Managing Non-Mission Activities to Support Core Mission
In this bible study, we discuss the end and rebirth of the early church following the martyrdom of Stephen and persecution of the first Jerusalem church (Fellowship of Believers), based on Acts 6–9 and 11. We draw a lesson from the study about management of non-mission activities of an organization to support but not hinder performance of the core mission. An organization typically exists for its core mission but has to manage interactions among employees or members, between them and the organization, and between the organization and external entities such as government or other organizations. The interactions typically center on socio-economic issues relevant to the organization’s existence and, therefore, performance of its core mission.
Therefore, managing the internal and external socio-economic interactions is important to the organization but could impose excessive burden and divert focus from the core mission. This bible study provides an example of an organization (the first Jerusalem church) that confronted excessive burden from management of non-mission socio-economic affairs. The church ended suddenly because of the burden. Although the sudden end resulted in a positive outcome, having triggered a rapid and more widespread growth of Christianity, we emphasize factors that contributed to the end in order to learn lessons important to management of present-day entities.
After Christ ascended to heaven, the Fellowship of Believers formed around the apostles to bear witness to his life and resurrection. The organization was the first church and performed its mission through prayer, teaching, healing, and miracles. It managed its economic affairs through communal living, whereby members surrendered their assets to a common purse from which the church took care of each member’s needs. However, managing communal living became more difficult as the membership grew.
Problems with Communal Living
The apostles tried to deal with the growing difficulties by restructuring the organization, such that the apostles focused on the spiritual mission and a different management group, the deacons, focused on managing the socio-economic affairs [Acts 6:1–7]. Seven deacons were appointed, including Stephen as leader. The arrangement worked for a while. However, dissatisfaction with Stephen increased and culminated in a conspiracy against him. He was tried before the Sanhedrin, the full assembly of Israeli leaders and elders. Stephen did not cooperate with the trial. He lectured and scolded the assembly. They mobbed and stoned him to death, making him the first martyr of the gospel [Acts 7].
The killing of Stephen emboldened people that were opposed to the believers and resulted in persecution of the church. Several disciples left Jerusalem and scattered in Judea and Samaria. Only the apostles remained in Jerusalem [Acts 8:1–3]. Dispersal of the disciples became a blessing as several started churches where they settled, including as far north as Syrian Antioch. Persecution of the church also resulted in Saul’s encounter with Christ and his conversion as he traveled to Damascus in pursuit of the disciples.
Excessive Burden from Non-Mission Affairs
As this account shows, burden from the non-mission socio-economic affairs of the first church weighed heavily on the leadership. The apostles restructured the church organization to reduce interference of the socio-economic life with the spiritual mission, but the restructuring was inadequate. As the number and variety of membership grew, managing the communal-living system became increasingly difficult and ultimately overwhelmed the organization. It is possible that additional changes might have saved the church, such as replacing communal living with family-based living, limiting the size of membership, and encouraging development and growth of other churches.
Restructure to Thrive
The principle of the changes mentioned in the fore-going paragraph could be applied to present-day organizations. An organization should manage its non-mission affairs (internal and external socio-economic interactions) in a way to support, but not degrade or interfere with, performance of its core mission. The organization should consider measures to reduce the non-mission socio-economic burden, maybe through restructuring, size reduction or increase as appropriate, and careful evaluation of projects to determine their impact on the core mission and other non-mission affairs.
The early church actually went through these changes, even if involuntarily. The first Jerusalem church ended and was replaced by a new smaller church consisting of the apostles and a few others. Several small churches started in several cities in Judea, Samaria, and as far north as Antioch. There was no more mention of communal living in any of the churches, including the new Jerusalem church. This decentralization along with other factors such as the conversion of Saul resulted in expansion of Christianity in the Middle East, Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world.