by Elaine Maust
Selected scriptures from Acts
October 15, 2006
Do you remember that scripture from the drama the youth presented back in February? In those days we were just considering if Care Groups might be the best direction for Jubilee. I preached a sermon from Ex. 18 and we considered the advice Jethro gave his son-in-law.
You remember the story… Moses listened to the people from dark to dark (v13). Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law), thought this was a bad idea. (v14).
Then Jethro said, “Okay, you listen to these people’s advice all day long. Now listen to me… (v19-23)
Well, as you know, Moses and the Lord thought it was a good idea and Moses implemented the plan. (23-26) It is probably stretching it a little to say that these were the first care groups. Moses took Jethro’s advice to use smaller groups to provide the people with better care.
This whole concept of providing exceptional care to people was one of the reasons we considered Care Groups at Jubilee in the first place. It is one of the answers to the “why” question. Why should there be care groups at Jubilee? To provide more and better care to a growing congregation.
And now look, we are here! Ready to commission care group leaders and more formally begin. At this moment, I’d like us to think about the “what” question. What do we hope Care Groups will accomplish at Jubilee?
To do that, I’d like you to turn with me to the book of Acts. We’re studying Acts on Wednesday nights in Bible Study. Sometimes Acts is called “The Acts of the Apostles.” Is that title the heading for the book of Acts in your Bible? Some have called it, “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.” This morning, I’d like us to think of the book as “The Acts of the Care Groups.” We will use lessons from Acts to consider what Jubilee’s pastors/elders team hopes will happen through Care Groups at Jubilee.
1. Care (Acts 2:44-47)
We’ve chosen the name, Care Groups, carefully. We imagine that care groups will become the primary means of care at Jubilee. If Duane and I try to provide the type of care that Jubilee is known in the past for the congregation Jubilee is today, we might find ourselves in the same shape as Jethro found Moses in. We don’t need to do it all. There are many gifted and caring people at Jubilee. Right now, Fern, the Shellys, Jeff & Cheryl are offering their gifts to God and this congregation. This morning we bless them for this ministry. In the future, others will also become leaders and new groups will continue to form.
How will this look on any average week at Jubilee? Well, for example, if you are in the hospital, you will get a visit from your care group leader. That doesn’t mean Duane and I will never visit anyone in the hospital, it just means that care at Jubilee will begin in the care group.
Care Groups will be a confidential and safe place to share things that are going on in our lives. And as trust grows, care group leaders will invite the care group members to support each other. So anyone in a care group will have an automatic network of friends to stand beside them in any situation.
Turn to Acts 2:44-47 and listen to the care that’s going on here in the first description we have of church in the New Testament. Sounds like what we hope for in Care Groups.
2. Leadership Development (Acts 6:1-7)
Acts 6 tells the story of the appointment and commissioning of new leaders mainly because some folks were feeling neglected. (v5-7) These leaders chosen to care became leaders in other areas of the early church as well. Stephen went on to be the first Christian martyr.
About twenty years ago, Laurence Horst was an interim pastor at Jubilee. This was back in the days when according to Bob Coblentz there were 15 of us if you counted us all twice. Duane and I remember Bro. Horst was a distinguished white-haired gentleman who always wore a white shirt and a bow tie. And no matter where he went, he carried someone along. If he visited in the hospital, someone was with him. If he went to a conference event, he invited someone to ride along. Often those “someones” were Duane and I. Bro. Horst was training leaders.
Jubilee has a long history of training and sending leaders. Perhaps today, more than ever before in our 25 years as a church, we are gifted with an amazing collection of leaders. Not all of us are at a point in life to be care group leaders. That’s okay. But I believe that someday many more of you will be.
Through Care Groups Leaders’ Gatherings, Duane and I will provide training, support, and encouragement to developing care group leaders. And each care group leader will be looking for someone to train. Someone to assist them with care, hospitality and group leading. Someone who will eventually, or maybe soon, begin another group.
In the past 10 years, leaders have bravely agreed to host groups, then had to figure it out on their own from there. Not surprisingly, given the good hearted and gifted people in this church, many at Jubilee have had good experiences in small groups. But it was not a fair expectation. Duane and I are learning too.
Now Duane and I will meet on the first Sunday night of each month with leaders. We will listen to difficulties they are having. We will introduce them to resources. We will learn from each other new ways to pray and care and lead. Leaders will be blessed and developed, and groups will be stronger because the leaders have the support they deserve.
We are halfway through Acts in Bible Study, but I’m already impressed with how leaders are developed in Acts. Even though Paul is a central figure in the book, he never goes it alone. He takes Barnabas and John Mark with him as he launches off on his first missionary adventure. (Acts 13:1-5) And we can’t forget that it was Barnabas who invited Paul to join him in ministry in the first place. (Acts 11:25)
And have you ever thought about this? Every church leader we read about in Acts was a new church leader because the church was new. Some of them had other leadership experience, but this Christian thing was as new as a baby’s toenails. Leaders were trained as they accompanied and assisted other leaders. That’s what we dream will happen in Care Groups at Jubilee.
