Small Group Leader Study Guide

Date: January 20, 2019

Series: Praying Together: The Four Characteristics of a Praying Church

Bible Text: Acts 6:1-7

This Week’s Printable:


Overview

Few things are more difficult to deal with than interpersonal conflict. Yet, conflict is a part of life. It happens in families, in the workplace, and in the church. As the old saying goes, where two or three are gathered in my name, there will eventually be conflict.

One of the contributing factors to conflict centers around misplaced priorities. When a church or family or any organization have mixed priorities, conflict is sure to enter.

Within the church, one area where we could and should be able to avoid conflict is in the area priorities. The Bible church leaders clear instruction outlining the priorities for leadership within the local church. We will focus this week on the priorities of elders and pastors and how these must co-exists within the broader category of responsibilities for the local church.

REMINDER: Our small group study in January does not sync perfectly with the sermons preached by Pastor Todd and Pastor Carlos. We are focusing on the same topic, but coming at it from slightly different perspectives. For reference, the Take Home Truth for this week’s sermon is “Singing is the personal responsibility of every Christian that God has ordained as a means of helping the Word of Christ (i.e., the gospel) stay put in our life and church.”

Memory Verse for This Week

Acts 6:4 “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

Core Practice: Service

Service (Colossians 3:17): I give away my time to fulfill God’s purposes.


Introduction

When you think of a great leader, who comes to mind? What qualities made this person a great leader?

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.


Digging Deeper

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.

Based on our text, what are the top priorities of a great leader?

Our key verse this week comes from Acts 6:4 —

“But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

This describes in a single sentence the priority of a pastor/elder in the local church. Yet, we also know from our text (and from life experience), that the local church is responsible for more than this single sentence describes. We also see from our text the responsibility a church has to care for its members.

The tension between these two responsibilities often creates conflict in a local church. At First Family, we have avoided much of the conflict in this area (praise the Lord) because of the wisdom of our elders during the foundational time in our church’s existence (see below).

What do you think are the top three weapons employed against leaders (pastors, elders, etc.) in your church today?

Understand that serving as a pastor places one on the front line of the Spiritual battle between the Devil and our Lord Jesus Christ. Like any determined enemy, the Devil focuses on taking out the leaders of his opposing force in order to weaken and demoralize the troops. In this case, this is the leadership (pastors, elders, deacons, staff, ministry leaders, etc.) in a local church.

Church leaders today face three great weapons in the Devil’s arsenal:

  1. Weapons of Mass Destruction. Simply put, these are the temptations in life that destroy a man and his ministry. We see the effects of these when a pastor or elder falls into the open and public sins. These include lust, pride, and arrogance, greed, etc. The outward expression of these sins includes sexual immorality, anger, control, verbal and spiritual abuse, and hypocrisy.
  2. Weapons of Mass Distraction. Far more common among pastors are what Daniel Henderson calls Weapons of Mass Distraction. These are the big and little things that pull the attention of a pastor away from his primary responsibility. They are often masked as good things to pursue, but, in truth, lead to a tremendous waste of time and resources.
  3. Weapons of Mass Discouragement. This is perhaps the most effective weapon the Devil employs against church leaders. Discouragement begins with the seed of comparison to other pastors and churches, grows into a false expectation of what “blessing” means in our church culture today (i.e. numbers), and ends in isolation and self-focus. More of God’s leaders quit the ministry every year because of discouragement than any other single factor.

How can you join the battle with your church leaders against these weapons of the Devil? Pray for them. Pray that they will not give in to the temptations the Devil can put in front of them to defeat them. Pray that they stay focused on the primary tasks given to them (prayer and the word). Pray for their families and for unity within their family as to the calling and purpose the Lord has given them.

Read again the account of Acts 6:1-7. How important was the effort to provide for the widows in the early church? (See Psalm 68:5, Isaiah 1:21-23; 1 Timothy 5:1-9; James 1:27).

Psalm 68:5 (ESV) – 5 Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.

Isaiah 1:21–23 (ESV) – 21 How the faithful city has become a whore, she who was full of justice! Righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers. 22 Your silver has become dross, your best wine mixed with water. 23 Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not bring justice to the fatherless, and the widow’s cause does not come to them.

