How do we build a church which carries the same values as the early church?
This is the type of question that any church which is praying for revitalisation and a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit might ask. After all, what better example do we have than that which we find in the pages of the Bible and particularly in the Book of Acts?
We have developed a problem. Christ’s followers were never explicitly asked to go and build a church. In fact, in Matthew 16.18, Jesus said ‘And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.’ He gave us the commission to ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.’ When we are tempted to frame our questions around building churches we should probably stop, and instead focus on how we might make disciples.
One of my most helpful books on discipleship is ‘Building a Discipling Culture’ by Mike Breen. It was required reading when I joined the Forge Scotland Pioneer Ministry and Church Planting Course. Breen spelled out to me in clear and simple terms the predicament the church currently finds itself in, namely, how do we grow the church into the future? According to Breen, effective discipleship builds the church, not the other way round. We need to understand that the church is the effect of good discipleship and not the cause.
So, what is good discipleship?
Returning to Scripture again, on the day of Pentecost recorded in Acts 2, all of the believers were together in one place. On receiving the power of the promised Holy Spirit, the believers were equipped to witness to the gospel to people from every nation under heaven and Peter preaches his first message about the resurrected Jesus. The result is the number of believers skyrocketed from a handful to about three thousand.
In the first instance, good discipleship is about the gospel. It’s about sharing with the people around us the simple message that Jesus Christ is the Saviour of the world.
Interestingly, Peter wasn’t alone as he preached his message either. The other apostles stepped forward with him and displayed the unity that Jesus wanted for his church. Discipleship then, is also about staying united to our fellow believers; just as Jesus prayed in John 17:23.
I recently heard the phrase ‘Generous Collaboration’ which describes the commanded blessing to live and serve in unity with each other and Christ. It sums up how the early church lived out their Spirit-filled calling to faith in Jesus. They shared their time, presence, sustenance, resources, possessions, their worship and their witness to miraculous signs and wonders. They shared everything in order that they would live as faithfully as they could to Christ’s teaching and be as effective as possible in gathering new believers. By simply doing life together in the unity and power of the Holy Spirit, and waiting for Him to move, the church grew organically and exponentially.
This says much about who was in the driving seat. Prioritising following Jesus into real community, praying, and witnessing together, sharing His life and the freedom He promises we too would see growth and lives transformed for the kingdom of God.
Generously collaborative – eager to hear God’s voice – empowered by the Holy Spirit – proclaiming Christ alive, dead, and resurrected – tarrying in worship and awe – and growing.
Looking to Scripture, this is what following Jesus looks like. This is my prayer for the Kirk into the future.
Rev Stuart Finlayson
Community Pioneer Minister
Forres & West Moray