(ACTS 6)

"I guess we made a bad decision about that, didn't we?"

"What do you mean 'we' made a bad decision? I didn't help make that decision. That was your decision, not our decision."

"Well, I made it for us. I was thinking about you as much as I was thinking about me."

"How could you possibly think that? When did you talk to me about it? When did you ask me anything about it? I didn't know that you were considering that decision. In fact, I didn't know anything about that decision until after you made it."

"But I know you. I know how you think. I care about you. I want the best for you. I was doing what you would want."

"That's the problem. You think that you know what I want without talking to me. I never am asked to share my thoughts. You don't ask for my perspective or my input. Do you really believe that you can read my mind?"

  1. More unnecessary relationship problems are created by poor decision making skills than any other single cause of unnecessary relationship problems.
    1. Typically, people in our society do not know how to make relationship decisions.
      1. Few people know how to approach a decision when it involves than one person.
      2. Too often, one person (with excellent motives) designates himself or herself as being the "right one" to make the decision.
        1. "I'll make it."
        2. "I will make it in your best interest."
        3. "Trust me."
      3. Few people have an approach, a procedure, or a method for making decisions in relationships.
        1. Too few marriages know how to reach "we" decisions.
        2. To few congregations know how to reach "we" decisions.
    2. In past generations, the typical approach to all decisions concerning a congregation often ignored the reality of relationship.
      1. There was a time, and in some congregations that time still exists, when the elders made all decisions regardless of the nature of the decision.
      2. The elders made them in closed meetings; the elders announced them; and the congregation was to accept them without explanation or question.
      3. Certainly, there are decisions that the elders should make alone.
        1. If it is a decision that concerns a specific directive from scripture,
        2. If they possess critical knowledge that the congregation does not have,
        3. If it concerns the specific teachings and instructions of scripture,
        4. They need to make the decision.
      4. But many decisions are not spiritual directives coming from specific instructions of scripture.
        1. Many decisions primarily involve matters of judgment or preference.
        2. Decisions primarily involving matters of judgment always need the congregation's input.
        3. Decisions primarily involving matters of preference always need the congregation's input.
        4. In both matters of judgment and preference, there may or may not be one best decision, but there will always be several good decisions.
        5. Different good decisions will always be based on different perspectives and different preferences.
      5. Decisions of judgment and preference virtually always involve relationship.
        1. These decisions always affect relationships within the congregation.
        2. Commonly, these decisions do not involve a right and a wrong.
        3. Commonly, these decisions involve wisdom and understanding.
    3. In these decisions, elders need to pray fervently that their faith and wisdom will help them avoid a deceptive, destructive trap.
      1. Elders do not verify their authority by making judgment and preference decisions.
      2. They do not verify their authority by imposing control.
      3. Leadership does not justify its existence by demanding that it has control of all decisions.
      4. Leadership does not justify its importance by demanding that it has control of all decisions.
      5. The deceitful, destructive trap is sprung on elders when they feel insecure in their leadership and assert authority by demanding control of all judgment and preference decisions.

