Our Church 2016 – More People – More Like Jesus
1. Gather and Grow
Acts 2: 42 - 47
How many of you made at least one New Year resolution? One guy decided on this game plan: “My New Year’s Resolution is simply to remember to write 2016 instead of 2015.”
I want to propose that at the beginning of 2016 we have the unique opportunity to make a significant kingdom impact as individual Christians and as a Christian community. But it won’t happen automatically just because we’re now in a new year. Here’s the main idea of the message: The depth of our devotion will determine our impact.
We’re going to give attention to 4 defining values of our church beginning with Gather and Grow this week and we’ll focus on Give and Go next week. We’re going to analyze the first church in the Book of Acts to see how well we’re aligned with their purpose and priorities. Before we get to our text let’s set the context. In Peter’s sermon given on the Day of Pentecost, the Spirit was really working on hearts – v. 37: “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’” Peter tells them how to respond – v. 38: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ…” The order is significant. Believe and then be baptized. Belief must always come before baptism. I love what happens next during Peter’s invitation in v. 41: “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.”
Belief leads to baptism, which results in belonging. That’s the order we follow. Once someone is born again, the next step is baptism and then we urge baptized believers to belong to the family of faith by becoming members of Wilro Park.
They Devoted Themselves
Acts 2: 42: “And they continued steadfastly…” ESV - they “devoted themselves.” NASB - “continually devoting themselves.” The idea is to give “one’s self continually…to be steadfastly attentive unto.” It has the idea of “persisting obstinately” in something. So what did they persist obstinately in?
Let’s walk through Acts 2: 42 - 47 to see how the early church organized itself. I’m going to insert our 4Gs (Gather, Grow, Give and God) to show that our vision and values come right out of Scripture.
42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine [Grow] and fellowship [Gather], in the breaking of bread [Gather], and in prayers [Gather]. 43 Then fear came upon every soul [Gather], and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44 Now all who believed were together [Gather], and had all things in common [Gather], 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need [Give] 46 so continuing daily with one accord in the temple [Gather], and breaking bread from house to house [Gather], they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God [Gather] and having favor with all the people [Go]. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved [Go].
1. Gather with God’s People
Let’s start with our first G – Gather with God’s people. But let’s face some facts first. The state of the evangelical church is pretty shaky. When people do attend services they’re doing so less often. Those who used to attend every week are now coming about twice a month. Those who normally came twice a month are now attending about once a month and those who made it monthly are now showing up about six times a year. On top of this, some Christians have unplugged completely and are no longer affiliated with any church.
I was troubled by an article I read recently - “Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore” where I learned that somewhere between 4,000 and 7,000 churches in America close their doors every year, with some researchers putting the number as high as 10,000. Between the years 2010 and 2012, more than half of all churches in America did not even add one new member. One pastor lamented: “The great task of the church is not only to get sinners into heaven, but to get saints out of bed.”
Friends, this would have been unheard of in the early church! They wouldn’t even have had a category for these kinds of statistics. Let’s look at how this growing group of Christ-followers persistently and obstinately gathered together because the depth of our devotion will determine our impact.
A. Gather in Fellowship
“And they continued steadfastly in…fellowship…all who believed were together…had all things in common…continuing daily with one accord.” Acts 4: 32: “Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and soul.”
Fellowship - Real community is hanging out with others for a spiritual purpose. I like the phrase “one accord”- means singleness of purpose and to be of the same mind. We have been gathered together to be partners in the gospel. That’s our purpose. Partnership involves participation. Related to this, there’s no way to live out the 59 “one another” commands in the NT unless you are in close fellowship with one another.
We are designed to gather together in community with one another for the glory of God. Gordon MacDonald: “Christian community occurs when two or more people enter into a conscious covenant to organize their lives together around Jesus, emulate His character, and become agents of some aspect of His mission.”
And yet, while we long for community, we also run from it. Hebrews 10: 25 challenges disconnected disciples to stop living in isolation: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
If you’ve seen some slipping in your commitment to gather with God’s people this past year, determine afresh to make an unwavering and unconditional commitment to be faithful to fellowship this New Year.
