Overcommitment: How the Early Church Handled Being Way Too Busy – Episode 16

How the Early Church Handled Busyness

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Duration: 20:13

A lot of great and exciting things were happening as the early church was growing.

Yet that growth stretched the apostles to their limits, leading to overcommitment and chronic busyness – which led to further and potentially serious problems.

In this episode, we’ll take a look at how the apostles handled this situation, and we’ll learn some great practical wisdom that we can apply to our own busyness.

Feel free to add to the discussion below the transcript:

Full Transcript

Welcome to the Life of a Steward Christian Time Management Podcast. From Biblical instruction to systems and tips to motivation and inspiration, we look at time management from a Christian perspective. We want to make the most of our time, not to make much of us but to make much of him. Not to earn anything but because he’s already earned it. Join me as we seek together to live the Life of a Steward.

In this episode, we’ll take a look at some great lessons we can learn from the early church in Acts Chapter 6. We’ll see how busyness created a major crisis in the church and how effective evaluation and delegation ended up strengthening the body.

Introduction and My Surgery

Hello again – this is Loren Pinilis from Life of a Steward.com. Welcome to another episode. When this episode is released, I’m recovering from surgery. As I record this, I’m getting ready to head in in a few days for some minor surgery – of course they say that the definition of minor surgery is surgery performed on someone else.

But I’m not too worried. I’m going to spend a few minutes behind a microphone now before I’m all hopped up on pain killers and sitting in a recliner. Let’s go ahead and dive in.

Life Gets More and More Complex

One of the things I have learned about life is that life seems to get busier and busier. I think of how busy I thought I was in college, and that was just a joke a few years later when I’m married and am active in church and in the workforce. And I thought I was busy then – but even that seems funny now that I’ve got kids and have a ton more going on. And I imagine as busy as I think I am now that it’s only getting to get worse as my kids age and then I’ve got preteens and teens.

That’s the way that life tends to work. Things tend to naturally get added to our plate. Our lives just get busier and busier and more weighed down with all of our commitments.

Busyness Leads to Unintended Failure

But when that happens sometimes bad things happen as a result. We get pushed to the edge and things slip between the cracks. We start to fail in certain areas.

We don’t serve our family as we should because there’s just so much going on. Or we’re not working the way that we should because we’re so busy with other areas. Maybe our ministries are suffering. Maybe our physical bodies aren’t getting the rest or the exercise they need. Maybe it’s our spiritual lives that suffer.

The Bible I think has some really great lessons for us in a particular passage that I wanted to talk about today. In Acts chapter 6, we see the early church coming to one of their first crises, which centers around this very subject of busyness that I’ve been talking about.

The Example from Acts 6

Let’s take a look at what they did to rectify the situation – and what we can learn from them.

This is Acts Chapter 6 verses 1-7.

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.
And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

This whole situation starts with a good problem to have – the church is growing. A lot of the problems that we have with busyness come about because of good situations like this. There’s growth happening or there are exciting opportunities that open up. Sometimes blessing like that can come with difficult decisions.

1. Recognize the Problem

And in this case, the apostles, the leadership of the church at the time, had a problem. Here’s the key – they recognized the problem. That’s the first lesson we can learn from this passage – they recognized that they had a problem.

The problem was they were so busy attending to all aspects of church life that things were slipping between the cracks.

Some of the widows weren’t getting the food that other widows were getting. Scripture doesn’t really tell us why this happened – but it tells us what people thought.  Some of the Hellenists – the Greeks – thought that there were racial motivations. They thought the apostles, who were all Hebrews, were giving food to the Hebrew widows and taking care of them but ignoring the Greek widows. They were essentially accusing the apostles of racism and favoritism.