1 Timothy 5:1–9 (ESV) – 1 Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity. 3 Honor widows who are truly widows. 4 But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. 5 She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, 6 but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. 7 Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. 8 But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 9 Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband,

James 1:27 (ESV) – 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

From these verses, we can see God’s special attention on and the importance of care for widows. This is an obligation the Church in Jerusalem took seriously. Yet, later, in his first letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul brings more clarification to this responsibility and helps draws some distinction between those who are truly needy and those capable of providing for themselves.

To provide better context, here is some deeper insight from the Bible Knowledge Commentary:

Next Paul offered instruction on how Timothy must deal with the widows in the congregation. Throughout the Old and New Testaments widows, along with aliens and orphans, are viewed as special objects of God’s mercy. As such they are to be taken under the wing of the congregation (cf. Deut. 10:18; 14:29; 24:17–21; Acts 6:1–7; James 1:27). As early as Acts 6 the church had established a charitable outreach to widows. Now about 30 years later the ministry to widows, of whom there were no doubt many, showed signs of being a major burden to the congregation. Paul was therefore eager in this passage to identify those who did not truly need help in order to leave enough for those who did.

5:3–4. Timothy was instructed to give proper recognition to (lit., “honor”) those who were truly widows—that is, widows who were really in need. These Paul contrasted with widows who had lost their husbands but who had children or grandchildren still living. Since in God’s economy the first responsibility for caring for the needy falls on the family (not the church and surely not the state), these family members should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own. In so doing, these family members would repay their “forebears” (progonois; cf. 2 Tim. 1:3) part of the debt owed them. Such reciprocity is pleasing to God. It is “welfare” as God intended it.

5:5. The widow who is really in need and left all alone has nowhere to look for help but to God and His people. Thus one of the marks of a needy widow is that she puts her hope in God and therefore continues in petition and prayer night and day. Such a godly person, dedicated after the death of her husband to the service of the Lord, was deeply respected (cf. the description of the widow-prophetess Anna, Luke 2:37), and was viewed as worthy of the church’s support.

5:6. Not all women who became widows gave themselves to such godly service, of course. Some widows used their widowhood to seek after sensual pleasure (lives for pleasure); spatalō, (used elsewhere in the NT only in James 5:5). Some commentators suggest even the hint of prostitution here. In any case Paul stated that a life devoted to wanton pleasure, in stark contrast to the godly life described in 1 Timothy 5:5, produces a woman who is dead even while she lives (cf. Rom. 8:6; Rev. 3:1). One need only witness the spiritual emptiness produced within those who choose such a profligate lifestyle to understand Paul’s point. Such women must not be placed on the widows’ list.

5:7–8. In 4:11 Paul instructed Timothy to “command … these things” (parangelle tauta). Now, having added the intervening instructions, Paul repeated the exact words: “Command these things too.” Paul wanted Timothy to pass along these instructions about the list of widows in order that no one may be open to blame. The reference is somewhat ambiguous, but probably refers to the widows in the church. If the wrong women are included on the list their sensual lifestyles (cf. 5:6) will bring reproach on the entire group. But it may also refer to the remaining families of the widows. Failure to provide (pronoei means “to think ahead, to provide by seeing needs in advance”) for these family members gives the lie to any claim to know God (cf. Titus 1:16) and becomes de facto a denial of the faith. Indeed, such a failure renders the defaulting family member worse than an unbeliever, since even many non-Christians understand and fulfill their familial responsibilities.

5:9–10. The “proper recognition” of verse 3 is here made specific. Widows may be put on the list if they meet three primary qualifications. What exactly this list involved is not known. It may have been an official order for service in the congregation; more likely it was merely a roll of those widows who were to receive assistance from the congregation. In any case, to qualify a woman had to meet these qualifications: (1) She must be over 60. Though the age of 60 was more advanced in that day, Paul had his reasons for keeping the younger widows off the rolls (cf. vv. 11–15). (2) She must have been faithful to her husband. The Greek here is literally “a one-man woman,” the mirror image of the stipulation for both the overseer-elder (cf. 3:2; Titus 1:6) and the deacon (1 Tim. 3:12), and for the same reason (cf. comments on 3:2). The NIV, to be consistent with its renderings of 3:2, 12 and Titus 1:6, should have adopted its footnote reading, “has had but one husband.” The translation, “has been faithful to her husband,” points to the view that the words merely prohibit promiscuity. (3) She must be well-known for her good deeds. As illustrations of the kinds of things he had in mind, Paul cited five examples, which characterize godly women (cf. 1 Tim. 2:10). The examples span the realms of home, church, and community, and include child-raising, hospitality, washing saints’ feet (humble service; cf. comments on John 13:1–15) helping people in trouble, and various other kinds of good deeds. The women on the widows’ roll must be those whose reputations for godly living are well known.1

