Marks Of A Missional Church
When Amy and I were first married she worked at Brandon Hospital in Brandon, FL as a Unit Secretary on the Labor/Delivery floor. One of the things she and the other staff observed is what has been called the “lunar effect.” Every month when there was a full moon, the staff would always brace themselves because there would always seem to be an increase in the number of births that would occur on those days. Nurses would come in and say, “It’s a full moon tonight – get ready for an influx of babies.”
Now, I did some research this week and discovered there is really no verifiable evidence to confirm the “lunar effect” theory. Research indicates there's not really any increase of births during the monthly full moon cycle. But I also discovered that healthcare professionals are virtually unanimous in their contention that the Lunar Effect is true. What if it were true. And what if the number of births on a Labor and delivery floor increased by let’s say 25% - that would be a pretty significant increase, wouldn’t you say? What if it increased by 100% - double the number of births on a full moon as opposed to other times of the month. The staffing needs at hospitals around the world would reflect the lunar calendar right.
Imagine this – imagine the birth rate increased not by 25%, or 100%, or even 1000% but imagine the birth rate increased by 2500% on that one night. You’re talking about absolute chaos.
Well this is exactly what happened at Pentecost. There were 120 people gathered in the Upper Room at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit came down in power and inaugurated the church of Jesus Christ. But that very day there were 3,000 spiritual babies who were born again. The church went from 120 to 3120 – a 2500% increase. Now the birth of a baby brings joy tremendous joy! (Amber) But the birth of a baby also brings a lot of work. Now I asked Donnie Pell this week if having twins is more than double the work of having one and he said, “Oh yeah!” So Dusty and Ginger Tuders who are due with twins in 6 weeks have a lot to look forward to!
The 12 apostles – the original 11 and Mathias who replaced Judas – now have 3,000 baby Christians to look after. And with those 3,000 babies comes tremendous joy that must have been almost overwhelming as they saw 3,000 souls pass from death to life, from darkness to light, from a stale ritualistic religon to Spirit-infused life in Christ. What joy must have accompanied these new births.
But what work must have accompanied those new births? Remember, these are all immature, infant believers. We’ve all been around immature believers before – we’ve all been immature believers. New spiritual babies require a lot of work and attention; there must have been tremendous counseling and instruction and late night meetings and conflict resolution interventions – on a daily basis for the 12 apostles. So how did they manage this massive influx of new births that were experienced on the day of Pentecost? The passage before us this morning in our ongoing series through the book of Acts will both inform and instruct us to that end – they focused on the basics; they devoted themselves to the fundamental ideals upon which all New Testament churches must focus. So let’s read the passage and discover exactly what it was they focused on.
42And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Before I break down this passage and walk through the four elements we see here, I want to show you how Luke, the inspired author of the book of Acts, structured this passage. Because I think if you see the structure it will help in your understanding. What Luke has done here is in verse 42 we have a summary statement where he identified the marks of a missional church. Then in verses 43-47 he expands on those four ideals; he develops those four ideals for amplifies them for us. That's the structure of this text.
One thing I would point out is the word “devoted” in verse 42 – “And they devoted themselves…” That’s one word in the Greek, and the ESV translates it as such. But I think here the ESV is lacking a bit in showing the full meaning and sense of the word. The NASB captures it better – “They were continually devoting themselves…” The KJV says, “They continued stedfastly…” That’s the sense of the word here. They were not just devoted – they were continually devoted to these four things.
As I thought about this idea of being “continually devoted” I couldn’t help but think of athletics and how athletes – no matter what sport they’re in – they demonstrate continual devotion to the basics. Rumor has it that the Galloway kids when they were in high school spent hours and hours in the gym shooting the basketball; shooting from the free throw line; shooting from the 3-point line.
They learned the basic form and follow-through of a shot as children, but great basketball players continually devote themselves to the basics.
Wrestling is no different. The first takedown any youth wrestler learns is called the double leg takedown. It’s a very basic move. But Olympic champions still drill the double-leg takedown every day.
You may not be aware but we have a track-and-field state medalist in our congregation. Camryn Bowman was 2nd in the state last year in the discus throw as a 9th grader. She’s on pace to be the state champion this year and perhaps even break the state record. How has she been able to make those improvements? A continual devotion to the basics – she practices every day.
The same is true for the church. We see the early church making an impact on the culture because of their continual devotion to these four marks, these four ideals. So let’s break these down together and apply them to our life together as a congregation. These are ideals that exist in a church where the Holy Spirit rules & reigns in power. The 1st mark of missional:
I. LEARNING The Truth Together
And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching…
These early disciples were learning the truth together – they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching. Think about it – at this moment in church history, they did not have the collected books of the New Testament. The 27 books of the New Testament had not even been written. The four gospels didn’t exist yet; the epistles of Paul didn’t exist yet because Paul had not even been converted yet. So the basis of their instruction was from the lips of the apostles. There was oral instruction, there was preaching and teaching from the mouths of the apostles – and this is what the early disciples were continually devoted to.
