Effectiveness Principles Learned from the Early Church

As we grow older, things tend to get added to our plate. We tend to pick up more responsibilities, more influence, more opportunities – and it can easily get overwhelming.

In the middle of this busyness, there are a lot of pitfalls that we need to avoid. Navigating the situation takes wisdom and courage.

That’s why I’m so thankful for the wonderful example of the apostles as they skillfully led the early church. Here are four lessons we can learn from these masters of effectiveness – lessons that will help us address areas in our lives where obligation upon obligation has left us feeling overwhelmed.

Acts 6:1-4
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.”

1. Recognize You Have a Problem

It started with a good problem to have: the early church was growing. But very negative consequences were beginning to arise as a result.

The context implies that there was no malice on the part of the apostles. They weren’t intentionally neglecting anyone – they were simply so swamped with obligations that some of them were slipping between the cracks.

But that didn’t matter. People were jumping to conclusions, and the apostles were being accused of racial favoritism. One can only imagine the damage that this crisis could have done to the church if left unattended.

It’s easy for overwhelming busyness to slowly creep up on us. Responsibilities increase bit by bit – and the next thing you know, we’re overloaded.

And especially when we’re doing something like ministry or service, it’s easy for us to just wishfully think that our good intentions will make everything all right. We just put our head down, do what we can do, and never stop to think that perhaps we have issues.

2. Take Responsibility; Don’t Blame Others

How do we react when church members complain in our churches? Think about it for a moment.

It would have been easy for the apostles to just ignore the critics. The apostles could essentially say that they were doing the best they could, and that was it. It would have been easy to disparage the grumblers for drastically jumping to conclusions and insinuating racist motivations.

Perhaps the apostles could have immediately begun a sermon series on how to be obedient and respect church leadership – or they could have expressed serious doubts about the spiritual condition of those who were so vocal in complaining.

But they didn’t.

They were brutally honest with themselves and questioned their performance. Yes, the accusing church members were hard to get along with, were lacking in grace, and were hurting the church.

But the apostles could face the hard reality that their inability to meet their obligations was a strong factor in what was going on.

It doesn’t seem fair that the people trying their hardest to serve are having their integrity questioned with accusations of favoritism. But that’s life. And it takes courage to admit that it’s due to the fact that you let things slip between the cracks.

When we’re so busy that we’re unable to meet the needs and desires of those around us, we sometimes will devalue them in an effort to protect our self-esteem. The comfortable course of action is to justify ourselves, and we can convince ourselves that the obligations placed upon us are stupid.

It’s not that you’re selfish or inefficient. It’s not that you’ve taken on too much. Your wife just needs to quit nagging you about spending more time with her. Your boss is unreasonably demanding. Your friends are too easily offended. Your church is too over-the-top about recruiting volunteers.

Yes, we’re letting people down in areas – but surely they know (and God knows) that we’re doing the best we can, right?

It’s not easy to admit where you’re falling short. It’s not easy to admit where you need help.

3. Understand the Importance of Your Obligations

It was also possible for the apostles to go to the other extreme and over-accommodate those who were complaining.

Caring for the widows could have become the next top priority. But Acts 6:2 shows us why this would have been a problem: spending more time and energy on caring for widows would have meant less time and energy spent praying, teaching, and evangelizing.

Without careful thought about their responsibilities, the apostles may have just let the squeaky wheel dictate where they invested their resources.

4. Understand Your Service; Understand Others’ Service

At first glance, it may seem that the apostles chose to devote themselves to preaching because it’s the most valuable task. They were going to do the big-time functions and outsource the piddly stuff.

But I don’t think that’s what’s going on here.

When the apostles speak of “serving tables” in verse 2, the word used is diakoneo, meaning service. The same word is used for ministry when they speak of devoting themselves to the ministry of the word in verse 4.

In other words, the apostles are saying “We’re not going to diakoneo that way, we’re going to diakoneo this way.” Both caring for widows and preaching are service to the Lord, and both are valuable in God’s sight.

The reason the apostles devoted themselves to preaching and to prayer was because they were uniquely called and equipped to do so. It wasn’t about the value of the tasks – it was about how the task related to their giftings and characteristics.

For us, it’s tempting to take on the tasks that will bring us the most praise and fame. Or possibly, we’re tempted to settle for the easier and less challenging ones.

Maybe we need to remind ourselves that every worker in God’s kingdom has value.

So here’s my challenge to you today: Rather than simply viewing your to-do lists for what they are, consider them in light of who you are and what God has called you to do.

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