Summary: The church turns problems into opportunities when it meet needs, by mobilizing people, so 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.
Often, churches are 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 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. (ESV)
Somebody’s needs were not getting met. The Hellenists were Greek-speaking Jews, who had adopted some of the Greek and Roman culture. The Hebrews 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 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. (ESV)