It seems to me that the reason why these widows weren’t getting food is basically because the apostles were so busy. That’s kinda what the context says. It wasn’t intentional on their part. Maybe it wasn’t realistic. Maybe they were ignoring the Hebrew widows as much as the Greeks – but that didn’t matter. Their busyness led to things slipping between the cracks which led to greater problems – in this case widows not receiving care and, even worse, the potential for a huge division in the church.

The apostles recognized that they had a problem.

2. Don’t Blame, Take Responsibility

The second lesson we can learn from the apostles is that they took responsibility. They didn’t blame others. They manned up and fixed the problem.

Think for a moment about how you react when someone criticizes your ministry.

I would tend to be like “Who do you think you are? If you want to do it, go ahead, be my guest.” Or maybe the apostles could think, “Look, we are scrambling like chickens with our heads cut off. We are trying so hard. Stuff may be slipping between the cracks but come on – are you seriously going to accuse us of favoritism? Can’t you see what’s going on here?”

The apostles could have said “Woe to you, you unspiritual people. I’m not even sure if you’re saved. How dare you create this division.”

“Here’s this mean-spirited group of complainers who’s stirring up all this trouble – instead of going to the apostles they’re just grumbling around. We should just give them a mouthful.”

But that’s not what the apostles did.

It has to hurt when you are trying your best and things slip between the cracks and someone impugns your motives. That has to sting.

But the apostles were able to get brutally honest with themselves and say “You  know what? We’re letting things slip between the cracks. Let’s do what we can to make it right. Let’s not look for someone to yell at. Let’s look at a way to resolve this.”

I know for me, maybe I’m not spending the time with my wife that I should be or I’m not doing certain errands around the house, it’s easy for me just to blame my family. “Why do they always have to be dragging me down and nagging me?”

We’re tempted to bring down others. They attack us and we attack right back. But that’s not what the apostles did. They understood that buried in this nasty attack was a nugget of truth – a real problem that needed to be addressed.

They answered with grace and humility. The humility to say that, “You know what? We’re dropping the ball. We’re letting this slip between the cracks.”

3. Evaluate, Prioritize, Assess Capabilities

But see – here we get to another potential pitfall. The apostles could have just gone to the opposite extreme. They could’ve said, “ok, ok, ok – these people are complaining. Let’s all get better at caring for the widows. Make that our number one priority – after all, we don’t want division in the church. So let’s make sure we get this right.”

But the problem with that is then something else would slip between the cracks.

The disciples didn’t take a purely reactionary approach. They took a step back and evaluated the situation. They looked at all that they had on their plate. They took a look at their priorities. They took a look at their capabilities.

Here’s the third thing we can learn from them: They soberly evaluated the situation and prioritized properly.

They said, “Look, we want to spend our time praying and preaching and teaching. That’s what we’re gifted to do, called to do – that’s what’s important for us to do in our role in the church.”

Here’s another thing:  They understood their capabilities. Notice they said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.” In other words, they realized they could only do one.

I can tell you what my reaction probably would have been. I would have said “Preaching, praying, those are important. Caring for widows, important. So I’ve just got to step up my game. I’ve got to wake up earlier. I’ve got to stay up later.  I’ve got to be more focused and more efficient.”

My first response would be to have an unrealistic view of my capabilities and to think that I could do it all – which is exactly how the apostles got into this problem in the first place – trying to do everything themselves.

It takes a lot of wisdom to accurately assess our capabilities. Because sometimes we do just need to be more efficient.  Sometimes the answer is that we’re lazy. Sometimes we do need to focus more or be more organized. But the apostles knew here that their capabilities were pretty much tapped out.

Another interesting side note is that they didn’t neglect prayer. I think a lot of us would not intentionally neglect prayer, but we would just push it to the side as we focused on the preaching and the caring for widows – as we focused on the tangible actions where we feel like we’re really doing something. But the apostles understood the importance of prayer.

4. Choose Delegates Well

So the solution that the apostles have is to delegate. They get everyone together and say “Let’s pick seven guys to handle the waiting on the tables.”

