(A) Introduction (Read the reference.)

The majority of the members in the early church were Palestinian Jews. They spoke a version of Hebrew called Aramaic and were called by Luke, Hebraic Jews. Jews from other parts of the Roman Empire, who spoke only Greek, formed a minority in the church. The Grecian Jews had more contact with Gentiles and were more radical in their outlook than the conservative Hebraic Jews. There were some among the Palestinian Jews who held their Greek speaking brethren in low esteem.

The widows of the Grecian Jews were at best being overlooked and at worst being ignored at the daily distribution of food. They were not being catered for and were going hungry. This was a bad business.

The situation in the Jerusalem fellowship is common today. Some groups in the church get overlooked - the young, the old, the single, conservatives, radicals, newcomers, ethnic minorities or even those who have been in the church a long time. Wherever there is a constituency that is treated with suspicion, overlooked or ignored the church has a problem.

(B) Negative reactions to a problem.

There are at least four:

    (a) Run away.
    This was Jonah's reaction to what was to him a big problem. He didn't want to go and preach to the enemies of Israel - the Ninevites. So Jonah tried to escape his responsibilities by catching a boat for Spain.

    I deal in my story Dick and the Yew tree with an old man who ran away from trouble of his own making. He wouldn't take responsibility for the problem he caused. We may have more courage than old Dick but there is a tendency for Christians to walk away from problems of other people's making. They do not want to get involved.

    We had a man who attended our prayer meeting who spoiled it by not only preaching to us in his prayers but also going on too long. I can remember with admiration the night our pastor walked down the aisle and tapped him on the shoulder and said, "That's enough." He kept his prayers short after that - until the pastor left. Then he reverted to his old ways and it was my responsibility to discipline him. I kept putting it off. Eventually I got angry with him about something else and he stopped away from church all together. Sadly, I left him to stew in his own juice because I did not want the job of dealing with his unsuitable prayers. This is a sorry tale of abject cowardice.

    (b) Panic.
    The story of Dick and the Yew tree also illustrates another common reaction to trouble - panic. Yesterday, a man speaking on the radio described his reaction at being bitten by a rattlesnake on a small uninhabited island. He said, "I wanted to panic. I wanted to shout and shriek for being so stupid to get bitten in such an isolated spot." Rattlesnake bites begin to produce paralysis in four minutes. The man fought to keep calm. He managed to row to the mainland and wriggle on his belly to his car. He drove in first gear to a filling station. By this time he was nearly completely paralysed but he could still roll. He rolled up to an attendant and asked for help. If that expert on rattlesnakes had panicked he would have died.

    If a problem arises in church affairs and we panic it will do more harm than good. Twenty years ago I was heavily involved with a Christian camp for young people. I was on the committee that organised the camps for boys and girls who attended our Grace Baptist churches. We ran two camps and they were very different on account of the leadership. An excellent youth worker who was becoming more and more charismatic led one of the camps. He had been with our movement for 28 years. One day our secretary attended a National Sunday School Committee Meeting of Grace Baptist churches. He was told to get rid of the charismatic leader or else ....... My friend panicked and did as he was told without convening a meeting of the camp committee. As a result, half of the committee, including myself, resigned.

    There are lots of stories in the Bible about men and women who kept calm in a crisis - Judah when confronted with the cup in Benjamin's sack, Abigail forestalling David's wrath, Mordecai faced with the annhilation of his people and Nehemiah dealing with the threats to his wall building program. However, the example I love the best is Paul's cheerfulness, steadiness and common sense after days at sea in hurricane force winds and facing certain shipwreck. He says to the crew and passengers: "For the last fourteen days you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food - you haven't eaten anything. Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head." Acts27v33..

    (c)Pretend it doesn't exist.
    One of the things that upset me most in school was the failure of senior management to face the fact that a certain pupil was thoroughly disruptive. So long as the pastoral staff refused to accept that a problem existed they did not have to do anything about it. One of the reasons for indiscipline in schools is not that nothing is done about bad behaviour but that action is not taken early enough.

    Almost all organisations are reluctant to recognise problems because they are so often challenging to deal with. Peter and John could have responded to the accusation that the Grecian widows were being left to go hungry by saying, "We're sure that's not happening. We have every confidence that the food is being distributed fairly."

    When I was a boy many Grace Baptist pastors, including my own father, were very badly paid. They lived in near poverty. My father, under pressure from my mother, asked for a rise just the once. He had sold his car and got a part-time job working for a local farmer but with four sons to support he was still finding it hard to make ends meet. One well-to-do, influential deacon said in response to my father's request, "What does he want more money for?" My father had the humiliation of being told that his wage of 5 would stop exactly the same. The church members pretended that my father's poverty did not exist.

