Finding a church that fits may be one of the most stressful tasks when you are new to the faith, or moving to a new area. Not only do you have to find a community where you will fit in, but there is also the added pressure of finding one that is biblically sound in its teaching and mission.
No pressure, right?
But not to worry, in America we might just have the most diverse selection of places of worship to choose from. They come in every size, shape, color, and denomination that you can think of!
From the small 23 member start-up to the 15,000 seat mega-church, you are sure to find one that is perfect for you and your family… or does all of this information just kind of stress you out even more, like it does me?
Yeah, that’s what I thought.
It’s pretty incredible to sit back and think about how complicated church has become.
But it is nothing new.
In fact, the same thing has been going on for thousands of years. Jesus even made mention of it in John 2. And back then Jesus was not a huge fan of the over complicated church services going on back in His day…
He once went into the temple and started flipping tables over and whipping people because they had turned His Father’s house into a place of commerce! (John 2: 13-22)
Pretty radical, right?
You don’t often see that portrayed on Hallmark cards, but Jesus was not messing around when it came to church! I wonder what Jesus would say upon entering the average American church.
Do you think He would be please at how we have stewarded His Father’s house?
Or might some tables get overturned?
I just don’t know.
It made me wonder what kind of church Jesus would choose, so I decided to make an afternoon study of it. What better place to start than in Acts 2 with the very first church ever?
When I read about the early church in Acts 2 I’m not sure if I have ever even been to a church like the one described. Then, there are other times when I am in fellowship with a friend over dinner in their home and the Holy Spirit falls over the gathering and I think this must have been what the early church felt!
One thing is for sure: As my spirituality has matured, so has my view of the ideal church…
When I was a “Baby Christian” the most important aspects of a church were all about my personal comfort (i.e. the coffee bar, childcare, parking, “good” worship music, etc.). But as I have grown, my focus has shifted outwards.
These days I know that I love my church so much that it would not matter if we met in an outhouse, as long as I got to be a part of this amazing group of people who genuinely care for the community.
What I love most about my church is not the fact that they have really hip artwork on the walls; it is that they believe in power of the love of Christ to heal the sick, and bind up broken hearts! And not only do they believe it, they act on it! They aren’t afraid to invest their resources to reach the lost.
What really clinched the deal for me was the selflessness of the people in my church. They are not just friendly faces that I say “hello” to every Sunday morning; we do life together! I know that if I have a crisis at 3:00 a.m. on a Wednesday, my extended church family is going to be there for me. Jesus said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”(John 13:35)
I’ve met many people who became frustrated trying finding a community of believers that resembled what was going on in the Acts 2 church.
Unfortunately, some of them decided it was best just to stay home and fellowship with the Holy Spirit on their own. I’m all for strengthening your communion with God, but there is something about being together with other believers, and having the support of a community that you just can’t get from isolation. Who is going to band together for you when a crisis comes?
The word says that, “all who believed were together,” (Acts 2:44a, emphasis mine). It is suggested all throughout scripture that we are stronger when we do life with one another.
So it’s clear we were meant to be a part of the Bride of Christ, but what does that look like? I’ve put together a short list of some of the major defining characteristics of the Acts 2 church, and I’m going to do my best to help us see what that would look like in a modern day congregation. Here they are:
- They continued daily with one accord in the temple and they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ:
For me, this one comes in first. As a church we should be clear what our mission is, and as Jesus commanded us in Matthew 28: 19-20, our mission is to share the gospel of Jesus with the outside world. How we do it will certainly look different, but the goal should be the same. The second part is that they did this daily with one accord. As a family, we can’t limit ourselves to one gathering a few hours long on Sunday. We should be connected with our church family in some way every day. You wouldn’t just meet with your husband for a few hours one day out of the week, kiss him goodbye and say “see you next Sunday!” So why should we, as brides of Christ do that with our church? We all have jobs, and other commitments, but there are ways to stay connected that will allow us to honor our other responsibilities and not neglect our first love.
