The church is every age faces great threats or challenges: external and internal**. Not surprisingly, the challenges have not changed over the years. Luke outlines these threats in his book in the Bible that describes the birth and growth of the early church – the book of Acts.
Acts chapter 4 describes the tremendous challenge of persecution. However, we see in Acts 4 and in church history that persecution actually grows and invigorates the church.
In Acts 4 the Apostles are beaten and flogged and told not to preach in the name of Jesus. Rather than remain quite, their evangelistic enthusiasm grows and their evangelistic strategy develops (Acts 4:31). The persecution in Jerusalem also led to regular Christians talking about Jesus to those outside Jerusalem (Acts 8:1, 4).
In church history, persecution has grown the church in countries like China and Iran.
Persecution is a terrible thing but God in his wisdom uses it for great good.
The second threat to the church is corruption. In Acts 5 we see Ananias and Sapphira misrepresenting their financial position. Fiddling the finances for personal gain and appearance has been a terrible noose around the church’s neck in every age.
Many a pastor is little different to a hustler, smooth-talker or Ponzi-scheme builder. So-called prophets and apostles fleece God’s sheep, drive expensive cars and fly all over the world in private jets, claiming to be especially blessed by God.
God killed Ananias and Sapphira for their financial impropriety – in fact, they were the only people in the Bible to be truly slain by the Spirit.
God will ultimately judge all those who claim to be Christian leaders and teachers but have fleeced the flock or fiddled the books.
Persecution and corruption are relatively easy to spot. The 3rd threat is much more subtle.
Acts 6:1-7 describes how the Apostles dealt with the need to care for the social needs of widows living in Jerusalem.
The Apostles saw their priorities as prayer and preaching God’s Word. Social action is very important, so they organised other well qualified people to do it. The Apostles refused to be distracted from what they were called to.
The church too is primarily called to the proclamation of the gospel and the making of disciples of Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20). The gospel builds and grows the church because the gospel (not social action) is God’s power to save and transform.
Social action though is very important. We are to love God and love our neighbour. The church must demonstrate the love of Jesus to a lost, fallen, needy world. If the church fails to care for the needy and most venerable we will lose our credibility to the world and fail is our obedience to God.
But the church must never take its eye off its primary calling. If the church does that we will simply have lots of well fed people facing an eternity apart from God.
Social action is extremely important – especially in our context – but remember that the church was born in Acts 2, not through social action, but through the preaching of the Word of God.
Particularly, those called to be ministers in the church, must be very careful not to be distracted from gospel proclamation. Ample time for prayer, preparation and preaching must be non-negotiables every week.
Many churches across the world seem to have lost the gospel and are doing everything expect teaching the Bible.
God’s job vs. my job
Here’s the catch: God will ultimately deal with all persecution and corruption. He will build his church and judge those who have done evil in his name.
Distraction, however, is not God’s problem to deal with but ours.
If you’ve been called to proclaim the gospel and teach the Bible, will you plan and pray carefully about how to carve out good time in your week for sufficient prayer and preparation? Will you say no to some good things so that you can say yes to what you’ve truly been called to?
If you’re not directly involved in gospel proclamation or teaching the Bible at your church, would you find our how you could practically help those involved in teaching the Bible?
Rory Bell, a visiting preacher at our church, told how he met a woman in a church in Singapore one Thursday. She was sharpening pencils and checking glue-sticks. She explained, “I do this every week so that the Sunday School teachers can concentrate on their lesson and needn’t worry about the pencils.”
Rory reminded us that every church needs pencil sharpeners.
We can either do or enable others to do Word ministry.
Perhaps God has given you a great concern for social action among the poor and vulnerable? Would you get stuck into that kind of ministry in the name of Jesus? Would you help your church show that they love people and want to serve them in practical ways?
What has God called you to and gifted you for? That’s what God would have you do.
** This post has been adapted from Rory Bell’s sermon, “The Tyranny of Distraction”. Rory is the Director of Teaching and Training ministries. See their Mustard-seeds website for great material for teaching the Bible to children.