If you want your church to grow—and if you want the kingdom to grow—you’re going to need to develop many more leaders. In the early church, an interesting turn of events happened when the apostles shifted from simply preaching to releasing leaders.
The Bible says in the early chapters of Acts that God was “adding” to the church daily. Shortly into the life of the Jerusalem church, there arose a conflict between Hellenistic Jews and Hebraic Jews over the care of orphans and widows. The apostles asked for leaders from the church to be pointed out, and then they released seven men to oversee a new area of ministry. Suddenly, the terminology changes from God “adding” to the church to the church “multiplying.”
Out of Acts 6, we can take away at least seven lessons for churches that want to grow by empowering and releasing more leaders.
1. A growing church is a biblical idea. It says, “In those days the number of disciples were increasing.” If a church is not growing, it is often because something is unhealthy. Healthy things grow. Unless the community is already saturated and everyone reachable has been reached, a church must diagnose what is breaking down in the leadership development process. We’ve said that if there is one person who doesn’t know Christ, we’re going to keep growing. A growing church is biblical.
2. Church growth causes problems. Acts 6 says that there were “rumblings of discontent.” That’s true in any church. Sometimes people come to me and say, “Pastor Rick, we’ve really got a problem in this church.” I want to say, “Which one? I’m aware of about a couple hundred. Which one are you talking about?” They say, “You may not recognize this, but there’s this need.” Of course we recognize it. We live with it day and night. But leadership development takes time, so there are always holes to be filled in any growing ministry.
3. Problems are always unmet needs. The passage says, “The Greek-speaking Jews claimed their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food.” We would like to think everyone in our church’s membership is together in the priority of seeing more people come to Jesus, but even Christians get distracted when there are unmet needs in their lives—real or imagined. When you experience a leadership problem in your church, it almost always flows out of someone’s unmet need.
4. Pastors cannot do it all. The apostles' response to this need was, “It wouldn’t be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.” It’s a legitimate need, but it’s not one that God called them to meet. Spiritual leaders cannot remain spiritual leaders long if they aren’t spending adequate time at the feet of Jesus seeking wisdom, direction and vision.
5. Spirit-filled believers assist the pastoral staff. The apostles said, “Choose seven men, full of the Holy Spirit, and we’ll turn the responsibility over to them.” It’s interesting that if you read these names in Acts 6—Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolaus—you find that they are all Greek names. And these men cared deeply about the needs of the Greek believers in the early church.
6. The pastors are to focus on praying and teaching. Then they said, “We will give our attention to prayer and teaching of the word.” I once had to make a covenant with Saddleback Church. If the people would take on the work of the ministry, I would make sure they were well fed. That’s been my goal since that time. The ministry of Saddleback outgrew me a long time ago. Obviously I can’t do all the ministry. I can’t even do a fraction of the ministry. But I can make sure that people are well fed.
7. The result of lay ministry was more growth. The passage says, “This proposal pleased the whole group so the word of God increased rapidly [multiplied].” There was mobilization. In many churches, all you’re expected to do is attend and give. But those are really two minor issues related to what God really wants to do in your life. We have allowed our spectator-oriented culture to influence the church.
But God teaches us to mobilize every person for ministry—pastors and staff are to equip all believers for the work of the ministry. We have to mobilize every member for ministry. This is leadership development. And this is essential to fulfilling the Great Commission.
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times best-seller The Purpose Driven Life. His book The Purpose Driven Church was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for pastors.
For the original article, visit pastors.com.