So what did the apostles teach? As we’ve noted before, Jesus communicated to them for the 40 days after his resurrection how all of the Old Testament pointed to him – he is the focus of the Law and the Prophets. So no doubt, they were teaching the 3,000+ believers the Old Testament in light of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Additionally we can rightly presume that they were teaching the very words of Jesus. All of the apostles – including the newly appointed Mathias – had been with Jesus for the entirety of his earthly ministry. And Jesus promised this regarding their recollection of his teaching in John 14:
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. John 14:26
The Holy Spirit did in fact come at Pentecost and we can be certain that He reminded the apostles of all the words that Jesus spoke to them. And they related the words of Jesus to the disciples.
Now the point is, these new Christians were hungry for the word of God. They couldn’t get enough of it. A church where the Holy Spirit reigns in power has members that can’t get enough of God’s word; they’re hungering for the truth; they are continually devoted to the truth.
Now there has been a contingency in some Baptist churches, particularly in the south, to have this kind of anti-intellectualism; some scoff at theological training and seminary instruction; higher learning. Growing up in a small Baptist church I can remember hearing people say, “Well that preacher-boy went off to seminary and it ruined him.” I think that is especially naïve and simple. We, as Spirit-filled Christians are to be continually devoted to learning the truth of God’s word. We never stop learning. In fact, the most common NT word for a Christian is not the word “Christian” or “Believer” - it’s the word “disciple.” And the word “disciple” (mathetes) means a pupil, a learner. We are to be continually devoted to learning.
Now how is this ideal of being devoted to the apostles’ teaching expanded in the following verses? Look again at verse 43: And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. Acts 2:43
Every soul, every disciple in this early church had a sense of awe upon them. That word translated “awe” is the word “PHOBOS” in Greek, from which we get our English word “phobia.” What is a phobia? It’s a fear, right? Arachnophobia is a fear of spiders; claustrophobia is a fear of closed in spaces. Now we sometimes associate these phobias as being irrational. But the PHOBOS the early disciples had was not some type of irrational fear; rather it was a reverential awe at the person and work of Christ as related to them by the teaching of the apostles. That’s a result of being continually devoted to the apostles’ teaching – a sense of reverential awe at the person and work of Christ.
But how did these early brand new converts know that they could trust the testimony of the apostles? How could they know that their teaching was authoritative? That’s how the rest of verse 43 is connected to the apostles’ teaching: many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles
God enabled the apostles to perform many signs and wonders among the people – this brought authority to their message. Their message was confirmed by the miracles God wrought through them. They couldn't deny the fact that God endorsed them by performing miracles through them.
The apostle Paul also affirmed that the foundation upon which the church of Jesus Christ was built was the apostolic witness: 20Built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. Eph 2:20-21
So this is the first mark, the first ideal of a missional church; a church where the Spirit reigns – we will be learning the truth together. And these early Christians certainly demonstrated that. These newborn-babies had a longing for the word. That’s exactly how Peter put it in his first epistle: Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation. 1 Peter 2:2 We too should have this same longing for the Word of God. Secondly, this early church was continually devoted to…
II. LEVERAGING Their Resources Together
they were selling their possessions and belongings
Now the second thing Luke mentions in verse 42 that they were continually devoted to is “fellowship.” Now fellowship is quite a churchy word. We talk about having fellowship together; going into our fellowship hall. Our fellowship hall is where we meet together to do primarily what – eat together! So usually in our minds when we think of “fellowship” we think of eating; we think of coffee and donuts or punch and cookies – that’s fellowship in our mind.
Now although biblical fellowship can include that, that doesn't really approach the depth of fellowship that Luke communicates was going on in the early church. How do I know that? It’s how he develops the meaning of “fellowship” in the following verses.
The Greek word for “fellowship” many of you probably know – what is it? The word here is “KOINONIA.” If you’ve been in church for any period of time no doubt you’ve heard a preacher or Bible teacher tell you that fellowship is “koinonia.” But what does this rich Bible word mean? Is it just coffee and donuts – relating to each other over snacks? Hardly.
“Koinonia” comes from “koinos” which means “common.” To have things in common. For instance, the NT was written in “KOINE” Greek. It was “common” Greek – the Greek dialect that was spoken by the majority of the inhabitants of the Roman Empire.
Now why do you suppose God in his sovereignty chose to record the second testament of his Bible in common Greek – in the common language of the day? Obviously, so it would be understood by the majority of people. Had he preserved his word in the New Testament in Classic Greek, or even in Hebrew – the majority of people would not have understood the plain meaning and sense of the Bible. Which is exactly the reason I preach from the ESV and not the KJV. Though the KJV is an excellent and reliable translation, the English used therein is 400 years old and not the common English of the day.