Based on what we read here concerning Paul’s instructions, the church’s responsibility and financial support needs to focus on those who are truly in need, those who have no other means of way of support.

Why do you think the apostles did not personally solve this breakdown in the care of widows?

It should be clear at this point that the apostles understood the importance of staying focused on their primary responsibilities of prayer and the word. This shows tremendous self-discipline and determination. All of us can appreciate the conundrum faced when we are asked to do something that is important but ultimately takes us away from what is essential.

I like how Stephen Covey put this in his Seven Habits of Highly Successful People: “it is easy to say “no” when there is a deeper “yes” burning within.

The difficulty for all of us is often rooted in our inability to define and embrace the deeper “yes” in our life. In the case of the apostles, there was no doubt, they knew what was essential: the ministry of prayer and the word.

How does First Family meet the needs of our church members? What systems do we have in place to ensure that those truly in need are cared for and ministered to?

In his first message in this series, Todd described well the system of support here at First Family. In short, FFC relies on a system of support (i.e. small groups) rather than a celebrity of support (i.e. the pastor). This is not common in many churches.

From the beginning, First Family has placed an emphasis on our small group ministry as the primary shepherding function within the church.

During those foundational years (2004-2007), the elders put in writing First Family’s shepherding philosophy and system:

Dear FFC-er,

At First Family Church, we, the elder team, take seriously our charge to bring honor and care to the bride of Christ by overseeing the welfare of the entire church body (Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:2). In addition to our emphasis on small groups as a great avenue of care, we have also been operating under a model where each person on the elder team is assigned to a group of members to call on a regular basis and “check-in” on their physical and spiritual well-being.

Over the course of time, the church body has grown in number and we are finding it logistically impossible to involve ourselves with each individual in our church family. In addition, there was duplication, sometimes even confusion, in administering care and help. Therefore, we have come to the conclusion that a more focused and singular shepherding strategy is needed in order to make sure we are answering our call effectively. That strategy is our Small Groups.

As a natural contact point, the Small Group leaders have a special role in working closely with us to assess the spiritual health of our people and minister to any needs that may arise. There will be regular communication with these leaders to focus on the shepherding needs of each group. In addition, the elders will also meet regularly with the leaders to mentor and develop the skills of leading a small group. More than ever, FFC is saying with intentionality and integrity that small groups really matter!

It’s within the small group atmosphere that deep relationships develop best, and that’s where care flourishes. In our Small Groups, our hope is that people feel like guests coming to a friend’s house. The intimate atmosphere makes it easier for participants to share their ideas, joys, fears and concerns. They will know they are an integral part of the church because they experience the love and fellowship of their Small Group group. It’s a way for everyone to share in the ministry of the church by reaching out to others.

As we sought direction from God’s Word, we identified at least two scenarios where God’s people experienced a similar shepherding dilemma. In Exodus 18, Moses was encouraged to “select capable men” to assist him in shepherding the people more efficiently and effectively. In Acts 6, the elders had to delegate the task of meeting the needs of the church in order to “give attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” Based on these examples, we believe this model will enhance the quality of care by investing in the shepherding gifts of the Small Group leaders. This will allow us to effectively devote ourselves to the unique responsibility of leading the church as a whole and make sure that everyone is cared for on a consistent and reliable basis.

Of course, if you are not currently attending a Small Group, please contact the church office to present any needs and requests you may have.

We are excited to enter this more focused phase of caring for the church and we are confident that it will grow us closer to each other and to our Lord.

In Jesus Christ,

The Elders of First Family Church

As you can see from this letter written by the elders during the early years of the church, the principles we are discussing today from Acts 6 were sown into our church’s DNA.

