THE PROPULSION ENGINE OF THE CHURCH by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson
Introduction: This is our final message in our series – NO BENCHWARMERS – designed to encourage and challenge each of you to find a place of service in the church. Today’s message is called – THE PROPULSION ENGINE OF THE CHURCH.
Acts 6 1 Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. 2 Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; 4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
Bridge: I’m not a sailor or a navy expert but from what little I know – every fast moving vessel on water has some kind of a propelling device. Sometimes it is as simple as a paddle wheel and other times it is as complex as a steam, diesel, or gas turbine. Warships and icebreakers even use nuclear reactors to produce this propulsion. How does it all work? The water surrounding the ship keeps it from moving forward and even drags it wherever the current wants it to go. These propellers thrust the water column away from the ship, which produces a reactive force that thrusts the ship forward.
Context: What does all that have to do with the message? The church is also surrounded by a water column – it’s the culture. It keeps the church from going forward and, if it moves, it’s usually by some crisis or problem that pulls the church away from its destination. God has given the church a propulsion engine. When it’s turned on, it creates a velocity against the column so strong that it actually causes a reactive force, a thrust, which moves the church forward. We think the column may sink the church but it’s actually instrumental in helping the propeller move the church forward at a rapid speed. Today we will learn what the propulsion engine of the church is.
Question: What do you believe about the church? Do you think it can move forward? Some people are so used to sinking ships or ghosts ships that they think it’s impossible for the church to move forward. Do you know what the propulsion engine of our church is? In the face of crisis, are you part of the problem or are you part of the solution? Before you can even talk about this engine, you need to be on the ship. Are you saved?
This is a unique message that will challenge you to change what you believe about the church. Instead of standing on the deck and complaining, it’s time you find your place of service. 3 things about the propulsion engine of the church:
I. THE CRISIS COLUMN IN THE CHURCH
1 “Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying…”
Background: Which days is Luke referring to? He’s referring to the earliest days of the church, maybe within the first 5 years or so after the Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in all His power and the Jerusalem church began to grow rapidly. Thousands got saved, miracles began happening, and the people were in one accord. Awesome isn’t?! Then it happened.“…there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists…” Who were the Hebrews and who were the Hellenists? The Hebrews were the local Aramaic-speaking Jewish Christians. Their ancestors either never left during the exile or they came back when Cyrus set them free and resettled in their homes. They had been living in Jerusalem for hundreds of years. The Hellenists were those Jewish people whose ancestors did not come back immediately after the exile. They settled wherever they were – Babylon, Persia, Egypt, Macedonia, etc. Maybe because of persecution or longing to be back in their ancestral homeland, they returned. Since they grew up outside Israel they had different ways of doing things – food, clothing, and traditions. Even their language was different. They mostly spoke Greek, not Hebrew or Aramaic like the Hebrews. Ethnically, they were Jewish but culturally, they were Greeks. But here’s the beautiful thing – in spite of the differences, both the Hebrews and the Hellenists were together as one church. Isn’t that wonderful?! That’s how the church should be – different people serving the same Christ together.
But there was a problem: “…there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.” What’s going on here? In Jewish society widows and orphans were first the responsibility of their own family and, if they didn’t have any family, then they were the responsibility of the community. As I mentioned, the Greek-speaking widows were part of those families that had moved to the Holy Land, Jerusalem, in their twilight years to die. Most of the time the men were the first to die and their wives did not have the support system they did back in their original home. Unlike the Hebrew widows, they were at the mercy of the synagogue or the local community. Maybe because of their high numbers or the language barrier or just oversight, the Greek-speaking widows felt overlooked. So what did these ladies do? They began to complain.
Ladies – Let me say a few things here: God has blessed you with certain abilities. One of them is observation or intuition. You can detect problems much faster than we men can. Sometimes we are too dense to notice. Another gift you have is empathy. You can feel the pain of others much better than we can. We have a one-track mind and many times we can be insensitive. But unless you filter your observation, intuition, and empathy through a sense of discernment, spiritual maturity, and self-control, you can cause great damage. Say for example, you see something wrong at church. What do you do? You can exercise discernment and overlook what doesn’t matter or have spiritual maturity and pray over the situation or just have self-control and say nothing. Unfortunately, what happens is this – you get home all upset and uptight. Your husband says – “What’s wrong?” “Nothing.” “Something’s wrong.” Now you unload. Guess what he tells you to do – “Just quit.” It’s a typical male response. “No! I don’t want to quit. You need to do something.” Depending on how much you fire him up or his personality, now he’s going to do something. By the way, this is a major reason why men don’t go to church or get involved at church. They don’t want to get caught up in some drama.
