Raise your hands if you’re a failure. I raise both hands. Some of you did not raise your hands. Not only are you a failure, you have failed to recognize it and failed to raise your hand. You are the worst failure of all.
We fail, right? You fail. When’s the last time you failed? If you don’t know it, ask the person sitting next to you. If they’re married to you, they will have a lot of illustrations. We fail, right? How many of you don’t start with that? “Hi, my name’s so-and-so. Here’s my biggest failure.” How many of us don’t put that on our social media? “Oh, I failed again. Here’s a photo.” We don’t tell people our failures; we tell them our victories, the things we did right, not the things we did wrong—the day we won, not the day we lost, right? We love to present ourselves as having it together, and getting it all right, and getting it all right the first time. And if we don’t get it right the first time, then we get it right the seventy-third time, and that’s the story we tell. You’re going to fail, you have failed, you are failing, you will fail. The question is, what are you going to do? What are we going to do with the failure?
That brings me to the big idea for the sermon today. It’s really on failure. And we find ourselves in the book of Acts. We’re in chapter 6, verses 1–7. If you’ve got a Bible, go there. We’re dealing with this issue: empowered by the Spirit to fail. Early in the book of Acts, Jesus lived without sin, he died on the cross for our sin, he rose from death as our Savior, and he said, “You’ll receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you’ll be my witnesses.” And the Holy Spirit came upon the church. Amazing Pentecost. Thousands saved. Unbelievable revival breaks out. They receive the power of the Holy Spirit. They live by the same power as Jesus. They march forward to be his witnesses. And it’s all recorded in the book of Acts.
We pick up a chunk of Acts every year after Easter. It’s a great book. We love to go through books of the Bible. We looked at the church growing, thriving, winning, succeeding. And then we saw at the end of chapter 5 that it was experiencing external persecution.
EVERY CHURCH FAILS AT SOMETHING
This week, you’ll realize that it also experiences internal opposition. Those two forces sometimes come together against the church, external persecution, internal opposition.
This week, it’s around a failure. Up to this point, we’ve seen the church in Acts have a lot of wins. Preaching, win; teaching, win; evangelism, win; church planting, win; baptism, win; converts, win; growth, win. Win, win, win. This week, failure. There’s a loss.
So, we pick up the story in Acts 6:1. Every church fails at something, amen? Amen? If you’re here and you’re like, “I was going to this church, “and the church was a horrible church, “and the church failed at things. “Our church was just fail, fail, fail, fail, fail, fail. “The church failed, the band, the pastor, “the people, outreach, kid’s ministry. Church failed. So glad to be at Mars Hill.”
Here’s the deal, we’re just like that church, except for that pastor had a more pleasant disposition. Other than that, we’re a church that fails too. Now, different churches will fail in different ways, but every church fails. Every church fails.
We read of this failure. Acts 6:1, “Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number”—the church is growing—“a complaint.” Right, somebody found the Internet. “A complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.”
OK, here’s what’s going on. The church is ministering not just to the spiritual needs of the soul but also the physical needs of the body, OK?
So that being said, in the next season, we’re going to ask you the next few weeks, bring canned food to church, OK? We don’t want to compete with good ministries and organizations that are meeting a physical need. We want to help them, love them, serve them, participate with them. So, what the church was doing here was gathering food, so we want to be biblical. We want to gather food. The lead pastors, the executive pastors, they’ll tell you when to bring it, what to bring, you can follow it all. It’ll be on the blog and coming out on the city.
But in the season coming up, we want to be real generous, and we want to give, and we want to help meet physical needs because God loves the whole person, not just the soul. He also loves the body.
That being said, they’re meeting physical needs but they’re failing at it. So, here’s the situation: It talks about the widows, and in that day, it was a little different than our day. Typically, a woman would not, you know, go off to college, get a degree, get a career, have a retirement or 401K, and, you know, have life insurance, and disability insurance, and the social service net of the government. None of those things existed. Usually she married young. Her husband was head of household. He had legal authority that she didn’t. The property was in his name. He would take care of her.
If he died, that left her in a vulnerable place. Usually then, her children, particularly her sons, would step in, love, serve, help, look after mom, and/or extended family, relatives, and those who were close kin. What if she didn’t have those things? What if she didn’t have kids, or maybe her sons were duds, or maybe the extended family failed in their responsibility, or maybe there was nothing available for her. Well then, that left her in a very vulnerable position.
So, the church decided, “On some occasions, we’ve got to step in and help. And we’re going to help look “after these godly widows that don’t have any other means of income and support.” Good idea, right? But they failed at it. They didn’t do a good job.
So the conflict is that these widows are supposed to be getting some help, and the Hebrew widows are getting better help than the Hellenist widows. For most of us, these categories are lost, but these are actually distinct racial, ethnic, cultural groupings. The Roman government had taken over, and there was some persecution, opposition. So some of God’s people decided, “We’re going to stay near the temple. We’re going to stay with the synagogue system. We’re going to keep our Hebrew language. We’re going to keep our Old Testament traditions. We are hardcore, steadfast, devout. We’re in it for the Lord. We’re not going to waiver.”
Others fled and they became more compromised, synchronized. They picked up Greek language, Greek culture. So, we would call the Hebrews the “conservatives.” These are the traditionalists. The Hellenists are the liberals, the progressives.
