Small Group Leader Study Guide
Date: January 6, 2019
Series: Praying Together: The Four Marks of a Praying Church
Bible Text: Acts 6:1-7
This Week’s Printable:
- Group Leader Study Guide (pdf)
Our nation and culture will never be great again until the church is great again. The hope of the world is Jesus Christ living through a revived church.
The church will only be great again when . . .
- We are “great” based on God’s definition rather than our superficial measurements
- Every believer is experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit on a daily basis
- Our impact on the culture reflects the same power and passion as the early church
- Our leaders are focused on the primary biblical priorities of leadership
- We experience a prayer-inspired revival that leads to an awakening in our nation
One of the great diversions today is the belief that electing a specific political party or legislating some social issue will bring real change to our nation. Please hear me. Christians should vote – always. We should graciously speak out on issues that concern us. We should be as politically active as we feel led by God. But, the nation is going downhill like an Olympic Luge medalist because of one primary issue — the condition of human hearts. Hearts inform minds. Minds cast votes. Votes shape politics. Politics do not change the social landscape but rather reflect existing cultural realities. Only Jesus can transform hearts to reset the entire process.
Again, we are wise to be reminded that the government of Jesus’ and Paul’s day were so pagan they make our system look like a kindergarten recess. Yet, NOTHING was mentioned about this evil state of affairs in any of the messages of Jesus or writings of Paul, except to say that we should pay our taxes, pray for our leaders and “honor the emperor.” That is because they knew that only the Gospel could change hearts and changed hearts change the world.
The great need of the day is for the church to pray for the church. Change starts among God’s people. All other prayer targets are secondary and represent a superficial approach to the essence of revival. Two reminders underscore this essential focus.
In Matthew 5:43-46 where Jesus commanded his followers, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” he did not indicate that any change would occur in the hearts of the enemies or persecutors. Note what he did say, “So that YOU may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” He went on to reiterate, “You, therefore, must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” God’s people change when they pray in the midst of a hostile culture.
In 1 Timothy 2:1-2, where Paul prioritized the role of prayer in the church and went on to admonish believers to pray for “kings and all who are in high positions,” he did not indicate that the political leaders would suddenly have a spiritual epiphany. Rather he says, “that WE may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”
It is ludicrous to think that a changed government would produce these qualities in the lives of Christians. No. The work of prayer changes us to live in a fashion that adorns the Gospel. This is the source of change in society. Paul underscores this in the following verses indicating that our lives will please God, who “desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4). This only happens through the church.
Let’s pray for all people, including the government and the enemies of the cross, that are becoming more aggressive in our society and the world. But, first, let us pray for us. We are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Transformation travels from the church into the world, not the other way around.
It’s time for a prayer-inspired revival that leads to an awakening in our nation!
Excerpt from Old Paths, New Power – Awakening Your Church through Prayer and the Ministry of the Word – (pgs. 226-227)
- MAKE – By surrendering to the Lordship of Christ, trusting His Spirit to work in and through us for His glory
- CHURCH – The redeemed people of Christ on earth in her global, national and especially local expressions
- GREAT – “Considerably above the normal; remarkable in effectiveness, influential; strong; potent”
- AGAIN – As it was in the early days of the church and according to the New Testament pattern
“Prayer is political action. Prayer is social energy. Prayer is public good. Far more of our nation’s life is shaped by prayer than is formed by legislation. That we have not collapsed into anarchy is due more to prayer than to the police. Prayer is a sustained and intricate act of patriotism in the largest sense of that word – far more precise and loving and preserving than any patriotism served up in slogans. That society continues to be livable and that hope continues to be resurgent are attributable to prayer far more than to business prosperity or a flourishing of the arts. The single most important action contributing to whatever health and strength there is in our land is prayer. Not the only thing, of course, for God uses all things to effect his sovereign will, and the ‘all things’ most certainly includes police and artists, senators and professors, therapists and steelworkers. But prayer is, all the same, the source of action.” Eugene Peterson, Where Your Treasure Is (Eerdmans), p. 6
In the month of January, we will focus in small groups on the Four Marks of a Praying Church. This week, we will look at the model of a praying church that became a great church, the Church in Acts.