So KOINE means – common; KOINONIA means communion or community. Even our English word “coin” is derived from KOINOS – it is common currency. Now where do we see this idea of having things in common expanded following verse 42? 44And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. Acts 2:44-45
That word “common” at the end of verse 44 is the Greek word “koinos” from which “koinonia” in verse 42 is derived. So that’s the link. The type of fellowship the early church members were continually devoting themselves to was a leveraging of their resources together to meet one another’s needs; to fulfill the mission of the church. Their fellowship was so much deeper than coffee and donuts. Their fellowship was so interconnected that verse 45 says, they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
Now let’s be honest together. When we read a verse like verse 45, our first inclination is to bristle up a bit at that. We begin to get incredibly defensive. Why? Because we’re all middle-class American, 21st century Christians who have collected a lot of possessions and belongings. We all have mountains and mountains of stuff. And we like to go shopping for stuff, order our stuff, get it in two days with Amazon prime, we collect our stuff, and polish our stuff, and rent storage units to store our stuff.
That’s why a verse like this is very threatening to us. And we can say things like, “Well, this isn’t a command from Jesus that we sell our possessions and assist others in need, it’s simply a description of what they did.” But before we dismiss this too quickly remember, Luke, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, provides this description of the early church, not to make fun of them but to commend them, to recognize the Spirit of Jesus working in them in such a magnificent, completely counter-cultural way.
These early disciples were so connected, had such community and fellowship they couldn’t bear seeing one of their brothers or sisters in need and at the same time hold on to and cling to their own possessions. And I would caution you to NOT respond to this text defensively; don’t try to take the stinger out of this passage and explain it away. But instead think it through, ponder it – what would it look like for you; what would it look like for me? There’s no coercion or manipulation here; the apostles were not forcing these early Christians to take these actions – this was simply an outworking of God’s Holy Spirit in their lives.
They didn’t all sell their homes because some of them still had homes they were meeting in and enjoying their meals together in – but no doubt, some sold their homes; they were all devoted to this type of community.
In our 25 years of marriage, time and again, the Lord has led Amy and I to ask ourselves hard questions and to consider ways and pray through situations to determine how we can create more margin in our lives financially so that we can be in a place to be more generous. About 3 years ago we made an offer on a house right behind the church here that would have decreased our living space but would have increased our giving space. Our offer wasn’t accepted but at the time God was asking us, “Is your house an idol?
Just this past month the Lord has been calling us again to these same considerations. And so, we have a contract on another house now that is 30% smaller than our current house. We’ve married off one child and so, we certainly don’t need as much space as we had. So our house is for sale. Why? Because we want to create margin in our lives to increase our giving.
Now God may not be calling you to sell your house, but no doubt it’s healthy for all of us to consider these things and to think them through – what can I do to create more margin. Many of us have so maxed ourselves out in spending that if we saw a need or a mission opportunity – we don’t have any margin. Our response would be, “Well, I’d like to help, I’d like to contribute, but there’s no room left in my budget.” So my question to you is, what would it look like for you to create room in your budget to leverage your resources to be on mission with God.
Brian and Jill DeJewski, a married couple who met and married while they were students at Bethel Seminary asked themselves that same question. They had the picture-perfect American dream. But notice what they did to create margin in their life in order to be on mission with God. Play Video
“We’re building a better future here and we’re being obedient to what God’s called us to do.” That’s Spirit-filled living. That’s taking inventory of what you have and considering how you can leverage your resources to give your life away for God’s mission.
What moves and motivates someone to do that? How does someone leverage their resources to invest into others; to experience and enjoy this fellowship, this koinonia Luke describes was going on in the first church. It's only by the power of the Holy Spirit: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. 2 Cor 13:14
I pray I will be a Spirit-infused, Spirit-empowered disciple who demonstrates that kind of fellowship, that kind of koinonia. And all of our elders are praying in that direction. God has moved on all of our hearts to examine how we can increase our generosity, increase our partnership in the gospel. And watch out, because that's our prayer for you too!
Look on the back of your outline. You’ll notice a projected budget for our Faith Commitment Offering. This year we are transitioning the way we fund missions as a church. Rather than taking up special offerings at different times throughout the year, we are asking every family to consider what you can give to missions on a regular basis every week, or every two weeks, or every month. This is the Biblical model of missions giving we see in 1 Corinthians 16. What you’ll notice is there are three levels, or three goals we have set for our missions funding.
Now something to note - 100% of this giving goes outside the four walls of this church. This is all for taking the gospel across the street and around the world. So we're asking all of us to consider what these early Christians considered – how can we leverage our resources together to be on mission with God and support his work and cause. We will collect commitment cards for our Faith Commitment Offering on the Sunday morning of our Missions conference, March 1st. That’s just 3 weeks from today. So please, join me in praying that God will do much more than we ever dreamed or imagined.