  2. The book of Acts gives us a starting view of this type of situation.
    1. First, recall the background of the Jerusalem congregation, the first congregation of baptized believers after Jesus was raised from the dead.
      1. This congregation had an incredible beginning (Acts 2).
      2. The very first day it came into existence it had 3000 members, and it immediately began growing numerically at an incredible rate.
      3. From day one of its existence it was multiethnic in membership.
        1. It began on the day of Pentecost, one of the major Jewish holy days.
        2. That was one of the holy days that Jews made pilgrimages to Jerusalem from all over the Roman empire.
        3. The pilgrims were living in what we would call other countries within the Roman empire, and had been for generations.
        4. They had difference customs, different cultures, and spoke different languages.
        5. To make the situation more complicated, some of the pilgrims were proselytes--they were non-Jewish people who converted to Judaism.
        6. Some of the Jewish pilgrims and some of the proselytes were converted to Jesus Christ that very first day.
      4. Let me illustrate the situation in this way.
        1. Suppose we had a new congregation of 3000 members.
        2. Suppose 1000 of us were visiting Fort Smith from the delta in the deep south, were converted, and decided to stay.
        3. Suppose 1000 of us were visiting Fort Smith from New York City, were converted, and decided to stay.
        4. And suppose that 1000 of us were from Fort Smith; Fort Smith had always been home to our family, and we were converted on the same day the other 2000 were converted.
        5. That would be a challenge, but it would not be nearly as complex as their situation; theirs was more like having a new congregation with converts from Italy, Germany, Mexico, and Fort Smith baptized on the same day.
    2. At first, and for some time, things were incredibly good.
      1. They shared possessions.
      2. They took care of each other.
      3. They shared an incredible spirit and joy in worship.
      4. They ate together in homes.
      5. They sold possessions to acquire funds to care for special needs.
      6. Even when the congregation grew by the thousands, no person in the congregation was in need (Acts 4:34).
    3. As incredible as the congregation was, in time, problems developed.
      1. First, Ananias and Sapphira created a congregational problem (Acts 5:1-11).
        1. They decided to sell a piece of property to help those in need, but they did not want to give the whole amount of the purchase price.
        2. So Ananias brought part of the money to the apostles and presented it as though it was all of the money.
        3. Peter asked him why had he tried to lie to the Holy Spirit?
        4. Peter said, "You did not have to sell the land, and you did not have to give all the money. So why did you lie?"
        5. Ananias immediately died--right there on the spot.
        6. Three hours later Sapphira, his wife, came in and affirmed the lie.
        7. She, too, immediately died--right there on the spot.
        8. Their deaths really shook the congregation--everyone was afraid.
      2. Second, the ethnic differences created an ugly problem (Acts 6:1-6).
        1. The converts who came from other places in the Roman empire accused the converts who lived in Jerusalem and the area of deliberating ignoring and overlooking their widows when the food was distributed each day.
        2. Think about the seriousness and magnitude of that accusation.
          1. The people who sold land and houses and gave the money to care for these folks were the local converts.
          2. The men in charge of seeing that the money was properly spent and the food properly distributed were the apostles.
          3. Talking about a sensitive accusation!
      3. Pay careful attention to how this serious accusation was handled.
        1. First, the apostles did not react when accused.
          1. No, "Do you know who you are talking to?"
          2. No, "Do you know who we are?"
          3. No, "How ungrateful can you get?"
        2. Second, the apostles called the congregation together--considering its size, I don't know how they did it, but it clearly says they did it.
        3. Third, the apostles said, "We do not need this responsibility. We need to be teaching, not distributing food."
        4. Fourth, the apostles said to the congregation, "You need to solve this problem."
          1. "You pick seven men to be in charge of food distribution."
          2. "You select men you have confidence in, you trust, you know will do the job carefully and properly."
        5. Fifth, the apostles set the parameters--they gave the profile or qualifications the seven men must meet; any man who fit the profile and was selected by the congregation was okay.
          1. They must be of good reputation.
          2. They must be full of the Spirit and wisdom.
          3. "You choose them; we will appoint them to the task."
        6. Sixth, the apostles said that they would put these men in charge of this, and they would devote themselves to prayer and teaching.
      4. Notice what happened.
        1. The whole congregation approved of this approach.
        2. They selected seven men--and all seven had Greek names, not Hebrew names, and included one proselyte.
        3. The apostles appointed them by praying and laying hands on them.

A potentially disastrous problem that could have split the first congregation and dealt a major blow to Christianity in its beginning was resolved. It was solved because the congregation made and owned the decision. It was their choice. So they welcomed it. It was not imposed on them; it was owned by them.

And, again, we see the power and the beauty of participatory leadership. The apostles set the parameters. The congregation chose within those parameters.

The apostles had nothing to prove. They did not react to the accusation. They did not regard the matter a control issue. They wanted the congregation to make an extremely important decision. The congregation both made and owned the decision. In this I see an extremely important lesson: congregations accept and own decisions of judgment and preference that they make as a whole congregation.

One of the confusing problems I have encountered is the concept of "they" and "them." Too many say, "They have decided that." Or "They wanted it this way."

At Judgment, you won't say, "That was them." Because it's all us. We are God's people. We all entered His family the same way. We were all forgiven in the same way. We all serve for our own salvation. It is just "us" as His people. When we become a Christian, we are automatically added to His church. I am then personally in relationship to God's family.

We invite you to be a part of the people of God. Then grow in awareness and responsibility toward God and His family. What you have to give matters. Your presence is important.

We don't save -- Jesus does.

We want you to know the joy of salvation and the delight in the forgiveness of sins. We invite you, not because we are great, but because He is great, and we belong to Him.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 26 October 1997
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