Week #3: The Messy Reality of Family Life
Begin in Prayer (5 minutes)
Thank God for His care and creativity in forming your group as a family. Pray for each person, by name, and for an increase in love and unity.
Read: Matthew 12:46-50; Acts 6:1-7; Ephesians 4:1-16
(NOTE: Consider having your group read the passage in a few different versions)
Overview: [For Leaders]
By the time we arrive at Acts 6, the little fringe Jesus movement has gotten some momentum and is growing quite rapidly. And, as is so often the case, there are always growing pains. Our first glimpse at a few of those growing pains comes in the form of a dispute between the Hellenists and the Hebrews (remember, the church is still exclusively Jewish at this time). The “Hebrews” refers to Jewish people who inhabited Israel) and usually spoke Aramaic as their first language. The Hellenists were Jews who came from the wide world of the Roman Empire, and had been largely influenced by the Greek culture and language. In this case, the Hellenists believe that the Hebrews are neglecting their widows in the daily distribution of resources (food, and quite possibly alms).
One point that may be of interest for where we are going is to note that in the 1st century the responsibility for taking care of a widow fell on the extended family. There were no social systems in the ancient world (e.g. healthcare, social security, disability, life insurance, etc.) for the vulnerable to fall back on except for their primary care group–their family. The Hellenists are complaining that the neglect of the widows is a sign that the church is not operating as a unified family. What plan do the apostles come up with to address the needs of the growing and diverse family of God? They decide to specialize and delegate. The apostles had a unique role to play in the Church–they were the witnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Literally no one else in the church could do what they were called to do. Plus, there were others within the ‘Family’ who could see to these needs and, perhaps, do a better job of making sure that everyone in God’s new family was taken care of. So, seven men are chosen and appointed to serve the Church. The movement was never going to work in the long term if a few people were doing all of the work of ministry.
The idea of the church as family is, of course, not the only powerful picture for the Church found in the NT. If we fast-forward a bit, after the gospel has made its way beyond Jerusalem, beyond Israel, and even beyond the Jewish people, we encounter another way of imagining the Church. Paul envisions the church working like a body. In the body, there are many different parts (diversity), but they all make up one body (unity). In a body, each part plays a unique role (essential), but no part of the body can work in isolation from the rest (interdependent). 2000 years later, a lot has changed. But, no matter how many things change, the original vision–Church as a family, Church as a diversely unified body of interconnected and dependent parts–has not changed. The idea of Church as a thing where the few serve the needs of the many has never worked, and will never work. The idea of the Church as a thing I connect to but don’t contribute simply doesn’t work.
Questions for Discussion (20-30 Minutes)
- What arrested your attention/heart/mind from the weekend talk or overview above?
- Why do you think it is so difficult for many in our culture to view the church as a family? What cultural forces keep people from going ‘beyond the weekend’?
- Do you sense that there are “Hellenistic Widows” in our church or in our city that are being overlooked and/or undervalued?
- One of the keys to success for the early church was shared leadership. How well has our group done at specializing in our strengths and delegating responsibility based on our gifts?
This Week’s Practices (10 Minutes)
Families are groups that regularly make and keep commitments to each other. And one of the most basic ways we do that is through sharing and bearing burdens. Have each person in the group share a burden they are currently carrying–it could be as simple as a prayer request or as big as an upcoming move–and make commitments by identifying how you can help them bear it.
Close in Prayer (5-10 Minutes)