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What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

13 Sep

It has been said that the only constant in life is change. That has certainly been the case in my family.

My great grandparents, the Skows, emigrated from Denmark and settled in Illinois. My grandmother, Carrie, was born shortly after they arrived. She came to eastern Colorado in a covered wagon around 1907-08. She homesteaded in a soddy, or sod house, in Flagler, Colorado, a thriving metropolis of 500+ people. My mother was a teenager in Flagler during the dustbowl of the 1930’s. By the time I was born, my parents lived in Denver. When I was 10 years old, our family moved to SoCal.

My grandparents on both sides were farmers. My parents were blue collar workers. Mom was a bookkeeper and dad was a school custodian. I am in ministry. In three generations, my family went from agricultural to industrial to informational.

The only constant in life is change. Another truism is that what got you here won’t get you there. You must change and adapt in each season of life or you get left behind.

What is true of individuals is also true of churches. Churches must adapt to meet the changing needs of people. Acts 6:1-7 presents a case study of the growing pains of the early church. As people came to faith in Christ, new challenges arose. In order to meet the needs, the leaders needed to adapt their structure. Rather than try to do everything themselves, they needed to enlist the help of other servants. In so doing, the apostles laid the groundwork for the introduction of deacons and later deaconesses to aid the elders in caring for the local church.

Philippians 1:1 states that there are two offices in the local church—overseers or elders, and deacons. 1 Timothy 3 adds a third group, deaconesses. All are chosen on the basis of character qualities (1 Timothy 3:1-13). The elders are tasked with leading the church while the deacons and deaconesses are to serve the church. The elders shepherd the flock—feeding, leading, protecting, caring, and modeling for the church. The deacons and deaconesses adapt to meet the changing needs of the body. The elders have a fixed job description while the deacons and deaconesses have a flexible one.

 

Elders

Deacons

Deaconesses

Selection criteria

Character qualities

1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9

Character qualities

1 Timothy 3:8-10, 12‑13

Character qualities

1 Timothy 3:11

Task

Lead the church Serve the church

Serve the church

Job description Shepherd the flock: Feed, lead, protect, care, model Christlikeness

Acts 20:28-30; James 5:13-16; 1 Peter 5:1-4

Meet the need of the moment

Acts 6:1-6

Meet the need of the moment

Romans 16:1-2

Fixed

Flexible

Flexible

Acts 6:1-7 suggests several principles churches can employ to meet the changing needs of the body:

Growth brings changes, complaints, and challenges (1). A growing church will face numerous changes—increased numbers, different needs, racial issues, maturity problems, to name just a few. However, just because a complaint arises doesn’t mean there are problems. It could mean that the enemy is trying to nudge the leaders off center.

Leaders must establish and maintain clear priorities (2, 4). While the apostles recognized that caring for widows was a legitimate issue, they rightly understood it was not one they needed to handle directly. It could be delegated to a group of deacons. Leaders must always wrestle with what could be done versus what must be done.

The church must adapt to meet changing needs (1, 3). When you are a group of 120 in an upper room (Acts 1), you don’t need much structure. When you number several thousand people (Acts 6), no one group of leaders can do everything. The leaders need assistants. What got you here won’t get you there. You have to adapt.

Leaders practice delegation and involve others in serving (3, 5). This passage is a classic example of delegating up—“WE have a problem that YOU should fix.” The apostles proposed a solution but allowed the congregation to make the decision and implement it.

Servants are chosen on the basis of their character (3, 5). The first group of deacons/servants was full of the Spirit, wisdom, faith, and a good reputation. Today’s deacons and deaconesses should not be any less (1 Timothy 3:8-13).

The result is that the church moved forward (5-7). Unity was maintained, needs were met, and the church continued to grow.

When the task is complete, servants move on to the next one. Deacons and deaconesses were not intended to spend their time in board meetings. They are task oriented and flexible. It is interesting to note that Stephen went from waiting on tables (Acts 6:1-7) to a ministry of preaching (6:8-15), and Phillip moved on to an evangelistic enterprise in at least two different locations (8:5-8, 26-40).

Applying this passage to a modern day church, I believe we can support the following conclusion. When elders, deacons, and deaconesses serve well in their respective roles, priorities are maintained; needs are met; unity is preserved; evangelism is fruitful; the church grows; and God is honored.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church on September 13, 2015. It is given on the day when we commissioned a new group of elders, deacons, and deaconesses. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

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