When Jesus died, eleven of the twelve fled. Their hopes dashed, it felt as if everything had fallen apart. And Judas, the twelfth, could see no future for himself at all and took his own life.
On the third day they met with all the women and the other disciples behind closed doors when it happened. Peace be with you, said the risen Jesus to them and they knew this was only the beginning.
Out on the mountain top back in Galilee where it had all started, six weeks later he gave them a task to fulfil.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them
in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.
It was a task they knew they could not accomplish in their own strength.
Ten days later they were again behind locked doors. And then it was it happened. They sensed they were not alone – there was a strength, a power, such as they had not experienced before, a strength a power from beyond themselves – words could not describe it. It was as if it was tongues of fire touching them, each one; it was as if it was the sound of a rushing, mighty wind.
Now it really was beginning.
Read the opening chapters of Acts and there is a buzz as they take the message of Jesus on to the streets of Jerusalem. And people are caught by the buzz. And more and more follow this way of Jesus.
It’s exciting stuff – lives are changed, the Jesus movement has taken off. It really is a wonderful new beginning.
But it needs to be organized. There needs to be some kind of organization.
If you are going to make a difference you need to be organized.
Especially if people are involved!
And people were involved. The thing about people is that they can so very easily fall out. They need organizing.
Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food.
For a couple of hundred years there had been tensions in the city of Jerusalem between those who were drawn to the Hellensitic way of doing things – the world of the Roman empire with the sports stadium Herod the Great had built, the Gymnasium – where Greek and Roman ways prevailed … and the Jewish way of doing things of the Hebrews. Some didn’t want anything to do with the ways of the Greeks and the Romans. And among those captivated by the teachings of Jesus were Hellenists and Hebrews, those entirely at home in the Greek and Roman way of life and those drawn to a stricter Hebrew Jewish way of life.
The tensions came to a head in the daily distribution of food. Something had to be done.
In what happens next we get a glimpse of the way the earliest church organized itself.
And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait at tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.’
What’s interesting there is that the Twelve gather the whole community of the disciples together – there’s a meeting of the whole church community. The Twelve have come up with a way of tackling the situation which will enable them to continue with the buzz of that mission spreading the good news of Jesus and at the same time ensure that the practicalities of food distribution are carried out fairly.
They do not select the seven most appropriate people themselves. They want to entrust the community as a whole to select the seven fitted for the task.
Having mapped out the plan they have to solve the problem, they then put their plan to the gathered community who have the opportunity to have their say before the plan goes ahead.
What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.
Notice the selection is made by the whole community. They then bring these seven before the Apostles who set them apart.
They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
So the Apostles have responsibility for prayer and serving the word, while the seven are to serve the whole community in the practicalities of what needs to be done to resolve the problem that had arisen. With good organization now things are able to move forward once again …
The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
One footnote to the story – there are no hard and fast distinctions between the roles those people are playing. The first to be named, Stephen, was noted as a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit.
Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.
What’s more he was a great speaker, a great debater who spoke with wisdom and the Spirit. Arrested he gives a wonderful account of his faith in Jesus that is one of the longest if not the longest speech to be recorded in Acts. And, with Saul’s connivance, he is taken out and stoned to death becoming the first Christian martyr.
Since the start of Advent we have been looking at what it takes to be church here at Highbury.
We are called to be Christ-centred, Spirit-filled, rooted in the Bible, open to all, worshipful, prayerful, missional, visionary. There’s a buzz in all those words and rightly so.
And today we arrive at the last in our sequence … and you might think it’s a bit of a let-down. We are called to be ‘well-managed’.
Boring! Who wants to know about management, organization – let’s just focus on what Church is really all about.
But actually from the first church needs to be organized, it needs to be well-managed.
That’s why it is important to come along to our Annual Meeting on Thursday – I do hope you will be able to come.
In seeking to be a church that is Christ-centred, Spirit-filled and rooted in the Bible we find the roots of our way of being church and of organizing church here in the New Testament and this passage is one of the telling passages we draw on.
There is no blueprint for church in the New Testament – and different ways of being church will trace their roots to different parts of the New Testament.
This is where we find our roots.
Even at the very first, when you might have thought the twelve might have had the kind of authority to enable them to act without consultation they in fact “called together the whole community of the disciples”. They put a plan to them and then they sought the response of the whole gathered community – “What they said pleased the whole community”
It was the whole gathered community then who set apart the seven to respond to the situation and the whole gathered community that brought the seven before the Apostles for them to pray and lay hands on them.
Unlike Anglicans, Catholics and Orthodox who have a hierarchy of Priests and Bishops Archbishops, national synods and the like to determine the way the church is run
And unlike Methodists, Presbyterians, URC who have a national structure of provinces, synods, districts and a national assembly with responsibility for faith and order, for doctrine and discipline
We in our Congregational church share with Baptists and many independent churches a focus on the gathering together of the whole community of the church in each local place.
So what did you score in the survey when you were asked to say how well you understood the way Highbury Congregational Church works?
I have updated the leaflet we prepared three years ago to picture the church and the way it works.
Highbury Congregational Church
A place to share Christian friendship, explore Christian faith, and enter into Christian Mission with Christ at the centre and open to all
As people feel at home and that they belong it is important to us that they register their sense of belonging and become Church Members – we ask all who belong to make a simple statement of faith in God and
Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
We very much hope that each person who belongs can be committed to one or more areas of church life in things they do and/ or in prayer: worship, children’s work, youth work, mission and outreach, pastoral care and discipleship.
Those who share that simple statement of faith are our equiavalent of what Acts 6 describes as ‘the whole community of disciples’ here in this place. Our quarterly Church meeting is where we all have the opportunity to gather together and shape the life of the church and set its future direction – but in doing that we are not just wanting to take a vote – we meet in the presence of Christ with the love of God in our hearts and the guidance of the Holy Spirit and so we think of ourselves as ‘seeking not just the mind of the meeting, but seeking the mind of Christ for the future of our church.
Minister and Ministry Leaders
It is the gathering together of the whole community of our church in Church Meeting that has the responsibility then to appoint a Minister to serve the church family and a team of Ministry leaders to work collaboratively together in the service of the whole church in worship, children’s work, youth work, mission and outreach, pastoral care and in growing a spirit of discipleship.
The Church meeting also elects five Deacons who serve the Church as Managing Trustees and ensure all the Church does is in keeping with its aims as a Congregational Church and its responsibilities as a Charity with reference to finances, safeguarding, health and safety, disability, employment and other legislation
Deacons interview and recommend a name for Minister, Ministry Team Leader for Church Meeting, and then review and support Ministry Team. They also ensure good employment practice for paid employees and volunteers.
Church Secretary and Treasurer
We are all served wonderfully by our Church Secretary, Helen Roberts, and our Church Treasurer, Roger Gregory. Who help to make it all work well.
That’s how HIghbury Congregational Church works and it is our prayer that it is well-managed.
There are quite a number of people who have joined us – it would be great to welcome you into church membership as you make that statement of faith – do have a word with me – I hope to have a chat in the next few weeks.
In our set-up this is us. There’s no one else somewhere else to bail us out and come in and sort us out. Though we are part of a fellowship of like-minded churches who can share resources and be a help to each other.
At the end of that passage in Acts there’s a wonderful comment
The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly
Our hope and prayer as we meet together in our Church meeting is that here through this church and its work the Word of God can continue to spreak – and our prayer is that the number of the disciples here in this place will increase … greatly!
To help that happen our Deacons and our Minsitry Leaders are going to be sharing thoughts at our Church Meeting which I invite you to come and find out more about!