Memory Verse for This Week
Acts 6:4 “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
Core Practice: Worship
Worship (Psalm 95:1-7): I worship God for who He is and what He has done for me.
Take Home Truth
A great church is great from the inside out, and identified as a place where men and women are becoming fully devoted followers of Jesus.
Who was the greatest person you have ever known personally?
What made them great?
Looking back at your notes from this week’s sermon, was there anything that particularly caught your attention, challenged or confused you?
Make sure you ask this question this week. It gives people the opportunity to discuss questions or issues that come up beyond the written questions. People’s responses can often lead to one of the questions in the “Digging Deeper” section. Also, some weeks this question will result in a lot of discussion, other weeks, not so much.
Read the Text
Read Acts 6:1-7.
Acts 6:1–7 (ESV)
1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.
7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
In this section, feel free to develop your own questions to help guide your group’s discussion. Below are some suggestions. Remember, if you are hearing from everyone in your group, chances are you won’t have time to discuss every question. You may start with one that catches your attention so you don’t run out of time. For example, it’s not odd to start with Question #6, then go to Question #5 and if you have time come back to Question #4.
If pressed by a friend who is an unbeliever and never set foot in a church, how would you describe a great church in America today?
Let’s be honest, when most of us think about what makes a church a great church, we probably start with its size. Go to a local pastor’s luncheon sometime and listen to the men introduce themselves and tell you about the church they pastor. Typically, you will hear statements like this: “Hi, my name is John Smith, and I pastor Community Church in this town. We run about 1,000 people on Sundays and baptized 150 this last year. We plan to break ground on a $4.5 million new worship center this spring.”
These are the things that typically matter to us, at least to the pastors among us!
- How many people attend on a Sunday?
- How big is the budget?
- How impressive are the facilities?
The numbers of a church become the score card. How great a church is depends on the score card.
In defending this line of thinking, I once heard a pastor remark, “if numbers weren’t important, God wouldn’t have written a book about them.”
He was only half joking.
In describing a great church today, we too often focus on the flashy exterior. Never in the history of the world have we had churches so large, buildings so impressive and organizations so stable. And yet, our culture and our world are declining morally and spiritually. If impressive ministries were the hope of the world, we would right now be in the midst of the greatest revival of all time. Sadly, we are not.
Based on Acts 6:1-7, how would you describe the early church?
In Acts chapter 6 we see a picture of a Great church by Biblical definitions. Ironically they had very little of what today’s church considers greatness.
- They didn’t have security in their own possessions or abilities.
- They didn’t have popularity in the world in which they ministered. They were despised and persecuted.
- They didn’t have a facility that would have impressed the world. They met in homes.
- They didn’t have a celebrity pastor that the world would have envied. They were described as uneducated and common!
And yet, as we will see, they were great! So what is a great church?
What made the Church in Acts a Great Church?
To truly get a picture of a great church based on the model of the New Testament church in Acts, we must look from the inside out rather than on the flashy exteriors.
Acts 6:1-7 gives us a beautiful picture of the full scope of the early church. Not only their visible ministry and impact upon the world but their inner characteristics that were displayed amongst each other.
- The early church was great because of its commitment to unity. In chapter 6 we are introduced to one of the first internal challenges of the church. It appears that the number had increased so dramatically that Gentile widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. Essentially they were being disregarded in favor of the Jewish widows in the acts of charity that they depended upon. The greatness of the early church is seen in their unity. Some may wonder how this passage expresses unity when there is an obvious disagreement. The reality is that they help us understand that unity is not the absence of conflict but a biblical and selfless commitment to solving it.
- The early church was great because of its integrity. In their commitment to solving this problem they need seven men who were full of the Spirit of God, full of the wisdom of God, and who had a good reputation. This was not difficult to find in this church. Great churches are always made up of authentic men and women who are capable of solving the problems; individuals whose character is formed by their commitment to living a Spirit-led life and embracing godly wisdom. These seven men were readily available. Great churches are filled with godly people.
- The early church was great because of its priority. In verse 4 of chapter 6 we see the church leadership commit to and align itself with highest priorities. Long before the church reached the “uttermost parts of the earth” they placed a high priority on being daily in touch with God almighty. Their commitment as leaders were to the priorities of Prayer and the Word of God. No church will ever be great without leaders who embrace these priorities. Regardless of the size or earthly scope of our ministry, we can never expect to impact the world until Heaven has first impacted us. The priority of Prayer and the Word is the internal commitment to greatness that empowers us for effective external ministry.
