An engineer who worked for the General Motors Corporation; once showed his friend a plant that was all of a mile long. He told his friend that "raw" materials went in one end of the plant and cars came out the other, then he told his friend something revolutionary. That building exists for one purpose and one purpose only, to make cars.
Something similar can be said of the church. Her primary purpose according to Matthew 28:19-20 is to make disciples.
Today, thousands of churches are starting each year all across America but the question is, “Are they accomplishing this purpose? Are they making disciples?
As we begin, I would like to submit to you that if a church is healthy it will grow. When people are about the Father’s business of living pure lives, sharing the Good News of Jesus, death, burial and resurrection, giving their time, treasures, talents and temples in loving and serving one another in the church, the church will grow.
However, a church will grow without any of these things happening.
It will grow as people flock to sit in air conditioned, spacious facilities, send their kids to exciting children’s ministries, hear awesome sounding choirs, praise groups and bands, and watch tear-jerking drama and laugh at comical skits.
It will grow as a result of people flocking to hear eloquent preachers who articulate messages that tickle the ears and numb the conscience; preachers who fail to preach against sin; pastors who fail to mention judgment, hell and the lake of fire to follow.
As a new church, how do we know when we are “doing church” God’s style? This question will be answered as we look to Scripture.
Chapter two of the book of Acts begins with the day of Pentecost arriving some 50 days after Passover. We all know what happened during the week of Passover. The Passover Lamb Jesus Christ was crucified for our sins and raised from the dead so that we might be declared righteous (Romans 4:25).
The disciples were all together in one place and the Holy Spirit came with a noise like a violent, rushing wind and it filled the whole place where they were. They all began to speak with other languages and the Holy Spirit filled each person assembled.
Because it was the time of the observance of Pentecost, the Bible says in Acts 2, verse 5 that many foreigners from every nation under heaven were in Jerusalem and heard the disciples speak in their own native tongue.
These foreigners, “Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs” all heard the disciples speaking of the mighty deeds of God in their own language (vss. 8-12)
Some were both amazed and perplexed; others mocked and accused the disciples of being drunk.
The Apostle Peter stood up and preached saying that these men aren’t drunk because it was only 9am. He went on to say that what was happening was spoken of through the prophet Joel. Peter continued and preached a sermon that is summarized in verse 22 – 24:
"Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know--this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. And God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.
The amazing thing is that at the end of Peter’s message you will find no invitation. You will find no chorus being sung by a choir with the words, “Come to Jesus, come to Jesus, come to Jesus just now…” There was no crusade choir singing, “Just as I am….”
Peter did not beg people to get saved (though there is nothing wrong with begging people to trust Christ-Paul did it in 2 Cor. 5:20: “Be reconciled to God!”). Peter hadn't even finished his sermon in verse 36 when in verse 37 the people “were pierced to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of the disciples, “Brethren, what shall we do?”
Peter answers in verse 38, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Verse 40 says that Peter kept on encouraging them saying, “Be saved from the perverse generation!”
Verse 41 goes on to tell us the results of the preaching of God’s Word:
Acts 2:41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
Acts 2:42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.
Acts 2:43 And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.
Acts 2:44 And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common;
Acts 2:45 and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.
Acts 2:46 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart,
Acts 2:47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
This is true church growth. God grows the church.
* They didn’t come because of the reputation of the pastor—Peter was just an old fisherman.
* They didn’t come to a church service or church building—they were just minding their own business on the Day of Pentecost.
* They didn’t come for the preaching—that kind of preaching would turn many people away today.
* There was no choir, praise team or band; no nursery or children’s ministry; no singles or senior’s group.
Acts 2:41 says three thousand souls were added to the church. Verse 47 says that God added them!
Now let’s unpack a few verses from this passage. Beginning at verse 46 let’s look at the activity the church was involved in before God added to the church.
They were meeting
Acts 2:46 - “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple…and from house to house…”
Who were these people that continued to meet? Those that continued to meet are the three thousand souls of verse 41.
The word “continuing” comes from the Greek word (proskartereo) that means “to be earnest towards,” “to persevere,” and “to be constantly diligent.”
The point of this verse is that the early believers were “earnest toward” or “constantly diligent” in attending all the opportunities for fellowship that made for them.
They continued meeting with one accord in the temple and from house to house.
They more than likely gathered together as a large group for worship on Sunday in the temple and then during the week as smaller groups of people in homes. Churches today have gotten away from this model of Scripture.
Have you ever heard of the five-second friendship? In many churches today the smile is bright, the handshake is firm, and the voice is warm. And then it's over, all in less than five seconds.
This is the way it is today in many of our churches—it is just a long succession of five-second friendships…one after another. Some of these five-second friendships may be during the service while everyone is invited to move around and shake hands while we sing “Celebrate.” But in the first-century church, the infant church, we come away from Scripture seeing something altogether different.