Here’s what happens. Jesus loves both, OK, just so you know that. You’re Republicans, Jesus loves you. You’re Democrats, Jesus loves you. And he wants you to love each other. You conservatives, Jesus loves you. You liberals, Jesus loves you. He wants you to love each other, OK?
So they all become Christians, the right and the left, and now they’re in the church together and there’s racial, cultural, ethnic conflict. They don’t get along that well. They’re not rowing in the same boat just yet. They’re working some stuff out.
Then the Hebrew widows come in. They sort of get first class treatment. You know, “Hey, oh, here’s a big chair. “Can I get you anything to drink? “Do you need a towel, you know, for your face? You know, we’re going to take good care of you.” Now the Hellenist widows, they’re in the back, and they’re stuffing them in the overhead bin, right? Like, not the same treatment as the Hebrews up in first class.
So this leads to, “Hey, this isn’t fair. “Why do these people get treated better than these people? “Why do these people get first-class treatment “and these people get no-class treatment? “Why do these people get more food, more money, more love, more support, and more help than these people?”
This is tough, right, because these are old women. Now you’re being mean to someone’s grandma. And now it’s racial, now it’s cultural, now it’s highly charged, and now we’ve got a real problem. What are we going to do? You feel it? A couple things I want you to learn from here.
JESUS IS HAPPY WHEN A CHURCH GROWS
Number one, Jesus is happy when a church grows. It says, “Now in these days, the disciples were”—what in number? “Increasing.” You know what that means? Somebody took attendance. People are like, “It’s all about the numbers. “It’s all about the numbers. “The church is all about the—it’s always, and only, and always about the numbers.” Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, _Numbers_—it’s in the Bible. It’s a fine word.
Right here, they were increasing in number. You can read; what does it say? Increasing in “number,” OK? So somebody’s keeping attendance. There are more people. We count people because people count. It’s the same reason, if I’m getting on an airplane, I—“Hey, one, two, three, four, five children.” It’s like, “Three, four, five, who’s counting? We’re not all about the numbers.” [Congregation laughs] My eight-year-old’s like, “Uh, please Dad, “please be about the numbers. Number five back here would—”
We count people because people count. And they’re keeping track and the church is growing, increasing in number. Jesus is glad about that. It’s a good thing when people become Christians and a church grows.
So what we saw early on, there were twelve disciples that Jesus had. That’s where it starts. One’s a dud, right, because there’s always 10 percent dud factor in every church. Don’t be that 10 percent. But there’s always about a 10 percent dud factor. And then the church in Act 1 is 120. It’s growing. And then in Acts 2, three thousand are added. I think it was Acts 4 says there are five thousand men, plus their wives, plus their kids. There are ten, twelve, thirteen thousand, I don’t know, people. It’s about the same size as Mars Hill Church, Christianity is, on the earth in that day. So in a fairly short order, it’s gone from eleven plus a dud to maybe up to fourteen thousand. It’s growing and Jesus is glad about that.
NOT EVERYBODY’S HAPPY
Number two, as a church is growing, though Jesus is happy, not everybody’s happy because there is a—what is there? Here’s another word. There’s a “complaint.” “We don’t like it. We don’t like it. “There’s something wrong. “I used to be able to park my camel right out front. Now, ugh, it’s so far away. I had a seat up front and somebody took my seat. It was terrible, terrible. The coffee’s terrible. It’s just terrible. It’s all diluted. There’s so many people now, you don’t even get the good coffee. This church has changed. Things are different. It’s not like it used to be.” There are complaints. “Nobody here loves me. I filled out a visitor card and nobody came to see me despite my welcoming disposition.”
So not everybody’s happy because as things grow, things change, and not everybody likes change. Not everybody likes change. You can walk up to somebody and say, “You’ve changed,” and smile, or you can walk up to somebody like, “You’ve changed” [concerned look] right? And change can be perceived as a good thing or a bad thing, depending on who’s perceiving it. You can look at a little kid who’s grown up and you’re like, “You’ve changed!” Or you’re like, “Oh, yeah, you’ve changed [sad expression]. You’re not like you used to be.”
Jesus loves a growing church. Not everybody loves a growing church.
EVEN GOOD CHURCHES FAIL
Number three, even good churches fail. They have failed. They have failed. Now here’s what you can’t say: “That’s a bad church.” That’s the only one, OK? So it’s not like, “I’m going to go find another church.” And it’s like, there’s one. Do you want a ham sandwich or nothing? Well, right?
They have good leaders. They have the apostles chosen by Jesus. You could say, “Well, yeah, the problem with our leaders is they’re not well trained.” They went to the University of Jesus Christ. They did. Jesus picked them and trained them for three years. So, good leaders, good training.
Do they have good doctrine? “You know what the problem is here? These guys don’t teach the Bible.” These guys write the Bible. This is a Bible church, right? Do they not love the people? Do they love the people? Yes.
See, you’ve got to be very careful not to assign motive to behavior. We don’t—you know, you can’t be like, “Oh, they’re not—you know what their problem is? They’re racists and bigots, and they’re lazy, and they don’t love people, and they’re stealing the money and putting it in their pocket like Judas. That’s what they’re doing.”
Now, that’s what it would have said on the Internet in that day, but that’s not what’s happening. It’s a good church. They have good leaders, they work hard, they have good doctrine, they love people, they’re not stealing anything, and they’re not a bunch of racist bigots. They just have a failure that they need to fix.
Even good churches have failures. Mars Hill, do we have failures? We did once. It was a long time ago, but we fixed it, OK? [Congregation laughs] Yes, we do.
