All those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. ~ Acts 2:44-47
Is it possible? Could you belong to a 21st-century church that embodied the dynamic of that first-century church? Was that Acts 2 church simply a New Testament phenomenon, never to be repeated, or is it our birthright?
Can we find a church that has such a deep level of community that people respond to the needs of others in such a joyful, spontaneous, and practical fashion? Could it be that we see so much need and so many who take advantage of the system that we have become calloused to the physical needs of those around us? We know intuitively that our church should be addressing such issues, but can we and will we?
Day by Day
Day by day — are you kidding? With the modern day press for time, we are lucky to get people to give us a couple of hours a week at my church. Is it possible to experience a church community where people give priority to the responsibilities and opportunities for service made possible through the local church? But, in truth, it is the other part of the day by day phenomenon that draws me. You know, the part that indicates that they were taking their meals together with such joy and sincerity that it led to spontaneous praise. Sounds like heaven, doesn't it? Who wouldn't want to experience that sort of fellowship here on earth? Can it happen in my church? Can it become reality in your church?
Is it possible to find a church family where the people are of one mind? Church arguments and church splits have become so commonplace that they have spawned a whole new genre of jokes. No doubt you have heard the one about the builder who was marooned on a desert island. Years went by and he passed the time by doing what he knew best — he built. He built his own town replete with every building one might desire in a small town. After a lengthy time, he was found. His rescuers were amazed at the beauty and symmetry of the small town he had constructed. One detail caught their attention as being somewhat out of place. There were two church buildings virtually facing each other. When asked why he built two different churches, he patiently explained that he didn't like the man who attended the other church. The punch line is pretty poignant since he alone lived on the island.
Would we like the church where we belong if we were its only member? Would it accomplish anything for the Kingdom if all the members were like me?
Being of one mind doesn't mean that we agree with each other on all the details of church life. With the diverse tastes of our day, that is not likely to occur. We differ on musical tastes, worship style and length, purpose of small groups, and the list goes on and on. Be we can be of "one mind" when it comes to our passion for the King and His Kingdom. It must be our priority and our passion.
Having Favor with All the People
What would have to change for our church to be described as having favor with all the people? For it to have favor with all the members of our local church, it would have to have the "one mind" attitude about its mission. It would have to be Kingdom Centered. We will explore this description throughout this series. But at this early point we can offer a simple definition. Everything in the Kingdom Centered church finds its center or focal point in the Kingdom of God. Thus, we begin to look at ministries, budgets, and calendars with the primary question: Does this advance the Kingdom of God.
But I suspect that the phase having favor with all the people actually has a wider context. It includes those folks who are not presently a part of the church. How do people in your community view your church? Do they have a good or bad opinion of it? Why? Unfortunately, in many instances they have no opinion at all. They don't even know we are there.
The phrase in the description of the early church that gets my heart racing is the statement that the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. First, it indicates that what was happening was based on the working of the Lord and not the design of men. The spectacular growth and influence of this church was not the result of any church-growth program or strategy. It was the Lord drawing people to His church. Wouldn't you love to see your church experience genuine supernatural expansion as the Lord added daily to your number? Secondly, it suggests that the Kingdom Centered church will have a passion for the lost and be committed to evangelistic expansion.
It has been my experience that many churches are more concerned with "placating the saved" than with "rescuing the lost." Our budgets don't reflect that we are concerned with allowing God to add to our number daily those who are being saved. Our small group structure is often allowed to stagnate as we hold our "holy huddles," while people in our neighborhoods search for authentic community. The Kingdom Centered church acknowledges that the plight of the lost outweighs the comfort of the saved.
Why Not Today?
The church has been the passion of my life from childhood. My dad was a pastor of small churches, and many of my early memories are of my church family. I love the church, and my passion is to see it become all God designed it to be. When I had the opportunity to do graduate study in Cambridge, I chose a topic for research that would allow me to study the dynamic structure of the early church. It was during this period of study, that I began to look at the New Testament model of the church and ask: "Why not today?"
I have come to the firm conviction that God wants to do something so grand through our churches that we, too, can say that the Lord has added to our fellowship day by day. God has not changed! He is the same yesterday, today, and forever! His design and desire for the church has not changed. It is for this reason that we must once again look to the Scriptures with an open heart and mind to rediscover Gods' blueprint for a Kingdom Centered church.
Why Is The Issue So Critical?
I have always preached about the church, and apparently I have preached with passion about the church. In one of my earliest pastorates, I had a deacon comment to me about the fervor with which I preached when I addressed the work of the church. The impression I had from our conversation was that I should "chill out a little;" after all it was just the church. I am afraid we have become too comfortable when it comes to the church. We think about the church in terms of life transitions, rather than world transformation. We want the church around when there is a birth or death or marriage or divorce, but it is simply an afterthought in our priorities when we are called upon to give time or money. I am afraid we view the church as a sort of spiritual "cruise ship."
We board the ship at some point when we join the church. Our intention is to enjoy the cruise until we get to heaven. We are quite content as long as the water is smooth, the music over the intercom is to our liking, the drinks are cold, the food is sufficiently filling, and our deck chair is ready for us each morning as we relax and enjoy the entertainment.
When the waters get a bit choppy, we look for a new captain or a new ship. If someone switches the music, we quickly complain to the activities director. Heaven forbid that someone "new" would sit in our deck chair. No doubt, you get the picture. The church is not a "cruise ship" but a "hospital ship." Sometimes a hospital ship has to venture into new and choppy water to rescue those who are in danger of perishing. Deck chairs have no place on a hospital ship. Everyone makes room for the injured and pitches in to save those who are being pulled to safety and are in need of care. The church is a hospital ship whose mission is the same as our Lord's, who came to seek and save the lost (Matthew 18:11). The church's passion must be the same as the Father who commissioned it — Not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
I am passionate about the church precisely because the Lord is passionate about the church. After all He founded it (Matthew 16), He died and was raised to empower it, He sent His Holy Spirit to indwell it, and He is coming again to receive it as His own dear bride. It was to the church that Christ gave the "keys of the Kingdom." There is no organization or institution on earth that has the mission and significance of the church. God's strategy for the redemption of the nations rests with the church. The key to the transformation of our culture will be dependent upon the church "becoming the church."
More is at stake than any of us can imagine. We cannot afford to "play church." We cannot be casual about its mission. We cannot be casual about our level of involvement. We must be passionate about allowing the Lord to give us a Kingdom Centered focus. We must be willing to repent of our "spiritual my-opia" which desires to ensure that the church caters to our needs and whims. We must be willing to engage our culture and our community with the Gospel even when it takes us outside our comfort zone. We must be willing to "change," to do "whatever it takes" to advance the Kingdom of God.