"...It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. Therefore friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word."Now a modern reader might read this and think "what, they were too good to do this?" Somehow they thought they were above needing to do this task? Not so fast! I think if the Apostles thought that there was no one well qualified to handle the task they would have taken it on. But, the community was growing-the Apostles had trained people within the community who could take on this leadership role. They were fully confident that they could safely delegate this task. The Apostles had discipled their followers so they could then start delegating so they could continue to disciple others. That's how you grow-you teach and train others how to lead, so they can take over and then you move on and teach and train others how to do the exact same thing!
And Luke is kind enough to introduce us to two of the seven chosen-Stephen and Phillip. We are able to learn about their separate ministries. Stephen's ministry went beyond just feeding to performing "signs and wonders" and also speaking in the synagogue of the Freedmen. He is so powerful in his speech that individuals set out to discredit him and he is brought before the council, where he delivers a message. It was a message that they did not like, so they stoned him. Phillip, meanwhile, goes to Samaria and "proclaimed the Messiah to them." He also performed signs and wonders. He was so successful that the Apostles on hearing that Samaria had accepted the word of God, sent Peter and John to pray for them.
If these examples don't make a strong case for the importance of good discipleship in the church today, then I don't know what does?! Not only did the Apostles teach and preach, they also trained their followers, leading by example. And when they felt that certain followers were ready, they gave them a chance to lead by delegating tasks to them. By doing this, it freed them up to help others work through the same process in order to get to the point where they could lead as well.
This makes a lot of sense. Our members are "out in the trenches" working and dealing with people who might never darken the doorstep of a church, but are receptive to talking with and listening to someone "just like them." Discipleship really is an apprenticeship because not only should it give "book knowledge" but it should also provide practical knowledge. An apprentice needs to learn first by listening and watching and then you let them do the work. You have them try their hand at something small so they can become comfortable doing the work and then they move on to more difficult tasks. When a leader can delegate with confidence, then they can continue to do the work of leading and training others. When the "trainee" can become a "trainer" then suddenly you can train even more people which means more work can get done. It also frees a leader up to focus more on vision and leading because others have been trained to teach.
I can only speak from my personal experience in the UMC but I have a feeling that what I am about to say plagues a lot of denominations out there. We assume too much and we tend to skip the discipleship step. Not every church does this, and I don't think that it is done consciously, but the undercurrent is there. We assume when someone walks through the door that they know how to pray. We assume that they are reading their Bible and that they know how to read their Bible. We assume that they are ready to do mission and evangelism work right from the get-go. We assume that they understand what it means to be a Methodist and what comes with that territory. We assume that they know how to practically apply Bible teaching in their daily lives. So rather than taking some time to teach and train we put them in to some sort of ministry and they burn out and leave through the side door. We scratch our collective heads and wonder what happened? We asked them to do something that they were not ready or prepared to do. We skipped a step.
If we want to grow and share the gospel then we have got to get serious about discipleship. It doesn't happen overnight. It is not a "silver bullet", it is a process that takes time. Are we willing to take the time to do some serious training? That my darling readers is a question well worth asking and answering. Our response will dictate our outcome. And outcome is the new buzz word in the "measuring metrics" world. If we get this right, then the numbers game will become a thing of the past! That is what makes the question worth asking! The day we declare "numbers no more" will be the day that I declare Hallelujah AMEN!