SOMETIMES COMPLAINTS AGAINST THE CHURCH GO PUBLIC
And number four, sometimes complaints against the church go—this is not my favorite part of the story—public, OK? A complaint arose. What it means is, a couple people are upset, and then more people got involved, and then it sort of is like a brush fire that keeps burning. Next thing you know, it’s kind of a thing, and it’s the Hellenists versus the Hebrews on the nightly news. It’s very serious, and it arose. It became public.
How do we know it became public? It’s in the Bible. So much so that Dr. Luke, who’s the historian writing the historical record of the early church, when it comes time for him to decide, “Well, what do we put in the Bible? What do we not put in the Bible? There are a lot of things that happened,” this goes in the Bible. So sometimes, complaints against a church go public. Go public. So that’s exactly what we see here.
And they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they were led by the Holy Spirit, and they were empowered by the Holy Spirit, and they loved people, and they worked hard, and they had good doctrine, and they had good leaders, and they still had a big problem.
EVERY PASTOR FAILS AT SOMETHING
Point number two, not only does every church fail at something, also every leader fails at something. How many of you are leaders? Leaders in your home, leaders in our church, leaders in your business, leaders in the community. You’re a leader. People follow you. You have responsibility. Every, every, every leader fails at something. Acts 6:2, “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.’” I bet that was controversial. “We’re not going to feed hungry people anymore.” “Oh-ho-ho! Jesus did. Are you better than Jesus?”
You can see this conversation, right? “Oh, you’re too big for us now. “Too important, too many things to do. Oh, us little people, no time for us,” right? Can you hear it? This is therapeutic for me. I appreciate you participating, OK? Because they were feeding people, now they’re not going to feed people because they had failed at feeding them. These are good leaders, chosen by Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, but their primary duty is preaching the Word of God. The primary duty is always preaching the Word of God.
Everything is very important, but there’s one thing more important than anything, preaching the Word of God, OK? Preaching the Word of God. The church explodes in Acts because of the preaching of the Word of God. The church continues to grow and mature throughout the duration of Acts through the preaching of the Word of God. Where there is no preaching of the Word of God, there is no church.
I like soup kitchens, homeless shelters, all kinds of organizations that help and serve people, and we like to partner with them and contribute to them. But what makes the church of Jesus Christ unique is not just our good works but the good news. It’s not just helping people, it’s also the preaching of the Word of God.
I would submit to you that central, essential to the Church of Jesus Christ is the preaching of the Word of God. And I get very upset and concerned when I hear, “We’re not having church this week. We’re not doing preaching this week.” No, no, no, no, it’s “preaching plus—.” Never something in the place of preaching. Never something supplanting preaching. It’s preaching informing the serving. It’s preaching informing the loving. It’s preaching informing the caring. It’s preaching informing the helping. But it’s not preaching against other things; it’s preaching at the center of all things so that the Word of God informs and transforms everything and everyone that it touches.
So the leaders realize, “You know what? “It’s totally a good thing to help hurting people and to feed them, but we need to preach the Word of God.” We have a priority and a calling, and it doesn’t mean that this is unimportant, but it means that this is most important. Some of you immediately will bristle against that, but that is the Word of God.
Now, let me speak organizationally here. And I’ll talk from a church leadership standpoint, but this applies to business, this applies to not-for-profits, this applies to lots of things.
LEADERS BEGINNING AS GENERALISTS, BECOMING SPECIALISTS
Number one, when an organization is smaller, the leaders function as generalists. As an organization gets larger, it has to be a team of specialists.
That’s exactly what’s happening here. So, early on, the twelve would cut the carrots, and make the soup, and serve like waiters, and they would also study, and they would preach, and they would teach, and they would counsel. Now that it’s gotten bigger, they’re going to need to reorganize, and the preachers need to preach, and the waiters need to wait the tables, and the cooks need to cook the meal.
The truth is, it becomes a team of specialists, OK? And they say, “We’re not going to be waiting tables anymore.” Aren’t you glad I’m not your waiter? Let me just submit to you that sometimes the preacher is not the best waiter, because a waiter’s supposed to give you what you want. Preacher, no. I would come up to your table and be like, “You’re thick, you’re getting vegetables, OK? Getting vegetables. No, no dessert. “You’re drinking water as well. “You’re pale and thick. You need hydration and vegetables.” And I’d bring them to you, and you’d say, “They’re overcooked. I don’t like them.” “Jesus is trying to sanctify you. “This is part of your growth process. Eat your burnt vegetables and drink your water to the glory of God and the joy of all people. And we’re going to charge you double because you’re going to give to the poor.” You’re glad I’m not your waiter, amen?
Sometimes the preacher is good at one thing, not good at everything, so we let them do what they can do. That’s what he’s saying. The leaders here are saying, “We’re not good cooks and you don’t want to eat anything I cook,” right? “And we’re not good waiters.”
My back up career is not in the service industry. I’ll just say that, OK? Like you baristas, you’re amazing. People come up and yell at you and you don’t throw coffee at them. I find that amazing, OK? If I had that much hot liquid, I would use some.
Anyways, you know, and what they’re saying is, “We’re good at this, we’re not good at that, “so we’ll do what we’re good at, and we’ll find some people who “are good at something else and we’ll let them do the things they’re good at.” Team of generalists versus specialists.
