Life in the church can be complicated. It is painfully obvious, even to the unchurched. It is perhaps one of the reasons so many will visit a church one Sunday morning and then never return.
The church can at times be most complicated to those who feel they have something to give. A woman buys leftover children’s ministry materials in a closeout sale. A young man feels gifted in music and wants to lead the congregation in worship. A businessman believes his savvy and experience should earn him a seat at the leadership table.
But what if the desired contributions and roles that these folks hope for never materialize? Or what if someone else’s contributions and gifts are chosen instead of theirs?
Too often this is where church gets messy. Factions can form and cause division and strife. The Holy Spirt is grieved. The church that is supposed to be a beacon of love, unity and purpose becomes known in the community as a place to avoid. It gets off track, strays off mission and becomes a dysfunctional body.
In the book of Acts such a derailment might have occurred among that group of believers that was waiting in the time between Jesus’ ascension into Heaven and the coming of the promised Holy Spirit.
The Disciples of Jesus faced a critical decision. They understood that it was the Lord’s intent to have a group of twelve to reeve as the leadership of the church. Whomever they might choose must fulfill a few strict selection criteria. But there was only one slot open among the apostles. How would it all work out?
And they proposed two: Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen to take part in this ministry and apostleship…” (Acts 1:23-25a NKJV)
Two men, equally qualified to serve as apostles of Jesus Christ. Each met the qualifications. Each was willing. Only one could be chosen.
If you are a pastor or leader, how do you handle these edgy times that can easily disintegrate into conflict? There is an open slot on your Church Board. You are in the final stages of selecting a staff member. Your event team has twelve women that want to run the kitchen. What do you do?
If you are the person who hopes to be chosen, have you prepared for your heart if someone else is given the honor and responsibility that you long for? Do you know what your response will be?
Most of the time we plan our response in a negative direction. “If Danny gets that over me then I’m never doing anything for him.” “They don’t want my input and expertise? Then they won’t get my money, either.” “I guess I’m not as valuable to the cause here as I thought I was. Time to look for a different church.”
You and I know that these are actual responses from real people in our churches. Unfortunately, it can even get much worse than these. Take a look at how it unfolded in the early days of the New Testament church.
And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles. (Acts 1:26 NKJV)
What do you think Joseph-Justus-Barsabas did after Matthias was chosen as the replacement for Judas’ place among the Twelve? Did he sneak out and try to start his own church? Did he run a counter-campaign to have Matthias voted out so he could take his place? Was a person who held back his tithe, questioned authority or made it difficult for the Apostles to do the work of the Kingdom?
We get an idea of his response when he returns to the record of Scripture in Acts 15. This was another key time in the early church, a decision being required as to whether non-Jewish believers should have to first become Jews. When the gathering of Apostles and leaders prepared to let those believers know that they were not required to fulfill those physical obligations, they wrote a letter.
Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren. (Acts 15:22-23 NKJV)
Did you see who was listed there? We know about Paul and Barnabas, who had already seen so many reached through the Gospel and touched by the power of God’s Holy Spirit. Silas we know, too, for when Paul and Barnabas choose to part company it is Silas who goes on with Paul.
And who is left? It may be the same (Joseph) Barsabas that was passed over for the position within the Twelve. And what is his reputation? Is it a troublemaker, a quitter, a complainer? No; he is considering one of the “leading men among the brethren.” According to the thinking that we see so often employed in the church, this man had “every right” to be upset and hurt. He was overlooked. He was denied his “rightful” opportunity. What he had a claim to was given to someone else.
Instead he chose to serve. He understood that in the Body of Christ not everyone is chosen to lead, but every place in the Body is valuable and necessary for the health of the whole (see 1 Corinthians 12:20-25). Not only did he serve, but he did so in such a way that he was still considered a leader.
So what will you do the next time you are one out of many that might be chosen? What response will you prepare your heart for if you do not get it? Choose to serve, not grudgingly or out of perceived obligation, but faithfully and joyfully. You are still chosen by God even if you are not chosen to fill a position you believe you are gifted and ready for. “Whatever you are doing, work at with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not for people, because you know that you will receive your inheritance for the Lord as the reward” (Colossians 3:23-24a NET).