Philip—The Ideal Church Member
by Pastor Aaron Adame
Occasionally I am asked the question: what is the ideal church member? I am typically asked this question by new people who are interested in joining the church. The heart behind this question is great: What is the best and most ideal way to get involved in the church? How can I get plugged into the flow of discipleship already happening?
These questions, of course, assume a few things that are obvious to be a growing and active church member: Having a personal faith in Jesus and have already been baptized. Attending church services on Sunday regularly and receiving the Lord’s Supper. Serving in some capacity, if they aren’t already. Getting involved in a Life Group or men’s/women’s ministries if schedule permits. Speaking positively about the church and avoiding gossip. And the disciplines of reading your Bible, praying, and being ready to share your faith when God opens a door.
Again, assuming you’re attempting to do all the basic elements of your discipleship to Christ, what else should you be considering in order to be the ideal church member? I want to take a moment to answer that question by putting a name to the response—I invite you to look no further than to the ministry of Philip in the book of Acts. Let me give a brief summary to start and then end with some conclusions in answering this question.
In Acts 6, we are introduced to seven men who were chosen by the Jerusalem congregation (likely a search committee), at the request of the apostles, to serve the Hellenistic widows in the daily distribution of food. In verse 3, we are told what they were to look for: “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.” The seven were chosen–and Philip was one—and we will see why!
What followed afterward was quite extraordinary. Stephen, another of the seven chosen to serve tables, courageously, clearly and powerfully proclaimed the gospel, which resulted in him becoming the first recorded martyr for the faith and caused the church to disperse out of Jerusalem. This is where the story shifts to Philip in chapter 8.
We read that Philip, whilst fleeing the fiery persecution, ended up in Samaria. Now, you may recall, Samaritans and Jews were as hostile toward each other as two rival gangs. Which worked well because Philip wasn’t Jewish, he was Greek. And like Stephen, he preached the gospel to them without regard or hesitation, with signs and wonders as a display of God’s power and truth. As a result, many believed and were filled with joy.
So great was this revival in this city, that the news was taken back to Jerusalem, to the apostles and leaders of this infant church. When they got there, they prayed that these new believers might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had yet to come upon them.And when they had finished there, they left and preached in the surrounding villages—But Philip’s mission trip wasn’t over…
The next event in the story shows Philip being led by the Holy Spirit to go to the desert. And as he was there, an Ethiopian Eunuch was traveling on a road, heading back to his country after visiting Jerusalem on pilgrimage during Pentecost. And as the two intersected, Philip saw him reading the scroll of Isaiah, specifically a chapter that prophesied of the Messiah as a suffering servant (Isaiah 53). The story, of course, is well known from there. He preached the gospel, the man believed and was baptized, then Philip vanished and ends up in Azotus, then preached in the other villages as he made his way to Caesarea.
So, what does Philip’s ministry teach us about the ideal church member beyond the obvious points listed in the beginning? Here are several:
1. Get to know people. People knew Philip, and he knew them. They trusted him to serve them, and he loved them enough to want to serve those in need. Building relationships with those you go to church with will grow you in your faith, and God will use you to grow the faith of others.
2. Serve where there is a need. There was an obvious need in the church, and it took willing people to fulfill it. Every church has simple, tangible ways to serve in the church and get involved.
3. Keep the balance of word and deed. Doing tangible works is the ministry of every believer. We should be meeting the physical and tangible needs and goals of the church. At the same time, ministry is not just tangible, it is also word-based. If you usher or run sound or help with security, you are also capable of looking for ways to encourage those around you with the Word of God.
4. Don’t go rogue. Philip had a ministry outside of the church in Samaria and with the Ethiopian eunuch. However, none of those things were done without connection to the church. There are those who have a ministry but aren’t connected to a local church. This is not the goal for the ideal church member.
5. Don’t wait for a program. Some people wait to get involved until the church creates opportunities for ministry. But the fact is, there is ministry all around you, every day. At work, at home, in the community, people need to be served and have the Word of God shared with them in boldness and clarity.
This last point brings up another thing to consider as we close. Most often, the ministry of the church throughout the week goes unnoticed by the church at large. We have a tendency to think that we need to let the church know of everything going on through monthly newsletters, social media posts, or daily emails. But if we tried to communicate all that God is doing through every believer, every day, this would be impossible. Instead, we need to accept that God is working through every member of our church in ways we will see and not see. This was true for Philip.
The church was made aware of the great revival in Samaria. But only Philip knew what took place in the desert. But not even Philip knew what took place next as that man took the scroll of Isaiah back to his home country with the gospel in his heart and the Spirit in his soul. For all we know, that man could have started a revival in Ethiopia that would make Samaria seem like child’s play.
I hope this helps you to understand a bit more about what it looks like to be the ideal church member. God wants to use you; God’s people need you, and you need them. The community needs every believer to be active in serving them through word and deed. The vision and goal for every church and believer is simply this: “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly” (Acts 6:7).
There is some debate as to why the Samaritans did not receive the Holy Spirit immediately upon their confession of faith. The answer is that God withheld the Spirit, so that the Apostles (Jews) would validate the ministry and faith in the Samaritans. This was to avoid a divide and schism in the early church. It meant that the Jewish leaders needed to affirm that the gospel was not just for them, but for the gentiles as well. While at the same time, the gentile’s faith was not to be separated from its Jewish beginnings.