I’ve seen this in Mars Hill. When we first started, man, I was jack of all trades, master of none. If you called the church, it actually was my home phone number and I would answer it, OK? It’s not like that today, just so you know, OK? If you showed up to church early, you would notice me and a guy who was really faithful unloading my old Toyota pickup truck and all of our sound equipment. I was the sound guy—really bad sound guy. I couldn’t dial anything in, but look at me, I could pick something up. So I would move the subwoofers in. And then if you came, I would greet you at the door because I was the greeter with the notes I copied at Kinko’s because I was the office manager. And then at the end of service, if you turned in a visitor card, I would call you and take you out that week for lunch because I was the follow-up visitor department.
And if you had a problem, I would meet with you. And if you were sick, I would visit you in the hospital. And if you got engaged, I would do your premarital counseling in my house. And I would show up in a suit and officiate your wedding. And the night before, I would eat your chicken dinner with your in-laws, OK? I ate so many chicken dinners because I was a generalist. Now I’m a specialist. And we have a team of specialists. So the accountants went to business school, right? Those who run technology are specialists. It’s a team of specialists.
MINISTRY IS WORDS AND WORKS
Number two, ministry is two things, categorically. It’s words and works. Words and works. Here, the senior leaders had been doing words and works, and they’re saying, “We’re good at words—preaching. “We’re bad at works—administrating, organizing, planning, budgeting.”
So for you, sometimes you’ll think, “Man, I wish I had skills for ministry.” You do. Yours may be in works, not in words. So my question to you is, are your contributions regarding our ministry together primarily to be in the area of words—preaching, teaching, counseling, Community Group leader, teaching little kids, encouragement—or is it works—serving, doing, getting literally things done.
One of the reasons that Grace and I get along in addition to her tremendous forbearance is, my gifts are primarily in words and many of hers are in works, and so we complement one another well. So even right now, what am I doing? Words. What’s she doing? Works. She’s taking our son to a select baseball tournament to compete for a championship today. She’s serving, right? She’s helping, she’s doing, she finds great joy in that. And my gifts are in words.
So I want you to know that we’re one body, many parts. We’re all different and every one of you is important and significant. And what the leaders here are saying is, “Words, good at that. That’s me. Writing, preaching, teaching, debating. That’s my strength. Works—organizing, budgeting, planning, scheduling, not.” That’s what they’re saying. And it’s knowing who you are and what you are, and building a team that complements you.
PASTORS ARE PROPHETS & PRIESTS, NOT KINGS
Number three, most pastors are prophets and priests, not kings. OK, Jesus was Prophet, Priest, and King. We use this nomenclature a lot at Mars Hill, but the prophets are the preachers, the teachers, the writers, the apologists, the evangelists. They’re good with ideas, right? Bible-based, Jesus-centered ideas, content, prophets. Priests are good with people. Counseling, loving, encouraging, serving, befriending, persevering with people. They love people. They understand people. They help people. They care about people. They wake up in the morning and what’s on their mind? People. Kings are good with things. Prophets are good with ideas, priests are good with people, kings are good with kings. Systems, technology, real estate, budget, spreadsheets, calendars, strategic planning, right?
Which one are you? Prophet, priest, king? They’re not mutually exclusive. Some can have more than one, but in my experience, most of the kings go into the business world, amen? And most of the priests and prophets go into the church world. So most pastors teach and love people, but they struggle organizationally and administratively.
My father-in-law, he’s with the Lord now, Gibby, planted a church in South Seattle, pastored it for more than forty years. I preached his funeral over a year ago. And he was a classic prophet priest. He knew how to teach and love people. And what he said killed him in ministry, he told me one time, he said, was “administrivia.” That’s what he called it “administrivia.” He’s like, “I hate administrivia.” That tells you he’s not a king, amen, because you know what a king loves? All the details, all the organizational, all the financial, all the legal, OK?
So what they’re saying here is, “We need to preach. That’s our thing. We need to find somebody else to take care of the kingly aspect of ministry.”
Same is true at Mars Hill. The bigger we get, the more kings we need. Just flat out true. Fifty services, fifteen locations, five states, lots of complexity, technology, and legality. More than ever, we need kings. We need more prophets, more priests, and more kings. But most churches struggle in that kingly area. That’s the problem in their church. It’s historically been the problem in our church. The Bible is taught, we care for people, we try to do our best, but we’re not organized well enough to take good care of everybody, and complaints arise. And that’s where kings help priests and prophets love people and teach the Bible. We all work together.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SIN AND MISTAKE
Number four, there’s a difference between a sin and a mistake, and it’s really important that I emphasize this. I don’t think, historically, I’ve emphasized this enough in my teaching, so let me clarify it today. So the situation here is this: they’re trying to help, love, serve, and care for widows. Now, their critics would look and say, “They don’t care about people.” They do, they’re trying to help. And some would look and say, “They’re in sin. They’re not loving and caring for people. They’re in sin.”
Here’s my question. They are in failure, but there are two kinds of failure. Some failure’s a sin. Other failure’s a mistake. Do you get the difference? Their failure, is it a sin or is it a mistake? OK, think about it for a minute [humming Jeopardy theme song] OK, what do you think it is now? Ready for your answer? How many of you think they’re in sin and they need to repent? How many of you think they made a mistake, they’ve got to learn and grow from it, and fix it?
There’s a difference, right? I don’t think they’re in sin. It’s not that they don’t love people. It’s not that they’re trying to help. It’s not that they have bad doctrine, bad character. It’s not that they’re not trying or working hard. They just stink at it. Any of you had anything like that? They need to improve on it. They need to learn and grow in it.
