Acts 16:9-10

Come… and Help Us

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Acts 16:9-10

Come… and Help Us

By Dr. Mickey Anders
Many of you are aware that our church has been involved in something we are calling “the Roxburgh process.”  It is a project through the Christian Church Region of Kentucky to work with a church consultant named Alan Roxburgh.

Part of that emphasis is a challenge to get our church members out into the neighborhoods.  Alan Roxburgh says, “God is up to something in your neighborhood.  The task of the church is to get out into the communities, discover what God is up to, and join in that task.”

Then Roxburgh goes on to define the difference between a “Come to our church” attitude vs. a “Get out into the neighborhood” approach.  In a “come-to-our-church” approach, we say, “We need you to come to our church to fill up our new building… and help pay for it.”  We say, “We want you to come to youth group, women’s circle, men’s breakfast, vespers, connections, small groups, and choir.”  Roxburgh says that a “come to our church” attitude doesn’t work anymore and is, in fact, counter-productive.

Roxburgh says that the message needs to change from “come” to “go.”

Roxburgh believes that the only way for a church to really grow is by emptying itself.  Going out instead of coming in.  When we go out into our neighborhoods, the church will become vital to the people in the neighborhoods, and then people will come and will participate.  But the key is to challenge our members to get out.

That’s how we came up with the theme: “Getting Out Is In.”  It means that we not focus so much on the inside of the church, as important as that is, but to focus on getting out.

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I have said before that I think our church is uniquely poised to take advantage of that emphasis.  We are strong internally.  We are a welcoming, caring friendly congregation.  We have great worship services and strong committees.  We love coming to this church!

Ours is a strong church in every way, so it is time for a challenge.  It is time for us to get out.  If we have a weakness, it is that we are not doing enough hands on missions.  Our people are more prone to give money for outreach than they are to actually do outreach.  More hands-on outreach has been a stated goal for several years, but we haven’t made enough progress in that area yet.

We are not a country club where people come to enjoy themselves, but rather we are a mission station where people come to be inspired and trained to carry on their mission in the neighborhoods.

I think our problem is that we have not had the vision that Paul had.  We have not heard the voice that says, “Come over into Macedonia and help us.”  I am fascinated by that line. It’s only seven words to start with, but it can be boiled down to four:  “Come… and help us.”

In the original context of Acts, this cry for help related to starting the first church in Europe.    In this vision, the Apostle Paul is told to redirect his evangelistic ministry. He had been planning to travel to the familiar region of Asia controlled by the Romans. But every time he takes up his travel itinerary, the door closes. He’s like a man in a maze, constantly running into dead-ends. But now, there is a man in a dream pleading with him to bring the gospel to Macedonia, in Europe.

The verses following our text for today describe Paul’s missionary journey to Philippi where a woman named Lydia became the first convert, and started the first church in Europe in her home.  “Come over to Macedonia and help us” meant, “Come share the good news of Jesus with us, and help us start a church.”

But I think those words “Come… and help us” can apply to all the people everywhere who cry out for help.  There are people all through our neighborhoods who are hurting and crying for help.  There are people who are dealing with divorce, grief, depression and illness who are crying “Come… and help us.”  There are people who are lonely, stressed, or dying who cry, “Come… and help us.” Our first motivation for the “Getting Out is In” approach is in response to those crying for help.

I think it was in the 1970s that Steve Green made popular a Christian song with the title, “People Need the Lord.”  It said,

“Everyday they pass me by, I can see it in their eyes.
Empty people filled with care, Headed who knows where?
On they go through private pain, Living fear to fear.
Laughter hides their silent cries, Only Jesus hears.
People need the Lord, people need the Lord.
At the end of broken dreams, He’s the open door.
People need the Lord, people need the Lord.
When will we realize, people need the Lord?”

We must hear that private pain, those silent cries and those broken dreams.  We must see Paul’s vision of people saying, “Come… and help us.”  That’s our motivation.  That why “Getting Out is In.”  Only by getting a clear vision of this need will we have the reason to change our behavior.

Once we have a clear vision of the need, then we must find the best way to meet the need.  The traditional approach of most churches is to let the ministers take care of the hurting people.  We hire the ministers to do ministry.  They do it, and usually they do it very well.  Then the people in the pew applaud the good work the ministers do.

But we have found that the ministers can only do so much.  And as churches grow and the ministers are required to do more and more, they often burn out.  The need is greater than they can handle.

As long as we continue with that model for ministry, the need will not be met.  We must move to a new model of doing ministry if we are to adequately respond to the people who cry, “Come… and help us.”