    It is very easy for us to overlook the problems faced by our leaders.

    (d) Ignore it.
    Lots of men, in particular, adopt this policy with their health. A problem occurs and instead of confronting it and going to the doctor some men just hope it will go away. We are apt to ignore a problem that frightens us, the solution to which is likely to be painful.

    The apostles did not say to the Hebraic Jews, "Don't worry about it. Everything will sort itself out." The last time my mechanic looked at my car he said, "You need a new cam belt, another drive shaft and a new set of break pads." I didn't say, "They'll be all right - let's pretend those problems don't exist." No! I am taking my car back to the mechanic next week.

    Yet the church is only too happy to ignore problems. The manse I lived in as a boy was chronically damp. My parents informed the church who ignored the problem - until our doctor wrote a letter of complaint to the local authority. Then something was done. Churches fail to act on all sorts of problems: sexual immorality, irregular attendance, too many holidays, unfriendliness, romantic involvement with unbelievers, suspect business dealings, undisciplined children and ill will between individuals. Church leaders usually take no action to deal with these problems because they fear the consequences. The consequences of doing nothing are ultimately far worse!

(C) Positive reactions to a problem.

Warren Wiersbe states: problems provide opportunities. They provide opportunities to:

    (a) Examine the way we do things and to discover what changes need to be made.
    The apostles were too busy teaching and preaching to wait on tables. They were fully occupied looking after the spiritual needs of a large and growing church. The work of supplying the material needs of the church was disorganised. No-one was in charge and the lack of supervision led to injustice. Food was not being distributed fairly.

    The apostles realised that someone had to administer the poor fund. They could not do everything themselves and realised that they must share the responsibility of running the church with others. This meant sharing authority with a second group of leaders.

    It is good when a church faced with a problem adopts the same approach as the apostles. I know of an excellent young pastor who broke down under the pressure of work in his growing church. He was off many months sick - with high blood pressure and depression. The church used that period to assess the work load of their pastor. It was decided to appoint an assistant to the pastor - a decision that subsequently produced much blessing.

    (b) Exercise faith.
    The apostles had faith in the church members to recommend deacons to take responsibility for the material needs of the church. They did not appoint the deacons themselves - merely confirmed the people's choice. This is one of the few instances of democracy in action within the early church. The apostles also had faith in the seven men selected to wait on tables. They left them to get on with the job.

    We need to show faith in others to get the best out of them. When I started my teaching career at King Edward the Sixth grammar school my head master, R.W.Elliot, and Peter Smeltzer, head of the Geography department showed complete confidence in me. They did not meddle or interfere but left me to get on with the task of teaching Geography. I was always grateful that neither were 'control freaks'. So when I became a head of department myself I adopted the same policy. I trusted my colleagues to do the best they could. Later in my career I despised the introduction of appraisal that undermined the autonomy of the classroom teacher and eroded trust.

    In church life we need to express confidence in others to get the best out of them. It is very difficult for a leader to exert authority without the confidence of his members. Without authority it is impossible to carry out all your responsibilities to the church. During pastor less periods many secretaries of Grace Baptist and similar churches find themselves with responsibility but lacking authority. This is one of the consequences of failing to accept that a church needs more than one elder or leader.

    Trust people - give them a chance. I know of a church that needed a treasurer. A man was willing to be treasurer. Others did not believe that he would be able to present the accounts accurately so the church did not appoint him. He was very upset. It would have been far better if the church had given him the opportunity to prove his worth.

    Sometimes we get surprised. I am sorry to draw this illustration from the world of cricket. I have written elsewhere about Brockley Cricket Club's esteemed captain. This year he resigned and we had to appoint someone to take his place. A young turk by name of James was elected as the new leader. I had severe reservations - he was quick tempered and lacked sound judgment. James has done a much better job than I expected. I failed to appreciate the extent to which he would motivate the youthful element. The new captain also attracted fresh young players to the club. He encouraged those that the old guard, like my brother and I, had intimidated! My two nephews, who unlike their cautious uncle, voted for, and showed every confidence in, James were vindicated. So too was the early church in their selection of the seven!

    (c) Express love.
    The apostles did not take offence at the complaint from the Grecian Jews. Neither did the Hebraic Jews take umbrage. The apostles and, indeed, the Palestinian Jews showed great magnanimity in allowing the group who brought the problem to the leadership's attention to chose seven Grecian Jews to act as deacons. It is significant that the seven have Greek names. This meant that the balance of power in the church was more evenly distributed between the two Jewish groups. More blessing resulted from the apostle's sensitive treatment of the minority Grecian Jews. Luke records: So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

    Sometimes people bring matters to the attention of their leaders that are not really problems at all. Christians can get obsessed with trivia. However when a real problem is identified it is important to address it in love.