Friends, this is where we need to give grace to one another. And not every issue is, sin, repent, sin, repent. Yeah, we hit sin and repent a lot. Sometimes it’s mistake, learning, mistake, learning, and we give grace to one another. They made a mistake, and they need to learn from it. You make mistakes; you need to learn from it. We make mistakes; we need to learn from them. I make mistakes; I need to learn from them.
Every leader fails at something. And your failure doesn’t need to be the end of you; it could be the beginning of your learning.
EVERY FAILURE IS A HOLY SPIRIT OPPORTUNITY
Number four, every failure is a Holy Spirit opportunity. It said early in Acts, “You will receive power,” and then it says, “The Holy Spirit came upon them.” And here’s what I don’t want you to think: “Oh yeah, the Holy Spirit was on them in Acts 2 and three thousand got converted. And the Holy Spirit was on them in Acts 4 when the church exploded and grew again. And now the Holy Spirit’s gone because they failed.”
The Holy Spirit is still on them, he’s still with them, he’s still working through them. You can have good character, hard works, sound doctrine, and the Holy Spirit, and fail. And fail. “Therefore, brothers”—Acts 6:3–6—“pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.” The leaders still pick the leaders. “‘But we will devote ourselves to two things: prayer and to the ministry of the word.’ And what they said pleased the whole gathering.” It seemed like a good idea. “They chose”—here’s the list—“Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit”—you’ll meet him in the coming weeks—“and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, “and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.” You’re like, “Did he say it right?” Say it fast, say it confident. Nobody knows how to pronounce the words in the Bible. “These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.”
So, the apostles, the leaders, they’re not good at some things, but it becomes a Holy Spirit opportunity to open up leadership positions for new leaders with different gifts to step forward to meet the new need. And that’s a good thing. And that’s why even at Mars Hill, there’s always an opportunity for you. And so here’s what they do.
Number one, they create a new office—if we could use that language. They say, “We need a new leader team. We need a new group. We need a different kind of leader.” Up to this point, this leader role didn’t exist.
Some of you have heard it said that this is the beginning of the ministry of the deacons. How many of you have heard this? The classic teaching of Acts 6:1–7 is that this is where deacons started, right? So for deacons, this is like their baby photo. “Oh, there we are. Aren’t we so cute? This is where we got our beginning,” right? This is like the baby photo of the deacons, right?
It may or may not be. It doesn’t mention the deacons. It’s not entirely clear and certain, but here’s what we do see: Leaders get to pick new roles and they get to structure as they need. They didn’t need to go back to the Old Testament and say, “OK, well where is the chapter and verse on what to do when the Hellenist widows send out negative statements on the Internet? What do we—where—how do we?”
Here’s the point. God and the Bible often speaks about the qualifications of a leader and then lets the leader, filled with the Holy Spirit, figure out the structure. And so here, they’re creating a new role for leadership. We’ve done this and we’ll do this at Mars Hill.
Some of you will be like, “Where’s that in the Bible?” What it says is that the leaders get to organize however it’s needed. This is why in the Bible it doesn’t say, “Moms and dads, here’s the chore chart for the kids.” Mom and dad get to make the chore chart. God knows if mom and dad are godly, if mom and dad are filled with the Holy Spirit, if mom and dad are obeying the principles of the Bible, then mom and dad have a right to organize the family as they need. And as the needs of the family grow and change, then they can reorganize the family as is needed. So it is in the church family. So, they create this new leadership role.
4 THINGS TO BE AWARE OF WHEN ASPIRING TO LEADERSHIP
New leaders, then, are chosen to step into it. And when it comes to these leaders, they’re looking for four things, the same kind of things we’re still looking for today. And if you’re aspiring to leadership, here are some things to be aware of.
1. A GOOD REPUTATION
Number one, a good reputation. We know these people. They’ve been around a while. They don’t just walk in the door, “I’m a leader!” Well, we need to get to know you, make sure you are who you think you are.
2. THEY HAVE THE HOLY SPIRIT
Number two, they have the Holy Spirit. They love Jesus. They’re definitely Christians. They’re growing in their faith. The trajectory of their life is they’re becoming more like Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Let me just say this: if someone has the Holy Spirit, you should always have hope for them. Sometimes you look at somebody and you’re like, “Oh, they’ll never change.” If the Holy Spirit’s in them, you can’t say that. We trust the Holy Spirit to change people’s hearts, minds, and lives. We trust him to do a wonderful work from the inside out. And our faith is not in the person but in the Holy Spirit in the person, amen?
So what these are people are saying is, “You can see the Holy Spirit. Yeah, they’ve changed, they’ve learned, they’ve grown. They’ve sinned and they’ve made mistakes, but boy, they’re not like they used to be, and by God’s grace they’ll just keep growing.” There’s evidence of the Holy Spirit in their life.
3. THEY HAVE WISDOM
Number three, they have wisdom, and this is very practical. They know how to do things. They know how to do things. So, the wisdom literature, like in Proverbs, is about how to do things.
Some of you have business experience. You know accounting, you know technology, you know coding, you know how to run an instrument, you know how to run a sound board.
Some of you know how to organize a budget, plan a calendar, set up human resources, and process people and information. You just have a lot of practical know how. And a lot of this, quite frankly, it comes from the business world. You have experience.