Praise God for those men who served our church as elders during those early years for their commitment to the Word of God, their wisdom, and their sensitivity to the Spirit of God as they built the foundation for First Family.

What clear priorities did the apostles embrace? Now read Exodus 18:10-23. What priorities did Jethro compel Moses to adopt? Note any parallels with Acts 6. Practically speaking, how can you encourage the leaders of your church to focus on these?

Exodus 18:10–23 (ESV)

10 Jethro said, “Blessed be the LORD, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh and has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. 11 Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods, because in this affair they dealt arrogantly with the people.” 12 And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God; and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law before God.

13 The next day Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood around Moses from morning till evening. 14 When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?”

15 And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God; 16 when they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make them know the statutes of God and his laws.”

17 Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. 19 Now obey my voice; I will give you advice, and God be with you! You shall represent the people before God and bring their cases to God, 20 and you shall warn them about the statutes and the laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do. 21 Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. 22 And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. 23 If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.”

Do you see the parallel between Jethro’s advice to Moses and the Apostles’ decision to delegate works of service to the first deacons?

Unfortunately, even today there are many pastors who suffer from “The Moses Syndrome.” They believe they alone are responsible before God for the care of their church family. This was never God’s model for church leadership. Jethro could not have put it more succinctly: “you are not able to do it alone.”

Moreover, there are many churches who expect their pastor to be Moses in their life? They are not looking for care or shepherding from the church, they want the pastor to be the sole care provider. This is not only a false expectation, it is unbiblical.

Even back in the wilderness, God identifies through Jethro the primary responsibility of a leader:

  1. Represent the people before God and bring their cases to God (v. 19). This is the ministry of prayer.
  2. Warn them about the statues and the laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do (v. 20). This is the ministry of the word.

How can you encourage the elders of First Family to focus on these primary responsibilities? Follow the system of care and shepherding that is established, which is through small groups. How do small groups work best? When everyone is involved in a small group and the small group leader is actively overseeing and caring for those under his care.

Take some time as a group and discuss the shepherding needs of your group. How could your group better meet the needs of those who are in your group?

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.

Read Romans 15:30-33. Keeping your Bibles open, pray along these lines:

He is worthy! In this passage, Paul gives very specific guidelines about why, how and what to pray for spiritual leaders. The motivation is found in vs. 30 where Paul states that we pray “by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit.” Literally, he says, “for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Amplified Bible) and “by your love for the Spirit.” One commentator notes that this is “an expression which might mean the love the Spirit enkindles in believers, the love the Spirit has for them, or even love the believers have for the Spirit.” Take some time to praise the Lord Jesus and cherish the love of the Holy Spirit.

“Lord Jesus, You are worthy of our prayers because You are ___________________________________.”

“Holy Spirit, thank you that I have experienced your love when ___________________________________ .”

“Holy Spirit, I love you because ___________________________________ .”

We are needy! Paul challenges us to pray passionately (“strive”) as we pray for:

  1. Protection (“delivered from unbelievers”)
  2. Prosperity in the ministry (“service . . . acceptable to the saints”)
  3. Provision (“be refreshed in your company.”

With these needs in mind, pray along these lines:

“Lord, I ask that you will protect ___________________________________ (name) from ___________________________________

“Lord, I pray you will prosper ___________________________________ (name) ministry so that it will ___________________________________.”

“Lord, I pray that You will provide ___________________________________ (provision) for ___________________________________ (name).

As you conclude, consider this closing benediction, “The God of peace be with you all.” And pray: “God of peace be with us when .”


Next Steps

Questions to consider as you continue to reflect on what you learned this week:

  • Take Action: Are there people within your circle of influence who are needing care or shepherding? How can you be used by the Holy Spirit to help meet their needs?
  • Take Courage: It is easy to get distracted in our world today. There are things to do and things to buy coming at us from every direction. Stay focused on the Word of God and make prayer your priority and you will find the friction caused by countless distractions begin to disappear in your life.

Work to memorize this week’s memory verse: Acts 6:4 “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

This week’s Core Core Practice: Service (Colossians 3:17): I give away my time to fulfill God’s purposes.

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.


Notes:

  1. A. Duane Litfin, “1 Timothy,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 742–743.