We are told in the first reading for our Mass this weekend, that “the number of disciples increased greatly” in the early Church. Why is this, and what can we learn about the principles for Church growth for our own day and age?
Basically, the Church flourished because they faced head-on a potentially divisive issue in their community and resolved it according to the direction of the Holy Spirit. The issue was that there was a conflict between the two wings of the Church, the Hebrew-speaking Christians, and the Greek-speaking Christians. The latter was concerned that their widows were being neglected during the regular distribution of alms in the community. This was a potentially explosive issue which could well have destroyed the early Church from within before it was able to really get going.
The leaders of the Church, the apostles, could either have imposed a solution on the community. Or ignored the whole issue and hoped it would go away. Or rushed around trying to fix the problem by neglecting their own God-given tasks and concentrating on something which was not.
Instead the apostles recognized that “it was not right” for them to neglect their ministry of prayer and teaching in order to focus on the problem at hand. Instead they suggested that the community should select respected and capable men from within their ranks to take on the task of distributing the alms. We are told that the “whole community”, thus consulted, “were pleased with what they said” and went on to elect such men and bring them to the apostles, who, as leaders, showed that they sanctioned their choice of ministers, by laying hands on them, an early example of ordination into ministry.
It has been a cardinal belief of mine, which I have voiced many times, that God has given each of us, through the Holy Spirit at our baptism and confirmation, varied gifts which incline us to particular ministries within the Church community. The leaders’ role is to identify which gifts a particular person has, and which ministry they would best be placed in, in order that their service would be life-giving, both to themselves and to the rest of the community. No one person, not the pastor, nor the deacon, nor the experienced layperson, has all the gifts residing within them. If a pastor tries to take care of all the responsibilities in the community, he ends up burning himself up, and neglecting what is his God-given ministry, to the detriment of both himself and the entire community.
In a couple of weeks, I will be speaking at mass and calling forward members of the parish to step into the different ministries we have in the community. Please bear in mind the points I have made above and listen to where the Holy Spirit is calling you to ministry in the Church.