Challenges in serving God.
By: Ysrael De la Cruz
The church of Jesus Christ has faced huge challenges throughout it existence and will continue to face challenges until Jesus comes back again. Serving God is not without challenges and difficulties. Jesus said we will have trouble (tribulations) in this world. But he also said that the gates of Hades will not overcome his church. The church has faced external and internal challenges since the day it began through the preaching of the apostles. As followers of Jesus, we battle against difficulties, obstacles on our way to accomplishing Christ’s mission in this world. These challenges come to distract us from our mission; they come to make us quit running the race. Growing in Christ won’t be without struggles.
We can certainly learn how to handle any challenge or difficulty when we examine how the first century church handled her own challenges.
When the church began by the preaching of the apostles; It was primarily Jewish, but it didn’t take long for it to become more diverse. Satan began to attack the church through severe persecution. However, this didn’t stop the gospel; the believers continued to be strong in their faith amid persecution and their number continued to increase. Satan could not stop the growth of the church through outside influence. Then Satan’s strategy changed; he began to attack the church from the inside. Growth is great, but with much growth comes great challenges as well. In chapter 6 Satan tried to distract the apostles from their main mission.
In those days when the number of disciples was increasing. More growth was taking place. This was a great thing happening. But the enemy doesn’t like this, so he would use anything to stop you. (More people to deal with, more personality issues, cultural issues and so on).
Right when the church experienced such growth (a problem arose). The problem: a complaint from the Grecian Jews (Hellenistic Jews). Their widows were being overlooked or neglected in the daily distribution of food. Picture this scenario: people complaining that others were being shown special favor in the distribution. This ministry functioned well before, as we are informed in chapter 4 that there was also distribution of funds (there was no needy people among them); the first Christians cared for their needs by sharing and distributing goods. (Acts 4:34). So, this distribution of goods took place before and there wasn’t a problem. But it was a problem now. It was a big issue for it could have become racial and had the potential to split the church. This issue needed the attention of the apostles before it would escalate.
The apostles were the shepherds of the church. They were responsible for the spiritual health of this new community. As church leaders, they needed to move into action to resolve this conflict.
Handling the problem: (v.2)
The apostles called the church (the disciples) together.
The apostles recognized the severity of the issue. It would also distract them from the main mission.
“It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. (It is not right that we give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.” (ESV) “We apostles should spend our time teaching the word of God, not running a food program. (NLT)
First, the apostles identified their main priority. The preaching and teaching of God’s word. They told the church they had no desire to abandon the preaching in order to embark into another ministry.
This was their main priority: In a Christ-centered church the preaching and teaching of God’s word must be the main priority. Everything else comes after that.
Without the proclamation and teaching of God’s words disciples are not developed.
The suggestion to handle the ministry: (v.3)
Choose seven men from among you: men of good reputation (Good testimony) (known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. Being full of the Spirit and being wise are evident qualities in a person.
These men were to handle or to manage this task (We will turn this responsibility over to them (v.3)). These seven men will oversee the ministry of distribution of food. (Food pantry ministry).
The apostles would give their attention to prayer and the preaching of the word. (v.4) We will attend constantly or persist in prayer and the preaching of the gospel.
This was approved by the church, and they selected seven men to take care of the ministry of food distribution. Stephen: (a man full of the Holy Spirit), Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas from Antioch a convert to Judaism.
These men were presented to the apostles who prayed and laid their hands on them. (v.6)
The apostles prayed for these ministry leaders and their ministry. Everyone in the church knew who was overseeing the food distribution ministry. Any complaint would arise, and they will go to any of the seven selected to handle this ministry.
The outcome of the apostles’ decision? (7)
God rewarded their faithfulness and decision:
The word of God continued to spread (to be taught and preached); more people were becoming disciples, even some Jewish priests received the gospel of Jesus. More growth and new challenges would come ahead.
When it comes to facing challenges as a church, we must learn like the first Christians did.
Regardless of any problem or issue we face as a church; we must never neglect Christ’s mission: to reach the lost; to make disciples of all nations through the preaching of his word. Christ’s mission must be the church’s main priority. No matter how many ministries a church may have, if the preaching and teaching of God’s word is not the main priority then I doubt that true disciples are being developed.
Leaders should empower others to serve and not overwhelm themselves with every ministry. The apostles handed the food distribution to seven men selected by the church. They were responsible for that.
God rewards faithfulness. The apostles remained faithful to the task of preaching and teaching God’s word. they did not let this issue distract them from their mission. God continued to bless them by bringing more people into the community.
Jesus has said, when you are faithful in a few things, God puts you in charge o many more things. If you handle the small things, God brings you big things to handle. If you don’t know how to manage the small, then you won’t be able to manage the big
Some ministries exist only for a time.
A church may have a great number of ministries or services. (praise and worship, teaching ministries, financial ministry, homeless ministry, recovery ministry, jail ministry, outreach ministry, cleaning ministry, building maintenance , food pantry, missions ministry, and so forth). But not all the ministries would last forever in a church. Sometimes God may call you to a different ministry.
Sometimes people who begin a ministry die or moved and there is not one else to carry it; they come to an end. and it’s ok.
The ministry of food distribution lasted until the severe persecution broke out and people had to be mobilized. Stephen was murdered, Philip and the rest had to leave. Those who stayed in Jerusalem were arrested (Acts 8). God allowed this to happen to mobilize the church from becoming inwardly focused. The food distribution ministry was just caring for the needs of those in the church. They had a great system going on, a great fellowship and God reminded them that though that ministry is important, it was not the mission of the church to run a food program, but to preach the gospel to those who are lost. Persecution mobilized the church, and the food ministry came to an end.
But everywhere the disciples of Jesus went, they preached the gospel, and more communities were born in different towns. You see, regardless of the challenges we may face in life in our ministries, Jesus expects us to be faithful to his call of making disciples, his call to reaching those who don’t know him. Everything a church does should fall under the umbrella of reaching the world with the gospel and making people into disciples.
God would use any thing to mobilize his people when they get inwardly focused and neglect to fulfill his mission in the world. Challenges will come and go but we must remain faithful to Christ’s mission.