It doesn’t mean you need to shut down your business and go into ministry. It means that you can use everything you learn in your business and also share those things with our ministry because your business is your ministry, too. And some of the things that you learn in your business will help our ministry, OK?
People say all the time, “Oh, it’s not a business. It shouldn’t be run like a business.” Well, if you have employees, and you own real estate, and there are rules and regulations, you better operate in a way that is with wisdom. And some of you have that, and as we grow, we really benefit from people like you.
So they’re looking with people with wisdom, people with business experience, organizational experience, budgeting, systems, structures, policies, procedures, calendars. The kings.
4. THEY DELEGATE AUTHORITY
Number four, they then lay hands on them, which is delegating authority. What happens in the Bible is that when a leader chooses another leader and it’s confirmed by the Holy Spirit and the rest of the team, then they lay hands on that person and they commission them into ministry, and here’s what it’s showing. We believe that God has put his hand on them, proverbially speaking, and therefore we’re going to put our hand on them, physically speaking. And as they go out to do their ministry, they’re doing it under our authority. Under our authority.
So the apostles are saying, “We’re not going to be there like, you know, the chef, chopping up the vegetables, and like the waiter, serving the meal. We’re going to send these people, but they come on our behalf. They represent us. So if you don’t like the meal, you don’t need to talk to us, you need to talk to them. If you don’t think that things are run well, you don’t need to talk to us, you need to talk to them because they represent us.”
Let me ask you this: Do you think anybody was upset that they didn’t get Peter to bring them their soup anymore, that John couldn’t come sit at their table for a few minutes and check in on them? Do you think that displacement felt like a loss for some people? “Who are you?” “Well, I’m Stephen.” “I don’t know you. Where’s Peter?” “Peter’s not here anymore.” “Oh, he’s too big for us. Yeah, he’s moved on. “Uppity, uppity, uppity. Got a book deal, I heard. He thinks he’s writing the Bible,” right, OK? Right?
Are they being proud or humble, the leaders? The people might think, “They’re proud. They don’t love people. Certain things are beneath them.” This would have went out on Twitter, this statement, “It is not right for us to serve tables.” “Oh, too good for that, huh?”
The truth is, they were being humble. They were saying, “We’re not any good at this. Yes, I saw Jesus risen from the dead. I once water-skied without a boat,” Peter could say, “and I stink at cooking and organizing. “I don’t know how to make a budget. I tried to put together a menu. I went to the store. I didn’t buy enough food. By the time we got to the end of the line, I was out of food because I stink at menu planning. I watch the Food Network, I TiVo everything, I just can’t get it,” right? You have to be humble to say, “I’m no good at that. I’m human. I have limitations. I love you, I want the best for you, so I’m going to find somebody who’s good at it.” It takes some humility to do that, amen? Because all the fear of man, and the criticism, and the pressure would be, “Just keep showing up. Keep doing what you used to be doing.” And Peter’s like, “I can’t do that.”
Christianity needs to go forward. It’s why we’re still Christians today. The apostles did get back to preaching, teaching, making disciples, and planting churches.
It takes a lot of humility to know your limitations. It takes a lot of humility to publicly confess what you’re not any good at. Be very careful to assign motive to behavior, particularly with a leader. “You know why Peter’s not here? He doesn’t love us. He doesn’t care about us. You know why? He’s a bigot. He’s hateful. He’s too proud. He’s really lost his way. He’s changed. He’s not like he used to”—that’s not the case.
If someone really loves you, they want what’s best for you, and sometimes what’s best for you is someone other than them to help you. Let’s say, hypothetically—I hope it doesn’t happen, but you get shot, OK? You run up to me, “Pastor Mark, I need help.” I should get you a doctor. I should not Google “gunshot wound” and try my best. I should find a specialist. “But I thought you loved me?” Trust me, this is loving. You don’t want me to stitch you up. That’s not my thing, right?
Sometimes when you really love someone, you love them enough to allow them to criticize you so that you can get them to the people that are most helpful. That’s what the leaders here are doing. So there is a new office, there are new leaders, and there’s a new org chart. And the leaders say, “We’re not going to do the food anymore. We’re going to do the prayer and preaching. That’s what we’re going to do. Certain people are good with their works. They’re going to take care of all of this. We’re good with our words. We need to get back to the Word of God.”
Let me say this, Mars Hill: Oh man, this my life, OK? I just—man, people ask me, like, “Do you ever feel like you’ll get in over your head?” Yes, in ’96 I did, and I have been in over my head since ’96. If you weren’t here, that’s when we started, OK? My organizational, financial, administrative inability is unbelievable.
But what they do, then, is they reorganize and they say, “You do this and I do this. Here are the generalists. Here are the specialists.” And then the leaders say, “You know what we’re going to do? We’re going to pray and commit ourselves to the ministry of the Word. We’re going to pray, we’re going to prepare, and we’re going to preach. That’s what we’re going to do.”
What can happen is that all of the complaints, the organizational needs, the systemic, structural needs are not that they’re not real, but they can become real distracting to the preaching of the Word. And so praying is of utmost importance, especially for the senior leaders, because Jesus is still the Senior Pastor and you’ve got to talk to him. “Jesus, what do you want us to do? “How do you want us to change? Where do you want us to grow?”