Please don’t misunderstand me – if it weren’t for the ladies, can you imagine what this place would look like? We men would not care about each other’s feelings and finally blow up this whole place. We need both men and women. Even Jesus had a group of ladies who assisted Him in His ministry. But, in this passage, the unity and survival of the first church was threatened because a group of widow ladies started complaining.
By the way, this passage has brought me a lot of hope through the years. If the early church – men and women who had been with Jesus, seen Him crucified and resurrected, received the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, witnessed miracles every day – had problems, there’s hope for us. I used to get so discouraged in the early years when the church would have a problem and then I realized that it’s part of being a growing church.
Application: Do you see a problem? It’s normal. The question is – how should we handle that problem? Are you part of the problem or are you part of the solution?
II. THE PROPULSION ENGINE OF THE CHURCH
2 “Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples…”
Background: As the spiritual leaders of the congregation, they did not say – “We’re just preachers. We don’t do administration. This is beyond our expertise.” They took charge of the situation. This is the biblical model we follow at Clearview. As the pastor, I’m not here just to preach and visit. It’s also my responsibility to lead the administration and the management of this church. Let me clarify, I have wonderful help, especially in the financial management of the church. We have some very capable leaders that I trust with my life but I am called to lead. This is biblical. So, the twelve took charge but please don’t misunderstand – they weren’t the propulsion engine of the church.
“Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said…” “Let’s call a business meeting.” “Let’s take a vote.” Is that what they said? No. There’s a reason that small churches remain small. They are operating by an unbiblical idea that the church is a democracy where everyone has a say. Imagine if Moses had taken a vote – “How many of y’all want to leave Egypt?” Please don’t misunderstand – there’s a big difference between leading the sheep and driving the sheep, between bringing people along versus telling them what to do. The twelve did not order the people nor turn things over for them to decide because the congregation is not the propulsion engine of the church.
Listen to what they said – “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.” They were not saying that waiting on the Greek-speaking widows was beneath them. They were not saying that visiting people in need was not important. They were saying – We already have too much on our plates. We need help. Verse 3 Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.” Meaning: We need godly leaders from the Greek-speaking group to step up and help out. 5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. Their Greek names indicate that they were part of the Greek-speaking Jewish Christian group. Here’s a question: Why didn’t they see the needs of their widows? Why didn’t they do something about them already?
Question: Which ministry do you see struggling at Clearview? Is it affecting you? Why aren’t you doing something about it? “I guess I just won’t say nothing.” That’s not the point. You can be a part of the solution. Having said that, these seven were not the propulsion engine of the church.
So what is? Go back to verse 4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” There’s your propulsion engine of the church – Prayer and Preaching and Teaching of the Bible. These propel the church forward. The propeller is not the goal. Prayer and Preaching and Teaching are not the goals of Clearview. They simply move the church forward. I’m blessed to pastor a church that understands this.
Application: Do you finally understand what moves this church? What are you doing to help this propulsion?
III. THE FORWARD THRUST OF THE CHURCH
Stephen’s stoning and Paul
Philip and the Ethiopian ruler
7 “Then the word of God spread…” Meaning: The propeller of prayer and preaching and teaching of the Bible started spinning again. “…and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem…” Meaning: The column of crisis did not sink the ship but actually helped the ship to move forward with even more speed. But there’s more – “and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.” There were as many as 8000 priests and 10,000 Levites in Palestine at the time. The temple was being run by crooks and they were not being used. They were barely surviving. But when they heard that the church was doing what the temple was supposed to do, they came to Christ and started helping the church. Crisis and problems are not the end. They are instrumental to propel the church forward.
But it’s not over yet. Remember the first two men they chose from the Greek-speaking Jewish group? The first one was Stephen. 8 And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. How did the opposition deal with him? They cast him outside the city to stone him and the young man watching their clothes was Saul, who later became Paul. How about the second one, Philip? He led the Ethiopian ruler to Christ. He opened the door for the gentiles, all of us, to come in.
Application: What are you doing to move the ship forward? Are you saved