Summary: What make a church successful? Is it lots of money? A great preacher? Great outreach programs and internal programming? Oddly enough, the early church didn't have that - and yet they turned the world upside down. What did the early church have that made the difference?
Flip Wilson was a popular black comedian several years ago, and among the routines he did were skits about a Preacher at the “What’s Happening Now Church.” One of his skits went like this:
He’d shout out: "If this church is going to serve God it’s got to get down on its knees and crawl!!!” And the audience shouted "Make it crawl preacher, make it crawl!” "And once this church has learned to crawl, it’s got to get up on its feet and walk!!!" "Make it walk preacher, make it walk" they cried. “And once this church has learned to walk, it’s got begin to learn to run!!!" "Oooo.. make it run, preacher, make it run!" "And in order to run, its got to reach deep down into pockets and learn to give!!!"
(long pause) “Make it crawl preacher, make it crawl."
So what is that can make a church RUN? Is it having money? Is it a having a great preacher? Is it having great music ministry, or great programs, or teachers, or youth groups?
ILLUS: Francis Chan once wrote: “Years ago, my friend from India drove me to a speaking engagement in Dallas. When he heard the music and saw the lights, he said “You Americans are funny. You won’t show up unless there’s a good speaker or band. In India, people get excited just to pray.”
Now, there’s nothing wrong with a good speaker or a good band. BUT if that’s the main thing a church has to offer - if that’s why the church RUNS they’ve got a problem.
ILLUS: I once knew a church that seemingly had everything. It had lots of money. Hired the best big-name preachers in our brotherhood. They had a wonderful music ministry. It even had its own evangelistic program on the radio. It was a vibrant church of 600 people. They had doctors and lawyers and state officials as members. If any church knew how to RUN … you’d have thought that they did! But there was something missing in that church. They did EVERYTHING just right…except one thing. And because they missed that ONE thing, they eventually had a scandal and split, and they had to sell their beautiful building…. That was my home church.
What was that one thing? What were they missing?
Paul wrote: “I bow my knees before the Father… that he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith — that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:14-19
In those few short verses, Paul laid out for us what makes a church RUN. Power through His Spirit; Faith in Christ; and knowing the love of Christ. If you have that, you have EVERYTHING necessary for a church to run.
Did you realize that the early church didn’t have lots of money? They didn’t have big buildings? They didn’t have impressive youth programs, women’s programs or men’s programs? And yet they literally turned the world upside down. You know how they did that? They had Jesus! They had what Paul prayed that they’d have.
So, let’s take this apart and see what Paul prayed for that would make the church run.
1st – Paul prayed that the Ephesians would be “strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” Now, why would Paul pray that? (that strengthened with power through God’s Spirit?) Well, because most mortal organizations we belong to depend upon US doing something. Lots of churches have been led to believe that it is THEIR strength that will make the church powerful and vibrant. In fact, there’s all kinds of books and blogs and conferences designed to help the struggling church to learn new methods and techniques to become bigger and more powerful. AND methods and techniques can be very helpful. But… that isn’t where the church gets its true strength! The church’s strength doesn’t come from mortal power… but through God’s Spirit. If a church forgets that… they can fall into a trap!
ILLUS: That’s what happened to Israel - Israel fell into that trap. And God rebuked them “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6). In other words: If you want to be strong don’t rely upon mortal power - rely on God’s Spirit.
But too often Israel didn’t do that. Too often they got to looking at all the bigger and flashier nations around them and they got to thinking that – if they could just copy those nations, then they could be bigger and flashier too. And that kind of thinking… always got them into trouble