Last post I shared about shrinking the church. It tells part of the story of how I can to plant our simple church. Acts 2:42-47 was a Bible passage that inspired me. So much so I considered naming the church 242. Everyone in churchland knows this passage. It’s the ‘what you want your church to look like’ passage of the Bible. You can’t just cut and paste this description onto today’s church. None-the-less Acts 2:42-47 shows signs of a healthy church.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere heart, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
I’ll admit it. I sometimes add a filter to my photos when I upload to Instagram. My favourite is Valencia – you just can’t go wrong with it. It can feel like Luke has written the passage from Acts 2 with a filter (probably Valencia), especially when you read about the problems within the church in the next couple of chapters. But Luke’s taken a snapshot instead. He’s caught an image of the best that church can be rather use a filter to make it look better. The effect is that when problems arise within the church we have a place to turn to for signs of a healthy church.
I find Luke’s picture to be beyond my reach. Why? It is so easy to have a romantic view of the New Testament church. It’s almost like a honeymoon, fun, care-free, so full of love. But honeymoons are never repeated, especially once kids have come along. Instead you’re left to remember that wonderful time where every day was peaceful and sunny, and of course, forget the plane was delayed by 4 hours.
How often do we do this with the church? How often do we see the church of Acts 2 as a distant memory? Sure enough, we can’t go back in time but so often we fail to look for the signs of a healthy church in Acts and apply the principles in our context.
6 Signs of a Healthy Simple Church
1. Focus on the Gospel
The apostles’ teaching was a major part of following Jesus. They devoted themselves to it; they just couldn’t get enough of it. The gospel is the centre of what the apostles taught. Jesus had spent years with these guys. Now they were finally understanding his message. They taught that Jesus, God’s own Son, became human, died bearing our sin on the cross, was raised back to life, ascended to God, and will return. You didn’t know God by doing all the right things; you knew God by knowing Jesus.
With the busyness of church-life, and the lives of those who come, how do you develop gospel centredness in your context?
2. Desire to Pray
The first church’s response to the apostles’ teaching was prayer. Most likely the whole church was Jewish believers, so it’s a good bet they followed the Jewish set times of prayer. But more than just personal prayer, the church prayed together.
And their prayers were remarkably gospel centred. They prayed for boldness in the face of opposition. They prayed God would do miracles in Jesus’ name. The church gathered to pray for Peter’s release from prison. And Stephen prayed for the very people who were stoning him to death.
What do you pray for when you gather together?
3. People Full of Worship
People knew how to worship God. They could see God working in their midst and this led them to worship. Sure, in part their worship is a response to the ‘wonders and signs’ of the apostles, but in reality the people knew it was the work of the Holy Spirit. You can be sure they were worshiping God and not the apostles because of the focus of the apostles’ mission. They were gospel centred. Signs and wonders pointed people to Jesus and God.
Are you a worship-full person? What ways do you point people to worship Jesus?
4. Devoted to Each Other
Put simply, the first followers of Jesus loved each other. They hung out. I’m naive enough to think there were no issues or everyone got along. Yes, there was still probably that weird person who said they were allergic to everything including water. But when Luke says they were devoted to the fellowship, I think he’s a place where everyone is welcome, everyone is valued, and everyone participates.
I don’t often see this in many churches. Often people are so busy that church seems to be reduced to a meeting once a week where people come and then go their separate ways. This is the opposite of fellowship.
How do create a places to welcome people, value them, and allow them to participate in our communities of faith?
5. Put Others Before Themselves
It is staggering to think that these first followers of Jesus would sell property to help provide for each other. These people wanted to serve each other. They served by sharing what they had. They served each other in their community. And they shared each other meals.
Sometimes when I serve people it’s fairly begrudgingly. I don’t want to be there helping people. I want to do what I want to do. Luke doesn’t give this picture. The early Christians served joyfully. It was all about celebration. I think they understood Jesus’ words about people knowing they were his followers by their love for each other better than I do at times.
Where are our places do serve? Are they places of joy and celebration? What do others notice about us?
6. Motivated by Mission
Luke sums up the first church’s mission as, ‘The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.’ In one sense, only God saves. They didn’t do anything to the mission.
However, the church in Acts 2 is very intentionally on the mission of spreading Jesus. They met in public spaces (the temple) and presumably prayed, worship and talked about Jesus. They were observable. People could see what them selling and giving, and sharing meals. I think they interacted with those around them because they enjoyed the favour of all the people. And I’m guessing the Lord added to their number daily through these interactions.
Luke doesn’t write about their rallies, or how they handed out leaflets. The first church’s lifestyle seems to be that mission is a natural part of living as a follower of Jesus.
Every church has strengths and areas they need to grow regardless of size, structure or type. What are the strengths of your church? And what areas does your church need to grow?