I have been very impressed by the genius of the Stephen Ministry.  It recognizes that ministers are often running around putting out fires.  As soon as one fire is put out, another crops up somewhere else, and the minister can’t linger long enough to provide the on-going care that people usually need.  So the Stephen Ministry concentrates on training lay people to give the kind of care that the ministers don’t have time to give.

This approach requires an emphasis on training lay people to do the work of ministry.  It recognizes that all the people in the church are called to help hurting people.

Stephen ministry is named after the passage in Acts 6.  Luke writes that the disciples were increasing in number in such a way that ministry to those in need was becoming more and more difficult.  Finally, some of the widows were complaining because they were being neglected in the daily distribution of food.  The twelve disciples were not able to handle all the ministry needs before them.  So they called a meeting and said, “It is not appropriate for us to forsake the word of God and serve tables. Therefore select from among you, brothers, seven men of good report, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will continue steadfastly in prayer and in the ministry of the word.”  Then Luke adds, “These words pleased the whole multitude. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit…” (6:2-5)

This is a significant and early model for doing ministry in the church.  When the needs become too great, lay people, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, were appointed to the task.  That’s what Stephen Ministry does and that’s what we are being called to do.

This wisdom is also found in the Old Testament when Moses father-in-law, Jethro, came to visit him.  The story is recorded in Exodus 18:13-23.

Apparently, Jethro went to work with Moses one day and observed his work as judge for the people.  The work-load for Moses was overwhelming.  There were so many people wanting a judgment from Moses that there were long delays in settling the cases before Moses.

Jethro takes his son-in-law, Moses, aside and says to him, “What is this thing that you do for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning to evening?”

Moses explained that the people came to him to inquire of God.  When they have a dispute, they come to Moses and he decides between one person and another, and gives them the instructions of God.

Jethro said to him, “The thing that you do is not good. You will surely wear away, both you, and this people that is with you; for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to perform it yourself alone. Listen now to my voice. I will give you counsel, and God be with you. You represent the people before God, and bring the causes to God. You shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and shall show them the way in which they must walk, and the work that they must do. Moreover you shall provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God: men of truth, hating unjust gain; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. Let them judge the people at all times. It shall be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they shall judge themselves. So shall it be easier for you, and they shall share the load with you. If you will do this thing, and God commands you so, then you will be able to endure, and all of these people also will go to their place in peace.”

There is a clear model from the earliest pages in the Bible for distributing the load and getting more people involved in the work of God.

This approach to church life captures the clear instructions found in Ephesians 4:11-13, where Paul writes, “He gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, shepherds and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, to the work of serving, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a full grown man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

For Paul, the one of the key functions of the church is “the perfecting of the saints, to the work of serving” (Ephesians 4:12).  In the Stephen Ministry, we spend our time training lay people to give excellent caring ministry to the people who are crying, “Come… help us.”   I believe God is calling us to do the same thing in many areas of our church life.  We will have to do that if we are to adequately respond to the needs.

The genius of the Stephen Ministry is that it is lay lead.  It demonstrates great confidence in the laity to do the work of ministry.  It practices the same multiplication of effort that Jethro advised Moses to practice.

If I go see someone who needs help, then I help one person.  And I find great joy and meaning in performing that ministry.  However, if I train five people to go and give better care than I have the time to give, our efforts are multiplied.  More hurting people are helped!  Lay people in our church find that meaningful and joyful ministry can be theirs.  They love it.  They are no longer just pew sitters, but they have a calling too.  They become part of the ministry effort of the church.  Do you see the wisdom of this approach to ministry?  I believe God is calling us in this direction.

As I sat in the week-long training session for Stephen Leaders two weeks ago, I kept thinking about the wisdom of its founder, Rev. Kenneth C. Haugk.  He was the pastor at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church in St. Louis, Missouri in 1975.  He has a PhD in clinical psychology, and he could have done as so many other pastoral counselors have done. He could have continued to practice his skills in his church, or even set up a private counseling business on the side.  He could have had a wonderful ministry to hundreds of people.

Instead, he began an intensive training course for lay people in his church and then in other churches.  He imparted his skills in them.  And slowly, ever so slowly, the program grew.  For 35 years, he has focused his life on training lay people to become Stephen Ministers, and now there have been over 60,000 people attend his conferences and over 500,000 Stephen Ministers trained.  Those 500,000 have surely ministered to at least two people each, meaning that one million hurting people have been helped through his work!

We are being called just as surely as the Apostle Paul was called.  We are called by a vision of hurting people crying out, “Come… and help us.”

Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.

Copyright 20, Dr. Mickey Anders. Used by permission.