Here’s the third thing we see them doing:
III. LINKING Their Lives Together
breaking bread in their homes
The third thing Luke tells us they were continually devoting themselves to was the “breaking of bread.”
Now there is a difference of opinion among NT scholars what this “breaking of bread” refers to. Some say it means taking communion; others think it means the sharing of meals together. My sense is that it is both. We know that when the early church came together they observed communion, the Lord’s Supper. But additionally, they would have an “agape feast” following communion. In 1 Corinthians Paul rebukes the Corinthian church for turning their communion/agape feast in to an opportunity to get drunk.
But there was this connection between the formal observance of the ordinance of communion and the informal eating of a meal together. But what I want us to consider is how both of these link our lives together as Christians.
When we celebrate communion together as we will next Sunday, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes, but it is also an opportunity for us to affirm our covenant with His Church; we affirm our covenant with each other by celebrating communion together. And in so doing, we are saying our lives are linked together by our common affirmation of the work of Jesus through our sharing of the cup and bread.
But this eating meals together in one another’s homes, day by day by day by day is also a linking of our lives together. That’s how Luke expands on the phrase “breaking of bread” in verse 46: And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts. Acts 2:46
Here’s what we see happening in the early church that was filled and controlled by the Holy Spirit – everyday they loved to be together. Every day they looked forward to sharing a meal with other members of the church. This also is counter-cultural for us. We have so compartmentalized our lives – we live our lives in and out of our boxes. We drive around in our boxes from our homes to our jobs, and our jobs to our homes; then we pull into our boxes called a garage; and we walk into our box of a house, and all of our kids have their own box, their own room so they don’t have to interact with other members of the family that resides in the larger box.
But that’s NOT how these early Christians lived. Christ was so real in their lives, the reality of his great salvation was so prevalent and pervasive that they couldn’t wait until Sunday to get together in a big box where they looked at the back of each other’s heads while the apostles taught, they HAD to get together every day and share meals together where they could talk about the wonderful things Jesus was doing in their lives.
So while koinonia is much deeper than coffee and donuts, it doesn’t rule out coffee and donuts. These early Christians seemed to never eat alone. But in our culture most of us almost always eat alone. So church, I encourage you – invite people to your house for supper, for Sunday lunch, for Saturday morning breakfast and in so doing we are linking our lives together. And this undergirds and enhances our mission together. And that leads to the fourth and final mark we see here…
IV. LOVING Their Lord Together
Again, verse 42 says: And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
And I believe Luke expands on this idea of “the prayers” in their expressions of public praise and worship together as a church. In verse 46 he says they were attending the temple together. This means that the church together was meeting at the temple. We know from chapter 3 that they met at Solomon’s portico. Thousands of them together where they prayed, and praised, and worshiped God together.
And then in verse 47 he expands on it by simply saying they were, praising God and having favor with all the people… So what we see them doing together is Loving their Lord together. These people were a worshiping people; they were a praying people; they were a God-saturated praising people. When they went to the temple they praised God; when they met in their homes for dinner they praised God.
And here’s what I want us to notice – the result of these four marks of the missional church. What was the result Luke records? First, they had favor with all the people. In other words, the early church, even though it was counter-cultural it was attractive to the world in which they lived. People looked at that church and said, “There’s something different about them; there’s something unique and authentic and ultimately attractive.” And what was the result of having favor with all the people? Look again at the end of verse 47: And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:47b
Day by day they were seeing conversions; day by day they were seeing people being saved; day by day people were passing from death to life, from darkness to light. That’s the result of a church that lives out these missional marks and ideals in the power of the Holy Spirit.
You know the huge redwood trees in California are quite amazing. They are the largest living things on earth and the tallest trees in the world. Some of them are 300 feet high and are more than 2,500 years old. You would think that trees that large would have a tremendous root system, reaching down hundreds of feet into the earth. But that is not the case. Redwoods actually have a very shallow root system. But, the reason they can grow so tall and withstand the storms and winds that assail them is because, although their roots are shallow, they are all intertwined.
The massive Redwood trees in California are tied together, linked and interlocked. Thus, when the storms come and the winds blow the redwoods still stand. With an interlocking root system they both survive and thrive! They need each other. And church, so do we! God has designed us to survive and thrive as his people by being interlocked and interconnected – how? Through these marks Luke identified in this early church:
They LEARNED the truth together…
They LEVERAGED their resources together…
They LINKED their lives together, and…
They LOVED their LORD together.
Last Thought: We NEED each other to fulfill Christ’s mission. Therefore, our community of faith must be a PRIORITY in our lives.