Summary: The church can turn its problems into opportunities for growth if it meets needs by mobilizing people so the leaders can maintain the priority of prayer and the word.
Some time ago, wolves were picking off the livestock of ranchers at an alarming rate, so the state offered a bounty of $5,000 for every wolf killed. It turned Sam and Jed into fortune hunters. Day and night they searched the mountains and forests looking for their valuable prey. Exhausted one night, they fell asleep dreaming of their potential fortune. Suddenly, Sam awoke to see that they were surrounded by about 50 wolves with flaming eyes and bared teeth. He nudged his friend and said, “Jed, wake up! We're rich!” (Gary C. Payne, Leadership, Vol.11, no.1)
I like Sam’s attitude. He was surrounded with problems, which he saw as a huge opportunity.
Our church, as well, is surrounded with opportunity, which some might call “problems” or “needs.” The question is: How do we take advantage those needs? How do we address the problems that surround us and turn those problems into opportunities?
Well, the 1st church had a big problem. People’s needs were not being met, and it led to some hard feelings. In fact, the problem threatened to split the church right down the middle, and kill it in its infancy. Only, the church found a way to deal with the problem; and instead of splitting and dying, they grew even bigger and stronger.
Acts 6:1 In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. (NIV)
Somebody’s needs were not getting met. The Grecian Jews were Greek-speaking Jews, who had adopted some of the Greek and Roman culture. The Hebraic Jews were Aramaic-speaking Jews, who would have nothing to do with anything Greek or Roman. So you have two distinct groups of people in the first church, and one side feels neglected. One side feels like the leaders are favoring the other side.
Sound familiar, doesn’t it? Every church experiences this kind of thing at one time or another. The church that Sandy and I attended in Dallas, while we were in seminary, went through this. Five years before we moved there, that church experienced a period of explosive growth. They had a dynamic preacher, who could communicate God’s Word with a relevance that spoke to hearts. The church went from an average monthly attendance of 102 to 191 in 8 months. That’s a 90% increase! (from July of 1976 to March of 1977).
You’d think everybody would be elated, and most were, but there was a group of people who felt neglected. You see, while this pastor was a dynamic communicator, he had a perceived lack in the area of pastoral care. For example, a woman went into the hospital for several days, and nobody visited her the whole time she was there. No pastor showed up to pray with her. No member showed up to cheer her. Nobody sent her a card. She was totally neglected, and the pastor was blamed.
Seminary students, singles and young married people loved him. He made the Word come alive for them. But some of the older people, who had different needs, felt neglected.
The church split over it. The pastor left, and 4 years and 2 pastors later, they were still feeling the ramifications. Average monthly attendance had dropped to 53, and there was talk of closing the church. All because some people felt neglected.
It’s funny, the next pastor was strong in pastoral care and weak in preaching, and the other side began to feel neglected. While we were there (1981-1985), the church recovered – attendance climbed back to about 130, but since then, the church has died and now no longer exists.
In every church where I have served, there have always been some people who feel neglected. The question is: what do we do about it? How do we address the problem when a group of people feel neglected? How do we address the problem and turn it into an opportunity for growth? It’s simple.
MEET THE NEEDS OF PEOPLE.
Take care of their problems. Don’t overlook them. That's what the first church did.
Acts 6:2-6 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, 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.” This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. (NIV)