Sunday, July 29, 2007

Vital Signs of a Healthy Church part 1

The past two decades have seen Christian bookstores bombarded with books about church growth, breaking growth barriers, overcoming obstacles that prevent growth, and so on ad infinitum. I've read many of those books, and I’ve attended several of the various church growth seminars. One book, however, stands head and shoulders above the rest. This book gives the best examples of church growth. It provides the best insight into how God desires His church to be managed. I highly recommend that all who read this post immediately procure a copy of this book and read it from front to back.

The book is called Acts of the Apostles, it's written by Luke, the beloved physician, and it's the fifth book of the New Testament.

Acts is the ultimate church growth book. Acts is the divinely inspired record of the Jerusalem church’s explosion, and the spread of the gospel throughout the Roman Empire. In Acts we learn that those early churches had, “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) with the proclamation of Christ crucified.

On the Day of Pentecost, Peter preached Christ crucified, and “there were added unto them about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). That chapter concludes by saying that the Lord “added to the church daily such as should be saved” (v. 47). Chapter four of Acts declares that thousands more believed and were added to the church (4:4). In spite of this phenomenal numerical growth the focus of both chapter two and four is on the condition of the church rather than the addition to the church. That is a good model for all congregations and pastors to follow. Focus on the condition of your church and the addition part will naturally happen.

While Acts is the ultimate church growth book, it is important to bear in mind that it is a record of the gospel’s spread before the completion of the NT. There are events in Acts that are transitional and non-repeatable. There are special things that happened in Acts that will never happen again; like speaking in tongues, casting out demons, healing the lame, and declaring new revelation. We cannot make the mistake of saying, “If it’s not in Acts then we can’t do it”, but we also cannot say that “If it is in Acts then we have to do it.”

Paul wrote to Timothy that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) This is God’s word to us; it is historical, doctrinal, and practical, and it teaches us how to evangelize the lost, disciple believers, do mission work, and establish churches.

Acts 4:32-37 reveals at least three vital signs of a healthy church. God’s Word says:

And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need. And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
The first vital sign of a healthy church is...

Spiritual Unity

The first half of v. 32 says that “the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul.” The church in Jerusalem had grown so big that Luke does not give a number; he just says the “multitude.” That fantastic growth was a direct result of the action recorded in v. 31, “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.”

God’s Word, boldly and faithfully proclaimed, will never return void. The people had trusted Christ as their Savior, and then joined the church by the thousands! Understand that it was the Lord who had added to the church daily such as should be saved. Not market-driven programs or slick schemes. The Lord added to His church as His word was humbly obeyed and powerfully proclaimed.

Imagine the diversity of a congregation that size. Even though thousands of new Christians were added together, the Bible says that they “were of one heart and of one soul.” They were united! And spiritual unity in a church is a powerful testimony to the community. Disunity, fighting, bickering, and quarrelling in a church is also a powerful testimony to the community, just not the kind of testimony that glorifies God and edifies the body.

This church was a united church, a church that was of “one heart and one mind.” Unity is different from uniformity. These church members were not clones of one another; they were not uniform, but they were united. Do you have any idea how thousands of people can come together and be of one heart and soul? It is only by the power and grace of Jesus Christ! What this multitude of people shared was a faith in Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. Notice two things that enabled this church to be of “one heart and one soul”.

  • Ministering to each other. This church was preoccupied with ministering to each other. They were intent on meeting their fellow Christian's needs. Theirs was a humility that stemmed from seeing others as more important than themselves. It's an attitude that Paul exhorted all faith communities to exhibit. Philippians 2:3 says, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.”
  • Reaching the lost world. They ministered to each other and they focused on taking the gospel to the world. The church had, and has, a powerful message to proclaim. Acts 4:12, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” The Jerusalem church was busy reaching the lost (Acts 4:4, 8, 19-20, 31).
Their unity was a result of focusing on those priorities Jesus had left them: selflessly loving each other and boldly proclaiming Christ to a lost world.

The first vital sign of a healthy church is spiritual unity.

2 comments:

Ken Fleck said...

Travis,

I love this blog as it examines the early church and how we can pursue true community through the Scriptures. I agree that we need to really examine how the early Church lived in God's Power and Wisdom. I would like to know more about why you don't think that we may be called to still "cast out demons", speak in tongues", etc.

Fresh Dirt said...

"Peter preached Christ crucified." This is indeed the key! However, I think most Christians and preachers have no idea what this means. This was such a radical thing-- we don't just serve a God who died for us; God is who he is precisely because he died for us. It is his method that is so revolutionary-- this creates a changed world because no other groups had such a God-- one who lives among the prostitutes and tax collectors and has nothing but scathing words for the religious. One who dies as a criminal rather than one who crucifies criminals.