Even in the coming up with the solution, the apostles exercised wisdom and did it well. They delegated well. They set the church up for success, not just looked forward to getting something off their plate. That’s another lesson we can learn from them: they delegated well.

First, the seven that they pick are all greeks. You can tell that from their names.

That to me is just amazing wisdom and grace. Here they are accused of racially favoring the Hebrews and ignoring the Greeks – so they gracefully cater to that crowd and pick seven greeks to make sure that everyone gets the food they were supposed to get.

And the apostles set up good requirements for these men. They were to be men of character. They were supposed to be quote “men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom.”

In other words, they were to have a good reputation so people would trust them to hand out the food correctly, they were to be Godly – to be full of the Spirit – and they were to be wise. The word there for wisdom carries with it the sense that they would be skilled in their jobs. They would be able and competent, not just nice people but are able people.

As a side note, there’s one other major place in the Bible which discusses delegation, and that’s Moses and Jethro in Exodus 18. Moses is serving as a judge for the Israelites and he’s just got more than he can handle – so his wise father in law tells him to delegate authority. And to delegate to men who are 1) trustworthy, 2) they fear God and 3) they are able.

So in Exodus 18 and in Acts 6 – we see these important tasks being delegated to men who had a good reputation and good character, were godly men, and would be competent in what they were doing.

5. Give Delegates Proper Authority

And not only do they delegate well, but they give authority and blessing to those to whom they delegate. You see in verse 6 that these men were set before the apostles and the apostles prayed for them and laid hands on them.

They set the church up for success by picking able, godly men of good character. And then they set those men up for success by praying for them and blessing them. And ceremonially – and I believe this was a public ceremony – the apostles by laying hands on them and praying over them were publicly and formally giving them authority.

They didn’t just delegate quickly – just get it done. No, they set everyone up for success.

6. Value All Forms of Service

Another lesson – and this I think this is the one that most excited me when I studied this passage. Another lesson is the importance and the value of the different forms of work that the apostles were performing.

In verse 1, it says that the widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution. The word there for distribution is the greek diakonia. It’s where we get the word deacon from. And many people refer to this Acts 6 passage as instituting the first deacons.

So the daily distribution is diakonia.

In verse 2, waiting tables – the word is diakonia.

The idea of serving widows is diakonia.

But in verse 4 – when the apostles say “we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” – the word there for ministry is diakonia.

In other words, the apostles are saying we’re not going to diakonia, we’re not going to serve in this way, we’re going to serve – to diakonia – in this other way.

The disciples are saying that waiting on tables is service. Ministering the word is service. It’s the exact same word.

The two activities don’t have different values. They’re different roles. They require different skills. They’re different callings. But both are equally valid forms of service in the eyes of the apostles – and in the eyes of God.

7. Expect Fruit

Finally, we can see the result of this is, not surprisingly, fruit. People are brought to the Lord. It was a nasty situation – this problem they had with handing out food to widows. It could have really brought a bad name on Christ if there was division that early in the church. But by handling this situation well, the apostles were actually presented with an opportunity to further increase unity. The problem ended up bringing people together, and it led to setting up systems and structures where the church was set up for success.

Application

So my question to you is: what stuck out to you in this podcast? What do you think God is showing you in this passage? How can you apply this?

What have you learned about delegation and effectiveness and your giftings and your limited capabilities?

If you have another other thoughts to add, I’d love to hear from you – head over to Lifeofasteward.com and leave a comment.

And again if you have any questions you’d like me to answer on the podcast, just Email me at podcast@lifeofasteward.com.

Until next time, this is Loren Pinilis from Lifeofasteward.com.

Remember: We want to make the most of our time, not to make much of us but to make much of him. Not to earn anything but because he’s already earned it. Join me next time where we’ll look at more time management tips from a Christian perspective as we seek together to live the Life of a Steward.

Photo Credit: tableatny (Creative Commons)

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