ACTS 6:1-7
Breakout: Clearing the Bump in the Road
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
July 27, 2008

Acts 6:1-6 (Holman) In those days, as the numbers of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint by the Hellenistic Jews against the Hebraic Jews that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution. Then the Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, “It would not be right for us to give up preaching about God to wait on tables. Therefore, brothers, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we can appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the preaching ministry.” The proposal pleased the whole company. So they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte from Antioch. They had them stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

The early church was for sure a breakout church. They were constantly expanding beyond the walls, going outside to touch the unchurched.

One obvious proof of the early church’s breakout ability was numeric growth. Jesus began alone, then called four, and eight more. After the Ascension, 120 gathered in the upper room. At Pentecost, 3000 were added. After the lame man was healed, 5000 believed. The Holy Spirit was careful to record these numbers for us. Numbers are important because people are important.

Second is in many ways also a breakout church, ministering beyond its walls to the unchurched. I often say, “You are the most giving people I have ever known. God has used you to reach out to every region of our city, our state, our nation, and our world.

On Jesus’ behalf, you take food to Ronald McDonald house, feed the city of Springfield in November, adopt needy families at Christmas, give generously to Operation Christmas Child, minister to men and women in jail, and make quilts for unwed teenage mothers. You work on health fairs, teach ESL, and volunteer at the Bellwether.

The Lord, through you, builds ramps for the handicapped, assists disaster victims, refurbishes schools, does foster care, adoption, book fairs, tutoring, after-school clubs, and ministry at the Ozark Empire Fair.

Like the early church, Second is a breakout church. This does not mean all is perfect. The early church hit a bump in the road. Greek-speaking widows felt they were not being treated as well as Hebrew-speaking widows. Second has also hit a bump in the road. Our bump is baptisms, our numbers are abysmal. We want more baptisms not so we can be impressive, but because a lack of baptisms represents souls that remain lost. Baptism does not save, but is the only gauge we can use to measure the number of lives being changed for Christ.

For everything you do, thank you. To God be the glory for all that’s been done. There is more to do. There are souls to save in our Springfield area. Let’s look at our challenge and our opportunity to be a better breakout church.

An inevitable part of church-life is problems. Bumps in the road happen. Success can create as many problems as failure. We have done well at Second. Lots of us here are content. We need to face an unpleasant truth. Could it be that deep down we don’t care if our church grows? Has status quo become a comfortable place for us? This sermon calls us to care about the business of reaching people.

On August 24 we will implement changes we hope will result in growth. The changes, though, will not in and of themselves, bring growth. They will help only if we let them make us more willing to reach out to the unchurched.

Thom Rainer, in his book “Breakout Churches,” studied 13 churches across the USA that successfully went past their bump in the road, and moved to breakout. You may be surprised at what Rainer learned:

1. True or false. The 13 pastors involved in the bump-to-breakout transition led by the sheer force of a charismatic personality. False. A surprising modesty typified them. Rainer was impressed with their honesty, openness, and caring hearts.

2. True or false. Breakout churches were slow in adopting new methodologies. True. They hesitated to latch on to the latest and hottest trends in the national church scene.

3. True or false. A deliberately created and clearly articulated vision statement significantly influenced the breakout. False. It had little to do with the turnaround.

4. True or false. The development of a strategic plan was not vital. True. While there can be merit in developing strategies, Rainer did not find this to be critical. The ultimate issue is our hearts.

5. True or false. Breakout churches were theologically conservative. True. But many others are as conservative. Clear doctrine is important in evangelistic churches, but doctrine alone does not move churches to a breakout.

All 13 churches and leaders experienced what Rainer called the ABC moment: awareness/belief/crisis. Awareness: Leadership became aware the church was not all God intended it to be. They realized Satan had a weapon more lethal than church splits and the moral failures of church leaders. It’s called slow erosion. Churches do not remain plateaued. They either begin to grow again or begin to die. Our staff was slow to accept this reality. We have repented, and are ready to move forward.

Belief: The church became willing to accept the fact the church had hit a bump in the road. This stage was a wake-up call that changes needed to be made. The churches did not despair over the changes, but instead had a strong belief God could use them to make a good situation better.

Crisis: Change is hard. As change begins, angst can take place in the heart of the leader, in the members of the church, and even strain the attitudes of the members and leaders toward each other. This change has been hard on me. To share the honor of being your only pulpiteer is not an easy thing to do. The change has been hard on our staff, and on many of you. Some are changing hours and swapping small groups.

Change is hard, but must happen. The Apostles changed. Refusing to ignore the early church’s bump in the road, they quickly and decisively confronted the problem head-on, solved it, and pressed ahead. We must, too.

The Twelve were determined to follow the heart of God. They had learned, were learning, and would learn, God cared for outsiders. Nothing could be allowed to deter them from reaching the unchurched.

We need to know what they knew. How much does God care about the unchurched? A quick survey of Acts provides us a good glimpse into the answer.

God made their concern His last command on Earth (Acts 1:8), let men speak in foreign languages (Acts 2), healed a 40-year-old lame man (Acts 3), and killed two of his followers who threatened the work (Acts 5). He did not let the widows’ dispute side-track the Apostles from reaching the unchurched (Acts 6).

He let Stephen, His premiere layman, be killed (Acts 7), and had Philip leave a revival meeting to find one lost sheep in the wilderness (Acts 8). He brought Saul, His most virulent opponent, to his knees (Acts 9), humbled Peter, His number one church leader (Acts 10), and killed a pompous ruler (Acts 12).

He let the leadership torch pass to Antioch from His beloved Jerusalem church (Acts 13:1), blinded a sorcerer (Acts 13:11-12), and let his only two missionaries split and double the missions force (Acts 15:37-41).

He gave Paul a vision, the Macedonian Call, which opened Europe (Acts 16:9), put His two best missionaries in prison, shook the earth (Acts 16), arranged an all-expenses paid trip to Rome for Paul, thwarted all of Rome, and allowed Paul to work unhindered.

Acts 6:7 So the preaching about God flourished, the number of the disciples in Jerusalem multiplied greatly, and a large group of priests became obedient to the faith.

With the problem solved, the early Church once again flourished. Breakout resumed as more and more responded to the Word. Because they solved their problem and carried on, they remained an unstoppable fellowship. The same needs to happen to us at Second.