Early in the life of the church we learn that before there is visible impact there must be internal health. A great church is great from the inside out!
Ultimately, the greatness of a church is seen by its Impact upon the world.
What does Impact for a church look like in the book of Acts? What we see in verse 7 is startling and we almost miss it.
“And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.”
That by every definition is the effect of a great church. The things that happened as a result of this great church transformed a nation and a world.
It is a great church that exalts God’s truth. “The Word of God continued to increase.”
- It is a great church where men and women are becoming fully devoted followers of Jesus. “…and the number of disciples multiplied greatly.”
- It is a great church where miraculous transformation happens. “…and a great number of the priests became obedient to the faith.”
No church can truly claim greatness that does not impact the world for Christ.
What is the pathway to becoming a church that impacts its community and culture?
From the Church in Acts we see six signposts on the pathway to becoming an impactful church:
- The early church embraced the gospel, wholly as their message. Over and over again in the book of Acts we see men and women who received undeniable life transformation. For the promise of the Gospel included forgiveness and cleansing from sin, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
- The early church was empowered supernaturally by the Spirit of God. Their ministry and expansion was mostly the product of their commitment to and their enabling by the Holy Spirit of God. The day of Pentecost transformed their lives. They did not speak in their own strength merely or their own wisdom primarily. Their ministry was accompanied by great power that only comes through the Holy Spirit of God!
- The early church was engaged in transforming prayer. From Acts 1 to chapter 28, what we learn about this great church is that they were always praying; and not just ritualistic prayers, but prayers that worshipped God and changed the course of events.
- The early church was equipped specifically with the right people. When a church is striving for Impact and not just growth, God will supernaturally bring the right people into that church to enable them to go places they could never go on their own.
- The early church expected Spirit-led transformation for the sake of the Gospel. In Acts 10 God was preparing them to expand and have impact outside of just the Jewish tradition. But Peter, a devout Jew, was not big on breaking Jewish custom for the sake of the Gospel – 10:13-15 13 “And a voice came to him, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’14 But Peter said, ‘Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.’ 15 And a voice spoke to him again the second time, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’” Peter learned a valuable lesson that day. In accepting this Spirit-led change, the door was being opened to IMPACT the Gentile world with the Gospel.
- The early church experienced significant persecution from the world. As a matter of fact the persecution appears to be a great deal of the impetus for their scattering. We don’t have to be popular to make a major difference in the world! It seems in the early church, the more persecution that came, the greater the impact of the church was. Tertullian said, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”
The Church in Acts gives us a pathway to cultural and world transformation. Through this Spirit-filled, praying, disheveled and rejected group of believers, the Gospel literally reached around the globe.
Becoming A House of Prayer
“Even them I will bring to My holy mountain, And make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices; Will be accepted on My altar; For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” – Isaiah 56:7.
This past fall, we offered two prayer services introducing Scripture-fed, Spirit-led, Worship-based prayer to our church. What we learned during these times of prayer is that we always begin with an open Bible. This is the foundation for prayer.
Prayer is a two-way conversation; so who should start the conversation? You or God? To let God speak first, we must begin with an open Bible.
We also learned a simple pattern for prayer. In Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus said “pray like this…” and then he offered a pattern we are to follow.
Daniel Henderson explains,
In following this pattern, I see a very simple approach but then also a more comprehensive experience. Most fundamentally, there are two parts to the prayer. The first half is entirely Godward (or upward). The second half is manward (or downward). I like to capture this two-part rhythm with this descriptor: “He is worthy. We are needy.” Even when there is only a short amount of time to pray, starting with a passage of Scripture then engaging in a pure articulation of worship captures the participants with His worthiness. Then, moving to a time of trusting Him with our needs is natural. Our requests are informed and inspired by our worship.