In the first century church—they were meeting. They met in two venues: the temple and the home. One can get an idea of what went on in the temple by reading Paul’s words to Timothy, a church planter. In 1 Timothy 4:13 Paul writes, “Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.” This is what we attempt to do at GraceWay Church each Sunday.
But the early, infant church not only met together on Sunday in the temple, they met together during the week from house to house:
Acts 2:46 says, “…breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food…”
Acts 5:42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
Acts 8:3 But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house; and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.
When Peter was miraculously released from prison Acts 12:12 says that “he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.”
When Paul was about to leave for Rome to face Caesar he spoke to the elders of the church of Ephesus saying, “…I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house…” Acts 20:20
In Romans 16:5 and 1 Corinthians 16:19 Paul sends greeting to the church that met in Priscilla and Aquila’s house.
In Colossians 4:15 Paul writes, “Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church that is in her house.”
In Philemon 1:2 Paul sends greeting to Archippus and to the church in his house.
The Apostle John in 2 John 1:10 warns the churches concerning false teachers saying, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring the teaching of Christ, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting.”
This house to house gathering of believers occurred for four centuries but all that changed when Constantine came on the scene and legalized Christianity. When this happened, huge, lavish temples were built and church became equated with a cold, lifeless cathedral. The cathedral approach has created an impersonal church that acts more like a herd of cattle than an intimate family.
Over the centuries the church has gone from the simple to the complex. The first church gathered together for the large group meeting in the temple and then convened during the week from house to house for the small group fellowship.
Not only was the church meeting, it was eating.
They were eating
Acts 2:46 – “And day by day … breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together…”
Not only did the early church continue to meet; they continued to eat.
The first kind of eating the early believers were involved in could be referring to the Lord's Supper. First Corinthians 11:17-34 lets us know that the Lord’s Supper was originally a full meal. It was meant to be a time of remembering the Lord's death and His return. It was a time of expressing love toward other believers, hence Jude's description of it as a "love feast" (Jude 12).
Many churches have what they call the Agape Dinner—where each member brings a contribution to the meal and afterwards all join together for the Lord’s Supper.
The kind of eating Luke could be referring to was a casual meal where believers just came together to eat. Today, the expression “to break bread” means to have a time of friendship around a meal.
Not many people need to be told that eating is vitally important to the church.
How many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb? Ten. One to change it, and nine to make fried chicken and potato salad for the picnic afterwards
You might be a Baptist if you ever wake up in the middle of the night craving fried chicken and interpret that feeling as a call to preach.
On a more serious side, church socials, potlucks, and covered dish suppers have an important function. If you were to ask people attending a fellowship meal, “Why are you here?,” some of them may say, “Because God wants us to be together, to eat together.” Others may simply say, “Because this is where my friends are.”
For many people who attend the church potluck meal, what happens there may be as important as or more important than what happens in the sanctuary in the worship service. There are a lot of folks looking for community, and they come to the church and find that community in these social events.
There are kids for whom the high point of their Sunday at church is a coffee hour like our AromaHouse, when they get to run around with their friends or when they get to have some juice and cookies during the children’s church.
There are people who may look down upon that as being not particularly Christian, but both kids and adults may get from that coffee hour a sense that church is a good place to be, this is home and family for me.” That coffee hour experience may shape their Christian practice for the rest of their lives.
It’s even more the case for youth groups. As a youth pastor, I have seen that one of the more effective ways to get students to come to church events was to feed them. Food is an essential tool for ministry.
Food is a vital part of fellowship for the church back in the first century and it is for the church today.
The early church continued to meet and they continued to eat. Acts 2:46 says how they ate their food:
Acts 2:46 says “they ate their food with gladness…” This leads us to our third point:
They were happy
The Greek word for “gladness” is agalliasis, ag-al-lee'-as-is, and means, “much leaping.” It is translated in other places of Scripture as “exultation” and “exuberant joy.”
The early Christians were happy; they were joyful. They had an exuberant attitude toward life. Why was this so?
They can come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior! He had delivered them from their sins. Jesus had delivered them from the bondage to man made legalism. They were on their way to heaven!
This reminds me of the song that says, “I will enter his gates with Thanksgiving in my heart, I will enter his courts with praise; I will say this is the day that the Lord has made I will rejoice for he has made me glad.” The chorus says, “He has made me glad; He has made me glad, I will rejoice for he has made me glad. He has made me glad; He has made me glad, I will rejoice for he has made me glad.”
The early church was joyful. Fourthly, the 1st century church was real.
They were real
Acts 2:46 they ate their food with… simplicity of heart…
This is the Greek word (aphelotes) that means, “freedom from duplicity…deceit, deception or dishonesty.” In other words they were not frontin’. They did not put up a façade or make appearances. They did not come to impress. What you saw was what you got.
