Summary: The good news and the bad news is that growth brings people and new people bring different ideas. What do we do in times of conflict? Check out these thoughts from the church in Jerusalem.
Growing pains- they can be a good thing. There’s a saying that goes, “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.” Growing pains can also be bad- after all, they’re a pain. It hurts. As a child growing to maturity, there are a number of times you go through growing pains. Sometimes, those are physical pains. I had a friend named Mark who had a genetic condition that his bones didn’t grow as fast as the rest of him and whenever he’d hit a growth spurt, he was in a great deal of pain, at times missing school as a result. Sometimes, the growing pains are emotional, like watching helplessly as your parents make decisions that are going to impact you for the rest of your life.
The universal church has also experienced growing pains over the centuries since Christ’s ascension. That’s one of the reasons why there are so many denominations. Initially, it was the Catholic/Orthodox split in part over who was the head of the church. Then came the splits involving Lutheran and other Protestant groups. Our own brotherhood of churches began as a restoration to Scriptural authority in the early 1800s.
Individual churches also go through growing pains. Why? Because the church is made up of individual human beings, each with their own ideas of how to go about doing things. It’s not that the ideas are necessarily right or wrong or even one being better than another. They’re just different.
Sometimes these differences are over very important matters that must be addressed, things like Salvation and the Role of the Holy Spirit. Too often though, the disagreements seem to concern more trivial matters such as whether people should sit in pews or chairs, where the flag should be displayed, what color the shingles need to be on the roof. I’ve even heard of one church that put red shingles on one side and green shingles on the other because they couldn’t agree. People chose their seats based on which color shingle under which they’d be sitting. This is nothing new. The Bible includes an incident between Paul and Barnabas in which they couldn’t agree about including Mark in their travels and ended up parting ways. Too often, these disagreements are allowed to go too far, resulting in division and splits.
How do we make it through the growing pains without causing division and bringing about a church split? This week’s passage gives a great example. Read Acts 6:1-7.
I have some good news and I have some bad news- which would you like to hear first? The good news is that growth means there are new people at church. The bad news is that growth means there are new people at church. Yes, it’s really both, it all depends on your perspective. When we view this as good news, we recognize that as we follow God’s lead, He is the one who provides the growth. This means that we gain new friends, better yet- brothers and sisters in Christ. This means there are more people to grow deeper through faith. This means there are more people to grow closer through fellowship. This means there are more people to grow stronger through service.
When we choose to view this as bad news, it’s often because we don’t like change, people rarely do. We get comfortable with how things are. Humans tend to be creatures of habit. This happens in churches of all sizes and often results in our younger people being unwilling to invite friends to join them in worship. We forget our purpose- to seek and save the lost and develop a country club atmosphere, saving the benefits for those who already belong. You see, as God provides growth, some of the people He brings will be different from us. This difference may be as superficial as skin color, cultural upbringing, or previous religious experience. The scariest differences that may come are the people who bring different ideas or opinions. As we grow, we will be stretched, we will be challenged, we will be forced to leave our comfort zone.
Such is the good news/bad news problem of the early church in Acts. God was adding to their number daily, but the people weren’t all the same. Some had a Hebrew background while others came from a Greek background. This difference shaped how the different groups went about their day and resulted in the Greek widows being overlooked. Now, I don’t think this was an intentional oversight, but it is a good reminder to us to be looking out for new people. What are the things we take for granted on Sunday morning that we might need to explain so visitors will understand what is going on?
This was a problem that was becoming a distraction from the ministry of the apostles. You see, ministry is meant to be holistic- meeting both spiritual and physical needs, but we as individuals are not each gifted to do all things. This is why Paul writes that there are different parts of the body, each with its own function. The Apostles needed to focus on spreading the word of God, others were needed to care for the widows’ needs.