You’ve got to hear from Jesus. And if there are so many other voices and so much noise, and it’s only multiplied and made more complex in the age of technology, it’s like, “Quiet, I need to hear Jesus. Jesus, what do you want?” Pray that we would always hear Jesus, change what we need to change, repent where we need to repent, move forward where we can move forward, and then give themselves, they say, to the ministry of the Word.
I just want to publicly say that I am very sincerely, deeply, profoundly, increasingly grateful for those people who take care of things and people so that I can have time to study, preach, teach, and write. And just please do this for me today: be a person who says, “Thank you, I appreciate you a lot.”
I mean, just think about it. Fifty services a weekend at Mars Hill Church across fifteen locations across five states. The ushers, the greeters, the Communion, the kids’ ministry, the parking, the facilities, the janitorial, the prayer team, the follow-up, the technology. I mean, you just start to look at thousands of children—just all of the complexity. And in every place, there’s someone who loves Jesus and is helping, and I want you to thank them. When you take Communion today, what I want to see is, “Thank you.” On your way out, give the sound guy a hug because nobody’s ever hugged the sound guy. He’s in a booth, right? Thank the greeters, thank those who are working with—just say thank you. And realize, Wow, look at all the people doing all of these things so that the Word of God can be preached. This is amazing, and I’m very humbled by it, and I’m very grateful for it.
And I just want to publicly say thank you including and especially to the more than six hundred Community Group leaders. Every week, people are opening their home, vacuuming their carpets, setting out a bite to eat, loving, praying, caring, serving, helping. This is an army of loving people. And yes, organizationally, we can do better, but I don’t think we can get better people. I truly don’t believe we can get better people. Well, they make the adjustments and the changes, and then what happens?
FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION BUT A REQUIREMENT
Lastly, failure is not an option; it’s a requirement. I want you to hear that. What’s true for you personally is true for us collectively. It’s like, “Well, is failure an option?” It’s a requirement! The only way you get good at something is by being bad at it for a while, amen? Any athletes, any musicians, anybody that has any skill? How many of you, you’re a good cook, but your first meal, not so good? How many of you drove here, but your first drive, not so great? Failure is not an option; it’s a requirement. It’s not always part of our sinfulness; sometimes it’s just a part of our humanity.
As we deal with our failures and learn and grow through our failures, this is the kind of thing that could happen. Acts 6:7, “And the Word of God continued to increase.” More Bible! “And the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem.” More Christians! “And a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” More leaders, yay! Yay, they got through it, they made it, they figured it out. More Bible. Yay, the Bible got taught. More people became Christians, yay!
How many of you loved it on Easter? We saw almost four hundred people get baptized. Lots of people became Christians. Yay, more Bible! Yay, more people become Christians! These are priests, Old Testament scholars. They’re people who lead people. People follow them. They’re waiting for the coming of the Messiah. They haven’t heard about Jesus. The apostles say, “We don’t have time to cook the meal. “We got to go talk to the priests. “Somebody’s got to open the Old Testament “with these guys and show them Jesus. “If they meet Jesus, then they’ll become leaders. “They already know a lot of Bible. “All the people following them will follow them. “We’ll see lots more leaders, “lots more people become Christians. “We’ve got a big plan. “We’ve got to move this thing forward because more people “need Jesus, more people need more Bible teaching, and more people need more leaders.”
So the senior leaders say, “Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to focus on Bible teaching, evangelism, and leadership development.” And those are the three things that they just start focusing on. Everybody else takes care of everything else, and the church grows, and it’s awesome. And if you were to just read it in the middle like, “Racial conflict, financial questions, lots of public complaints,” you’d think Christianity’s coming to an end. By verse 7, you’re like, “Yay! The Holy Spirit’s still with them.”
THE SPIRIT-EMPOWERED CHURCH CYCLE
So I’ve been doing this eighteen years, and here’s what I see, and I want to share it with you to encourage you. If you’re a leader, I want you to see this. If you’re new to Christianity or new to our church, I want you to see this. There are normal rhythms and cycles that churches go through as people go through. Here’s the Spirit-empowered church cycle. We just looked at it in Acts 6.
1. PREACH JESUS
Number one, preach Jesus. First things first, preach Jesus. Christianity got started, Peter’s standing up, preach Jesus, preach Jesus, preach Jesus. He’s God become a man. He lived without sin. He died on the cross in our place for our sins. He rose from death. He conquers our enemies of Satan, sin, death, hell, and wrath. He ascended into heaven. He’s worshiped by angels. He’s coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and with him he will bring a kingdom that never ends. Everyone will get out of their grave. They’ll stand before him, they’ll give an account to him, and they’ll be judged by him for eternal life or death. It all comes down to Jesus, amen? Preach Jesus.
Number two, the church grows. The Holy Spirit who wrote the Scriptures blesses its preaching, wants people to know and love Jesus. People become Christians, the church grows.
Mars Hill, we’ve had some amazing surges of growth. It’s crazy. I mean, at this point in the book of Acts, the entire population of Christianity on the earth is around the same size as Mars Hill Church. So if you’re reading Acts and you’re like, “I can’t believe that God did that,” I can’t believe that God still does that, and he’s done it with us.
3. FAIL AND BE PUBLICLY CRITICIZED
Number three—OK, let me just say, number three’s not my favorite one, OK? Fail and be publicly criticized. We just saw it in Acts 6. Failure, public criticism. It happens. I’ve been doing this long enough. I know that it’s happened before, it’ll happen again, and I’m sure it’ll be my fault. Number three, fail and be publicly criticized.