How many have been invited to church by a coworker and when you got to his or her church you almost didn’t recognize them. They were not the same person that you worked with.
At the church they spoke “Christianeeze.” They even had a different walk and facial expression.
On the other hand, some of us, when we are out in the world, feel that we have to act like the world does. When you are on the bus stop you need to put your “Home Boy” mug on. You need to walk like someone who does not look out of place.
When the early church met together there was freedom. They were changed. They were at ease as they were able to be themselves among other Christians.
They were meeting, eating, happy and real. Fifthly, they praised God.
They praised God
Acts 2:47 - praising God… In the early church experience there was an open expression of their appreciation for who God was and what He was doing in their lives.
I will always remember the person that epitomized this kind of lifestyle—Nelson Price. When I first met Nelson, he was a maintenance man at the apartment complex where my wife and I lived during the first couple years of our marriage. I remember the several times when I was leaving for work and just about to get into my car I would hear Nelson holler from across the parking lot, “Praise the Lord!” As a new believer, this was embarrassing to me!
However, “praising God” is much more than saying “Praise the Lord!” “Praise” is something we give when we are pleased with something. We praise our dogs for bringing us the paper, and our children for doing well on a test. We all love to be told we are appreciated for what we do. When we praise God we are telling Him that He is loved and appreciated.
The word 'praise' comes from the same root as 'prize.' When we praise something, we are saying that we prize it; that is, we consider it to be valuable. We show that we value God by praising Him.
Hebrews 13:15 says, “Through Him (Jesus) then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.”
Psalm 134:2 reads, “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the LORD.”
Psalm 149:3 says, “Let them praise His name with dancing; Let them sing praises to Him with timbrel and lyre.”
I believe that this was how the early church operated. They praised God in the temple and they praised God in the house church. But I don’t think their praise was limited to the seclusion of the church. I believed they also praised God in their homes and they praised God in the community and marketplace.
“God is good” was not just a catch phrase with these Christians—they said it and they meant it.
They enjoyed favor
Acts 2:47 …and having favor with all the people
The “favor” spoken of in verse 47 wasn’t favor from the church members upon their own church. The Greek word (laos) lets us know that it was favor that was being bestowed upon the church by outsiders.
Last time in our message on the sin of Achan we learned that the church had a historic role in feeding the hungry, educating the children, housing the orphan, and caring for the sick. Then I asked the question, “Would the community weep if our church was to pull out of the city? Would anybody even notice if we left?”
Sometime ago USA Today, CNN and Gallup pulled together to poll people on the question, “How much confidence do you have in each of the institutions in U.S. society?” Concerning the Church, 57% of the people responded "A GREAT DEAL or QUITE A LOT". The sad fact, however, is that this survey placed the Church 3rd—behind the Military (66%) and Police (60%).
The church today has lost the favor of the people. I believe that has happened because the church in some areas has lost its focus. It has been more focused on maintaining the institution. Many churches have made it their mission to keep the people inside the church happy. Some churches are pouring a lot of time and money into protesting the sins of those who are outside the church.
We need to get back to doing church God’s style.
Would you agree with me if I told you that what is important to Jesus should be important to us? In Luke 4:18 the Bible sheds light on what was important to Jesus during His earthly ministry.
In this passage Jesus says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised…”
Matthew 4:23 lets us know that Jesus was accomplishing His mission – “Jesus went through Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.”
I believe that people have increasingly developed distaste for the church not because of the Word of God but because of the conduct of the church. Many who profess to know Jesus don’t practice what they preach. We say that Jesus is love but we do not love the sinner like He did.
The church is full of hypocrites just like many unbelievers say it is. This is why many do not venture to step foot in our churches.
Did you know that Jesus did not preach sin and depravity? He preached repentance and faith. Mark 1:15 gives us a summary of His message: “The time has come! God’s kingdom is here! Repent and put your trust in the Good News.” The Greek word translated “repent” literally means “a change of mind” or “a change of purpose;” it was a turning away from sin and a turning toward God.
Don’t get me wrong. Jesus did not ignore sin, but His focus was on encouraging His audience to change their way of living and trust God.
When Jesus spoke forcefully about sin, His comments usually were directed toward the legalistic, self-righteous, religious people like the Scribes and the Pharisees, not the “sinners” those religious leaders condemned.
When Jesus was with the “sinners,” He taught about God’s love for His lost children and His desire for them to have an abundant life. His message was a word of grace and forgiveness from sin not a condemnation for sin.
In John chapter 8 where the hypocritical dragged a half-naked prostitute caught in the act of adultery before Him, Jesus says to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
When none of them lifts up a stone against her but turns and walks away, Jesus turns to the women and asks, “Where are your accusers? Has anyone condemned you?” She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "”Neither do I condemn you; go your way. From now on sin no more.”