3. Evangelism (Acts 10:23-48)
(This is beginning to sound like Jubilee’s call to service, worship, nurture, and evangelism)
As new leaders emerge, new groups will form. Some of you all will be in a group and realize that you are ready, after all, to lead a group. You will begin attending Care Group Leader Gatherings and be commissioned, and a new group will form. And Care Groups will become a natural entry point for folks God is calling to Jubilee who might not be with us yet. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to start the groups small, so there would be room to add another person or couple or another family.
Often it is easier to invite someone to a group in someone’s home or a small-scale event at the church on a Saturday night than it is to invite someone to worship on Sunday morning.
This invitation is a little bit like what happened at Cornelius’s house one day. The main story here in Acts 10, is that Peter learned that you didn’t have to be a Jew to be a Christian, and Cornelius discovered Jesus and was blessed with the Holy Spirit. But like it usually happens, there’s a story behind the story. v24, then Peter preaches in 34-43. And take a look at what happens in 44-48. That was quite a Care Group meeting!
Jubilee provides many ways for people to come to God and hear the Good News. Care Groups will be one more way. I’ve chosen wheat as a symbol for Care Groups. One of the reasons wheat is a good symbol is that it is constantly reproducing, like we hope our Care Groups will do.
4. Friendship (Acts 2:46)
Have you watched the little children in this church? They run around this place like a pack of happy cousins. I love to see them together.
We grown-ups sometimes take a little longer to warm up to each other. We need time, proximity, honesty, laughter, and food. Care groups will provide this space and time to become friends. The caring will come out of the friendship that develops.
I’m continually amazed at the interesting collections of people that formed the church in Acts. Take Acts 13:1 for example. These people prayed together and followed the Spirit together. And what about the list of deacons in Acts 6. You think these men grew up going to the same Sunday School class together all their lives? Not a chance! The church was brand new, remember. And these deacons were responsible for care, more specifically the equitable distribution of resources to the needy.
Yet Acts 2:46 describes the tone of relationships in the new church. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? But don’t forget, people were coming into this new church by the thousands. (2:41) Wow!
Some of us have known each other for a long time. Some of us hardly know each other’s names. In a growing congregation, even a small one, we can’t be close with everyone. But care groups will provide a setting for friendships to develop naturally. The kind of deep friendships from which care will naturally emerge. The kind of friendships we will naturally want to invite our friends outside the church to join.
5. Worship (Acts 12:6-17)
Notice how many of the gatherings in homes in Acts involved worship. Remember the story from Acts 12? The time Peter was in jail, scheduled, we think for execution? Well, an angel came and led him out of jail right past the guards. And where did Peter go when he got of jail? To the mall? To his house? No, he went to the prayer meeting at Mary’s house. (Think it was an emergency Care Group meeting?) There he knocked on the door and Rhoda answered, and you know the rest of the story, how she was so excited that she forgot to let him in…
And then there’s Acts 2:42 & 47.
I imagine care groups where people learn to pray. Praying out loud in a group of six friends can be a lot less intimidating than praying at church in a larger group. And Care Groups will be one more place where Jubilee listens to the Holy Spirit.
Take the youth group for example. Jeff and Joel are already working with the youth group to find ways for the youth group to become a Care Group. They hope the youth group will foster supportive, encouraging, confidential relationships. In addition to the Landises and Beachys providing primary pastoral care to the youth, they are leading youth prayer meetings. These monthly prayer times will be a way for youth to connect to each other and to God.
Now don’t get me in trouble, youth, by reporting this to your teachers. You know I believe in education. But if you all can learn to pray, it will be more important in your future than learning physics and world history. Questions about prayer and God might not show up on a college entrance exam, but they will show up all the time for the rest of your lives.
We imagine a variety of forms for Care Groups. For example, a Sunday School class could choose this type of focus. The teacher could join the leaders group and more intentionally provide care for the class.
So, what do the Elders/Pastors hope will happen in Care Groups? Care, Leadership, Evangelism, Friendship, and Worship. You do not have to be in a care group. But what if you are not in a care group yet? Don’t worry. Like I said, groups are still forming and will continue to form. Talk to Duane and I and let us know you want to be in a group. We will need more leaders, but we trust that God, who always provides leaders for his work, is calling new leaders even this morning. Want to know more about what is involved? Please come and talk to Duane or I and you can join a couple of the Care Group Leaders’ Gatherings to check it out.
We do not know exactly how the Spirit will lead. But thanks be to God! Already God is calling and blessing this new step at Jubilee. And we will trust the future of Care Groups at Jubilee into God’s capable hands.