A more comprehensive breakdown of the prayer is focused on four movements. I describe them as reverence, response, requests, and readiness, what I called “The 4/4 Pattern for Prayer.” This 4/4 pattern, following the exact themes of the model prayer, looks like this:
With an open Bible, the beginning point in prayer is to ask, “Who is God?” and “What does He reveal about Himself in this passage?” This sparks worship (reverence) in alignment with the focus, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”
Since worship is the response of all I am to the revelation of all He is, the next movement is an expression of surrender and submission. “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” guides to us yield our will, our mind, and our agenda to His purposes. This is prompted by the question, “How do You want me to respond?” and is often guided by a verse in the passage.
“Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” answers the question, “What should we pray about?” Participants can allow the Scripture to guide their requests in connection to both resource needs and relationship needs, as Jesus’ model prayer indicates.
In the final movement we find a focus on readiness for spiritual battle. Where do we go from here? What will we face today in a sinful and hostile world? As the pattern indicates, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Praying from the Scriptures is especially vital at this point, as the best way to overcome the attacks of the enemy is with the memorized and spoken Word of God (Matt. 4:1–10; Eph. 6:17).1
With this brief explanation of Scripture-fed, Spirit-led, Worship-based prayer, let’s practice this in our group.
- For this time of prayer, allow a minimum of 15 minutes of your group time.
- Let me encourage you to follow the prayer pattern outlined.
- Rather than taking time for prayer requests before you pray, let the prayer requests come in the form of prayer during the third movement.
- Don’t be afraid of silence. Don’t force folks to prayer. Let the Spirit lead.
With your Bible open, begin by reading the following Scripture:
Acts 4:23–31 (ESV)
The Believers Pray for Boldness
23 When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,
“ ‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers were gathered together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed’—
27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
Keeping your Bibles open, pray along these lines:
REVERENCE: He Is Worthy! In Acts 4:24-28 the early church declared that God was the source of all life, the controller of all things and his word gives perspective to all circumstances. They affirmed these truths as they prayed, even though they faced hostility and persecution.
Pray together finishing these sentences, one after the other . . .
“I praise you Lord that You created______________________________.”
After a couple of minutes, transition to this expression of praise:
“I praise You Lord that You are still in charge of __________________________.”
RESPONSE: We are Needy! Based on their trust in God’s word, the early disciples requested boldness to speak the word of God. He answered by filling them with his Spirit and sending them back out into a hostile culture with the life-giving message of the gospel.
REQUEST: Continue in prayer together, completing these thoughts that are reflected in the passage:
“Help me Lord to trust the truth of your word in my life even though __________________________.
After a couple of minutes, transition to this focus:
“Lord, I know that you see _______________________________(difficult situation), fill me with your Holy Spirit so that I can ________________________.”
After a couple of minutes, conclude with this focus:
Lord, give me boldness that I might share the message of the gospel with __________________________(name).
READINESS: Conclude by reciting together this prayer from an old hymn titled, “Lead On O King Eternal”
Lead on, O King eternal, the day of march has come; henceforth in fields of conquest your tents will be our home. Through days of preparation your grace has made us strong; and now, O King eternal, we lift our battle song.
Lead on, O King eternal, till sin’s fierce war shall cease, and holiness shall whisper the sweet amen of peace. For not with swords’ loud clashing or roll of stirring drums with deeds of love and mercy the heavenly kingdom comes.
Lead on, O King eternal; we follow, not with fears, for gladness breaks like morning wherever your face appears. Your cross is lifted o’er us, we journey in its light; the crown awaits the conquest; lead on, O God of might.
In Jesus name – Amen!
Questions to consider as you continue to reflect on what you learned this week:
- Take Action: Where do you need to shore up the boundaries of your home and individual spiritual walk with the Lord to be a Christian who will stand until the end?
- Take Courage: Regardless of how much the storm rages, Jesus promises that the true church will stand.
Work to memorize this week’s memory verse: Micah 6:8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
This week’s Core Belief: Salvation by Grace (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:23-25; 8:38-39): We believe a person has a right relationship with God only by His grace, through faith in Jesus Christ. This makes believers eternally secure in Jesus Christ.
Take Home Truth is “The Lord is not after behavior modification; He requires radical obedience of the heart, which only comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.”
Remember to use the Daily Bible Reading plan as part of your walk with Christ, taking the time to reflect on each passage and what it means for your lives.
- Daniel Henderson, Old Paths, New Power: Awakening Your Church through Prayer and the Ministry of the Word (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2016). ↩