4. REORGANIZE TO FIX THE FAILURES
But number four, reorganize to fix the failures. That’s what they did. This ain’t working. It used to work, but now it’s too big. Right, how many of you ladies—right now, you got two kids. You’re like, “I know how to raise kids.” What if you were pregnant with seventy-two children? You’re like, “I would need a different plan.” Yes you would. “I would need a bigger car, a bigger fridge, a better husband. I need a lot of things,” right?
As a family grows, it has to reorganize. And what used to work doesn’t work anymore because we got more kids and they’re getting older. So it is with the family of God. So what do you do? You reorganize to fix the failures. That’s what they did, that’s what we do by the grace of God.
5. KEEP PREACHING JESUS
Step five, keep preaching Jesus, keep talking about Jesus, keep pointing to Jesus, keep, in every way, maintaining Jesus as the center of everything.
6. REPEAT STEPS 1–4
And then step fix, repeat steps one through five.
Do you see that? Because what are they going to do? They’re going to fix their problems, the church is going to grow, and you know what? They’re going to have another problem, and then they’re going to have to fix it.
This is not just the cycle of church life, this is the cycle of your life, right? Meet Jesus, learn about Jesus, grow in Jesus, fail, have some people unhappy with you, repent of your sins, fix your mistakes by the grace of God, keep walking with Jesus, and grow some more until you fail again. Give grace to one another. Give grace to the whole church.
Mars Hill, this is normal, prototypical, historical, biblical Christianity, OK? And it’s not, “They preached and grew, and preached and grew, and preached and grew, and preached and grew, and preached and grew.” They preached and grew, and made mistakes and worked on it, and preached some more and grew some more and made different mistakes and worked on it. And it’s like the seasons of nature—prune, harvest, prune, harvest, prune, harvest, prune, harvest. Harvesting is more fun than pruning, but there’s no harvesting apart from pruning.
The same is true for you. Let’s give grace to one another. Let’s differentiate between sins and personal mistakes. And let’s see that just because someone has a failure, it doesn’t have to be their future. It can be God’s opportunity to move them forward, amen?
AN OPPORTUNITY TO RESPOND
I want you to have some encouragement today. And the whole reason we’re here is to lift up the name of Jesus, so we’re going to do that now by giving our tithes and offerings. We’re also going to partake of Communion, remembering Jesus’ broken body and shed blood in our place for our sins.
One thing I want to do is point out a pattern in the book of Acts. It says repeatedly, “They met in the temple courts”—big meetings—“and they met from house to house”—little meetings, which we call Community Groups. As the financial stewards are collecting the offerings—and thank you for doing that—if you’re not in a Community Group, we want you to get in one. There’s more than six hundred. They’re scattered all over. There’s probably one near you. Let us know who you are so we can connect you with one of them.
Let say this: just because you sign up or show up doesn’t mean that it’s a lifelong commitment like marriage, right? Go there, meet people, see how it goes, check it out, give it a shot. It’s just our way of opening the door to you and to see if this is a community you want to participate in. If the first group doesn’t work, find another group, OK? But as you gather in Community Groups this week, I want you to really thank your Community Group hosts and leaders.
Here are the questions I want you to drill and dial down on: Number one, do prayer and Scripture have the proper place in your life? The leaders say, “Our priorities have to be prayer and Scripture.” Are those priorities in your life? Time for prayer, time in Scripture.
Number two, how has God used failure to move you forward? This is where we encourage one another. In most groups, you get together, and you’re like, “Here’s my successes, here’s my wins, here’s my victories,” right? You know, “Here are all my trophies.” As God’s people, get together and say, “You know what, “this was a failure. “Maybe it was a sin, maybe it was a mistake, “but it’s in the category of failure and here’s how God used it.” And we share that so that people know us and we can encourage them.
Number three, is your ministry primarily with your words or your works? Which category? You say, “I’m a word person. “Preaching, teaching, encouraging, counseling, comforting.” “No, works. Give me stuff to do. “Don’t make me get up and talk. Give me something to do.”
And number four, how can you be praying for our church, all of Mars Hill Church and also your local location, as well as your Community Group?
Father God, thank you so much for the Scriptures and this amazing case study of the early church. God, I thank you so much that the Bible’s not just filled with principles, but actual historical stories of people, times, places, and circumstances so that we can learn from them because we’re like them.
Lord God, I’m not a leader anywhere near the quality of these leaders, and my preaching is nowhere near the quality of their preaching, but it is encouraging to see that even the best leaders have failures.
Lord God, I thank you in the story how good, godly people with wisdom stepped up and helped out. And Lord, we ask those people to do the same in our church. May they not just get frustrated by the holes they see. May they realize that they’re frustrated because they have the gifts to fill them, and would you help them to do that?
Lord, thank you so much that we, in our humanity, have an opportunity to learn through our failures. And thank you that it doesn’t define us because Jesus is our perfection. We don’t need to be perfect because he’s already been perfect, and he’s here to help us learn how to become more like him.
So Jesus, as we come to sing right now, we come to celebrate you because the whole point and purpose of the church is that you would get glory and that we would get joy. And Holy Spirit, we ask for that now in Jesus’ good name, amen.
Note: This sermon transcript has been edited for readability.
We love to present ourselves as having it together, and getting it all right, and getting it all right the first time. If we don’t get it right the first time, then we’ll get it right eventually—and that’s the story we tell. You have failed, you are failing, and you will fail. The question is, what are you going to do?
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