effective Congregation

Next week, I will offer some insights from Chapter 8: “Appropriate Change.”