B. Gather in Communion
“…the breaking of bread…and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.” Shared meals played an important role in the life of the early church. When they met to eat, they also celebrated the Lord’s Supper.
C. Gather in Prayer
“…in prayers” Since prayer permeated the early church, we need to become more devoted to prayer ourselves. One way that we’re encouraging prayer is by asking everyone to take 5 minutes every day to pray our defining values for yourself, your family and our church.
D. Gather in Worship
“…with gladness…praising God…” v. 43: “Everyone kept on feeling a sense of awe, amazement and terror.”It’s what should happen when we come into the very presence of the Holy God. This sense of awe pulsates through the book of Acts... Acts 3:10: “They were filled with wonder and amazement.” Acts 5:11: “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.” Acts 9:31: “…It grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord. Acts 19:17: “…They were all seized with fear, and the NAME OF THE LORD JESUS WAS HELD IN HIGH HONOR.”
Do you hold the name of Jesus in high honour? Are you seized by the splendour of a Holy God? Are you in awe of Him? A.W. Tozer - what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.
Many of those who attend church on a weekly basis say that they don’t feel God’s presence there. That makes me sad – and it no doubt grieves God. We strive to fill our services with reverence and rejoicing. There should be a sense of holiness and happiness.
The early church enjoyed gathering together in fellowship, communion, prayer and worship. Let’s look now at how the early church focused on growing in Christ.
2. Grow in Christ
A. Grow in the Word
v. 42: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine…” The most basic essential for any healthy church is a commitment to hearing, learning and applying God’s Word in order to grow as disciples of Christ.
The average person reads 200 to 250 words per minute; there are about 775 000 words in the Bible; therefore it takes less than 10 minutes a day to read the whole Bible in a year. We’d love to see everyone spending at least 10 minutes a day reading the Bible and 5 minutes a day praying through our 4 Gs. I can hardly think about what God will do in each of us and in our church for His glory when we meet with Him consistently like this.
2. Grow in large gatherings.
The early church was also committed to grow through the preaching of God’s Word in corporate worship settings. Look at v.46: “Continuing daily with one accord in the temple…” They got a daily dose of God’s Word as it was preached.
3. Grow in small groups.
We believe that growth comes from God’s Word preached in a large group celebration and fleshed out in a small group study as seen in v.46: “…from house to house…” It’s not an either/or but a both/and. John Wesley insisted that new converts be folded into groups (he called them bands and classes) of people who met weekly in order to check on the condition of each other’s souls. He was convinced that there was no such thing as a solitary faith.
Actually, if you’re serious about growing in Christ this New Year, there are at least 3 essential ingredients that will help you ingest God’s word.
• Meet alone with God every day for Bible reading and prayer.
• Listen and live out the weekly sermons in our corporate worship services.
• Plug into a group where you can flesh it all out in your daily lives.
None of this will happen automatically in 2016. You and I must intentionally go after it because spiritual growth is intentional, not automatic. A simple self-change resolution at the beginning of the year won’t last but a resolve to gather and grow will last if you lean on the Lord and His power.
Jonathan Edwards made 2 resolutions: “Resolution 1: I will live for God. Resolution 2: If no one else does, I still will.”
The Apostle Paul wrote down one of his resolutions in 1 Corinthians 2: 2: “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
Let’s recommit to be resolutely devoted followers of Jesus Christ. Take some time to recommit because the depth of your devotion will determine your impact this year.
This recommitment is deeply personal and yet it has a corporate element as well. Listen again to the first three words of Acts 2:42: “And they continued steadfastly...”
I’m wondering if we could demonstrate our corporate commitment to Christ and to His cause right now. I’m going to ask you to stand if you’re ready to recommit yourselves as a church to be steadfastly devoted as we together seek to live out our 4 defining values – gather, grow, give and go. Stand right now if you are ready to make this commitment. We certainly can’t do this in our own strength so let’s ask God to give us we need to fulfil our commitment.