Summary: church health is more important than church growth.
“Anatomy of a Healthy Church”
Acts 11:19-30, 13:1-3
Introduction: Welcome to this last worship service of 2017. As I begin my preaching and teaching ministry here at Thayer Church my prayer is that that Lord will use me to be a blessing to you and your family. Sis. Judy and I are excited about this new ministry opportunity and look forward to what God has in store for 2018.
For a good part of my ministry the focus been on church growth and I have had the opportunity to see growth in the ministries that we have been blessed to be a part of. The emphasis in our denominational ministries has been on church growth. Our departments have sought to provide training and materials to help our churches to grow. But in the last few years I have come to realize that church growth cannot exclusively be measure in numbers. Numbers are important but many now believe that there are other standards of measurement; other ways to determine if a church is going to grow or not. I’m referring to church health, for a healthy church will grow in a sustainable way, that is the fruit will remain while an unhealthy church may grow in number but not be healthy. Long term growth is determined by church health. For my first official message as your senior pastor I want to focus our attention on a NT church that is a model for what I’m speaking about.
Let’s see what is revealed in the text:
Acts 11:19 Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. 20 And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord. 22 Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch. 23 Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord. 24 For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord. 25 Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: 26 And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch. 27 And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. 28 And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar. 29 Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea: 30 Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.
Acts 13:1 Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. 3 And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.
I. A Healthy Church is distinctly Gospel Centric
a. The Character of the Gospel they proclaimed
Tim Keller nuances the narratives in today’s culture by saying that there are two lines of thought today in the church. One is “religion” and the other narrative is “Gospel”. He goes on to say the difference between Gospel and religion is religion says if you obey, you are acceptable; but the Gospel message says you are accepted, therefore you obey. There focus was on relationship and not religion.
The early church was distinctly a “gospel preaching” and teaching church. They preached the word; they exhorted them and taught them the word. The Gospel was the center of everything that they did.
“The Gospel (the Good News) of Jesus Christ tells us…We are more sinful and weak than we ever cared to admit; AND…We are more loved and accepted than we ever dared to hope.”
b. The centrality of Christ in the Gospel
Verse 20 tells us that the Gospel that they preached was Christocentric.