We'd all like to have churches that grow the way the church did in the book of Acts. It was explosive growth – from about 120 to possibly as many 100,000 in 25 years. Who wouldn't want that? But the real question is, are churches today as healthy as the one in the book of Acts? In the last issue, I shared with you three characteristics of the early church that we can apply to our congregations. Here are four more:
4. We must magnify our vision of God.
In Acts 4:24, the apostles had been taken prisoner and questioned before the Sanhedrin. Then they came back and prayed. Notice the prayer: "O Sovereign Lord, Creator of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them." In the midst of a time of crisis, the apostles acknowledged that God was ruler over everything and ultimately in control.
We know the church is on the winning side. We've read the last chapter. We know how it's going to end. If someone asks why we don't get discouraged, we can answer: "We know who is going to win. We're part of a mission that can't fail."
That's why I've never understood why so many churches play on the defensive. The Bible says, "I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). Are gates an offensive weapon or a defensive weapon? They're defensive. You build gates to keep people from getting to you. So that means Satan isn't attacking us. We're attacking him! We're trying to snatch people out of his grasp. A lot of churches want to play it safe and avoid being tainted. But I believe in a big God who doesn't want us to hide from the great evils of this world.
Don't be afraid to rock the boat if Jesus Christ is the captain. We're on the winning side. When you focus on God, circumstances will seem inconsequential to his greatness. He's got all the resources we need.
5. We must maximize the power of prayer.
If you look through the book of Acts, you'll see the phrase "they prayed" 48 times. We will have power like the church in Acts when we pray like the church in Acts. Think about it. There was a first-century apostle, James, whom they called "camel knees" because he prayed so much!
The early church was engaged in a spiritual battle. So are we. Spiritual warfare requires the use of spiritual weapons. That's why we must maximize the power of prayer if we're going to be like the church of Jerusalem. Jesus said that his house would be "a house of prayer." Is your church a house of prayer?
6. We must model Christ-like generosity.
The New Testament church in Jerusalem was a giving church. Acts 4:32-34a (NIV) says, "All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God's great blessing was upon them all. There were no needy people among them." I can't think of a greater epitaph for a church. What if people said that about your church? There were no needy people among them. The church has always been God's chosen vehicle to care for the needy. The early church made sure there were no needy people among them. We should make sure of the same thing.
Because of this generosity, the early church had unity and a spirit of love – a powerful testimony to the community. God uses churches like that. He changes the world through them.
7. We must mobilize every member for ministry and mission.
People didn't sit on the sidelines in the early church. The church mobilized everyone for ministry. Acts 6 shows this. The church was growing so fast the apostles couldn't keep up with all the ministry needs, so they mobilized others to meet those needs. They didn't just get anyone, though. The apostles found men who were specifically shaped for the ministry. For example, they found Greek men (just look at their names) to minister to Greek widows.
Pastor, you can't do it all. You can't minister to all the needs. You can't reach all the people. You can't teach all the lessons. And you aren't supposed to try either. God has gifted your whole church for ministry – not just you. I made a covenant with my church a long time ago. If the people will do the ministry of the church, I'll make sure they are well fed. Saddleback outgrew me a long time ago. I can't even do a fraction of the ministry needed here. But I can make sure the church is well fed. That's my biblical responsibility.
Do you have system in place to do this? At Saddleback, we've mobilized tens of thousands of members for ministry by helping them discover their God-given SHAPE (spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality, and experiences) in Class 301. It's been a great system for identifying how God has wired people in our church and getting them involved in ministry.
Don't stop after you've mobilized them for ministry within the church. The early church also sent their people out on mission in the community. The church never would have grown as fast as it did if people weren't being sent out on mission. A church that grows is one that goes outside of its church building. Unfortunately, too many of our church members are spending too much time inside our building and not enough time in places where they can build relationships with non-Christians.
We talk a lot in Christian circles about having a New Testament church. Are you willing to do the kind of ministry they did? These seven characteristics of the ministry of the early church need to be a part of our churches today. That's when we'll see the growth and power of the New Testament church.