As we journey through the Season of Easter, the Narrative Lectionary moves now from the Gospel of Luke, to the Acts of the Apostles. Skipping the Pentecost story for the time being (to read it on Pentecost Sunday), we are thrust into a conflict brewing in the early church at Jerusalem. There are two groups gathered together here, divided by language and perhaps culture. The “Hebrews” here were the natives, who spoke in Aramaic and read (or heard) the Scriptures in Hebrew. The “Hellenists” were the Greek-speakers, likely Jews who had returned to Jerusalem from the diaspora, who read (or heard) the Scriptures in Greek. You would never believe a church could have factions that didn’t get along well, right? Right.
It sounds to me as though the apostles were trying to do it all in this fledgling Christian community, and not doing a great job of it. They had been called to proclaim the good news of Jesus’ resurrection, the kingdom of God come near, and they have somehow gotten wrapped up in the daily workings of the community. So, what did the apostles do? They delegated. They asked the community to discern qualified leaders from among themselves and nominate them. The community helped its own members discern their gifts and empowered them to use those gifts to the glory of God and the benefit of the community. The community, with the leadership of the apostles, “called” gifted individuals to a new vocation.
Sometimes, we can get focused on faith formation as a program our congregations do for our members. Whether we are looking at Christian education, worship, or some other part of faith formation, we can look at our target audience, as just that, an audience or consumers of faith formation. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a class with a teacher or worship service with a leader. But, we sometimes can forget that discerning and empowering people to lead in some way is an important part of faith formation. We shouldn’t ask people to volunteer just to get a certain job done or ministry run, but work to help people discern their gifts and connect them with an opportunity that will allow them to grow in their faith as they work in one of their vocations. And, this should not be limited just to adults. Youth and even elementary-aged kids can be involved in some sort of work or leadership, and will often be very excited about it! Think about all of the different ministries of your congregation, what types of skills can kids, youth, and/or adults bring to them?
A further point (so as not to ignore Stephen in our reading), is that vocations should be empowering, but not limiting. Structures and organization are wonderful and important things for our congregations, but we cannot forget that the Holy Spirit is wild and not tame. Shortly after the seven “deacons” are selected to help with the running of the community, we read stories of two of them doing things far beyond their job descriptions: Stephen preaching to the Jewish council and Philip spreading the good news to the Ethiopian eunuch (and baptizing him)! So, empower your congregation to serve with their gifts, but then stand back and watch the Holy Spirit at work, doing a new thing!
This week’s FREE resource is a “Worship Connection” activity from our middle and high school curriculum, Living the Word: Youth, which includes weekly lessons following the texts of the Narrative Lectionary and can be used in a youth Sunday school, confirmation class, or youth group. Each lesson covers a wide variety of learning and teaching styles, with standard components like Hands On, Mixed Media, Competitive Edge, and Worship Connection, as additional activities to the base Bible study.
-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)