The early church didn’t go around thinking they were “holier than Thou.” If the holy one Jesus didn’t go around condemning people why should we?
The Christians of the first century church were a joyful people; they were a sincere and genuine people. They didn’t walk around with picket signs condemning the sinners for the sins they committed.
The community saw in these church folk genuine joy and optimism about life and wanted to be around them. The community saw that these Christians were recipients of God’s blessings and they wanted to be on the receiving end of God’s blessings too and thus show the church favor.
In Acts 2:40-46 we see the progression:
* Peter finishes preaching his sermon
* Those who received his message about Christ were baptized—some 3000 souls
* These souls continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, meeting as a large group in the temple courts and in small groups they broke bread from house to house
* They experienced the joy of the Lord as they fellowshipped and what you saw was what they were—they were genuine.
* They praised God and had a good reputation with people outside their fellowship.
The early church activity included meeting and eating. They were happy and real and praised God. They enjoyed the favor of outsiders. Lastly, they multiplied.
Acts 2:47 And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
We began this message talking about purpose; the purpose of the church. Let me conclude this message by sharing with you the stories of two churches.
There was a church that was declining in membership. The numbers were falling and people were becoming less and less satisfied. Some said the problem was the pastor while others said it was the worship. Some even said, “Our church is not a friendly church.” So the church members got together and elected three committees.
The first committee was assigned the task of either “pepping up” the pastor or finding a new one.
The second committee was instructed to “revamp” the worship services and make them more dynamic and exciting.
And the third committee was charged with the task of sprucing up the church’s image and making the church warm and inviting by developing guidelines for being friendlier.
Committee #1 worked long and hard and spent a great deal of money on the pastor.
* They bought him some contemporary clothing so that he would have the “look”. They sent him to “whooping” school to help him become a more “polished” speaker.
* They bought him several motivational books and CDs as well as sending him to every “Real Good, Feel Good” conference within a 200 mile radius.
Committee #2 spent four months visiting various churches and studying each one’s worship service.
* They would make notes of the number of people in the choir. They noted whether the church had a praise team or a band, and whether or not the worship leader wore a robe and played an instrument.
* They conducted surveys within the congregation on the style of music most preferred. They needed to know if people felt more comfortable with the “raising of hands” in praise or with a more dignified and solemn approach to worship.
After several months of meetings they concluded that the church needed to hire a “big-name” artist to be the worship leader. This would cost over 150k per year and they would need to allow the artist 14 weeks per year to “go on tour.” The artist also demanded that the sanctuary be renovated and lights installed for a weekly “laser show” set to the music that got the most play that week on the gospel radio stations. These upgrades would run around 2.5 million but the committee had secured a loan with an interest rate of only 11.8 percent.
Committee #3 determined that the church must hire a full-time “host and hostess” to take charge of the greeters.
This couple purchased uniforms and organized teams to be in the parking lot before each service handing out full-color programs, a coffee kiosk stocked with an assortment of cakes and snacks during the winter months and a lemonade stand with popsicles during the summer. They sent every greeter to “Hospitality University” where they were taught how to greet people with a smile.
“Hugs from Heaven” became the church’s new motto and all members were required to take a course in smiling and “warm handshakes”.
After two years the church was bankrupt and most of the members had become disgruntled and left the church altogether. Instead of growing, the membership had continued to decline and ultimately the church doors were closed.
Across town there was another church that was faced with the same dilemma as the first church.
Instead of trying to “polish-up” the preacher, they began to pray for him. They asked God to give him the ability and boldness to preach the Word and lead them in the right direction.
The worship leader began to choose music, not based on popularity, but for the purpose of worship, praise and building up.
Folks quit fretting over the size of the congregation and just joined together to lift God high in praise.
As a result God began to “show-up” in those services. People felt free to worship and praise God in their own manner and style without fear of ridicule.
God’s love began to “blossom” within the hearts of that congregation and they truly started loving one another and genuinely caring for one another. Then something spectacular began to happen.
The members of the church started inviting their friends and family to come to church with them.
The concern for their church and ministry that the other church was trying to make happen by duty was done by this church out of devotion.
The members went out into the community and began to cut the widows’ grass and help the senior adults with their chores.
They went out in the community and started ministering and making friends. They would tell folks, “You are always welcome in our church.”
They would open the doors of the church and invite the community in for fun and fellowship (and a dose of Gospel preaching while they were there).
This small church, a church that had become stagnant and was dying, began to grow!
They did not form any committees; they did not spend millions of dollars. They kept it simple and focused on loving and serving God and loving and serving others. And guess what? When they found their purpose, it caught hold of them and the church grew.
This is “doing church” God’s style.
But, you cannot “do church” unless you are a part of the church. I am not talking about the organized church but the Body of Christ.