- They broke bread from house to house and ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart:
My favorite day of the week is Wednesday. I have a standing appointment for lunch with one of the spiritual giants in my life, Heather. We meet every Wednesday afternoon at her house and share a meal. We talk about anything and everything (traffic, recipes, kids, politics, etc.). It is very laid back, and low fuss (this week we had grilled cheeses J). And we just spend time. These are my favorite moments. On Wednesday evenings I attend a small group which Heather and her husband lead. We laugh until our sides hurt, and usually pig out on whatever deliciousness that Dorothy (another one of my heroes) has whipped up for us. I have never left one of these gatherings without a full heart or a full stomach. Making time to break bread and really get to know the people you worship with does wonders for life in general, and at the end of the day these are the people I can count on when the going gets tough.
It’s clear that the early church didn’t just congregate with each other. They were a family! They depended on one another. One verse says that, “They sold their possessions and goods and divided them among all as anyone had need.” They sacrificed for each other. I don’t know about you, but it seems to me like the early church was bringing a little bit of heaven to earth.
- They praised God
I feel like you can really get a sense for a church and what their heart is by the importance they place on praising God. Praise can come in a variety of incarnations, and it doesn’t necessarily mean music. At the end of the day, praise is glorifying God in thought, action, or speech. He is what it is all about, and He should get all the credit. We must allow God to sit on the thrones of our hearts personally and collectively as a church. Nothing should come before Him, and I think a lot of the dissention that is seen in churches going through a rough patch comes from not having God be the center of attention. When egos or well meaning intentions start to put a rift in the community, it is important to take a step back and remember Who is in control.
- They had favor with all the people:
Christianity is by its very nature going to offend. And it is my strong belief that in some cases the gospel gets watered down, in order to suit a broader array of taste buds, to the point that it becomes ineffective. I don’t think changing doctrine or massaging the truth is what the early church did in order to win “favor with all the people.” I think the reason that the church had favor was because of the way they ministered to the community’s needs. Just outside the doors of every congregation in America you can find people whose needs aren’t being met by society. Whether it is addiction, poverty, depression, loneliness, abuse, or fear, I believe each church is uniquely equipped by the Holy Spirit to make an impact on these issues and others in the community around them. A healthy church should be focused on the vertical (direct relationship with Jesus) and the horizontal (direct relationship with the community outside the church). This kind of effort towards outreach leads directly into my next characteristic of an Acts 2 church…
- They added to the church daily new believers who were being saved:
Can you imagine being able to watch someone give their life to Christ every. single. day? As a believer, I can’t imagine life without Jesus. I just can’t! He is the most important thing in my life, and the thing that brings me the most joy. When I get to witness, or be a part of someone making a decision that I know is going to revolutionize their life, the way it did mine, the experience is breathtaking! The church in Acts 2 got to see it every day! They witnessed the beauty of it all the time! I believe the winsome nature of the early church was no coincidence. When people outside of the church see the intimacy that goes on in a healthy congregation; the kind of fellowship that looks more like family; and the generosity of people who give of their time, effort, and resources to meet the needs of the less fortunate why wouldn’t they want to be a part of it? The Acts 2 church grew exponentially because they loved exponentially. They loved each other and they loved the community.
- They placed an emphasis on scripture:
Nearly every time a sermon is recorded in Acts 2 the person teaching was referring to scripture. The early church understood that knowledge and understanding of God’s word was fundamental. They understood that all scripture points people closer to Jesus. We gain a better understanding of the character of God when we make it a habit to meditate on His love letter to us. The final word in every decision that a church makes should belong to God. We won’t be able to fully understand how to live together in harmony unless we start with the right instructions. There are a lot of opinions out there on the best way to conduct a congregation, and if there is anything I can plead you to do it is this: Do not believe what I or anyone else says about the bible, your relationship with Christ, or about your church! Open your bible and make sure what you are hearing is the truth. As mature Christians we must do our homework. What hangs in the balance is too important to entrust to someone else.
Now that I’ve told you all of this, I have a question to ask: Does this sound like your church?
If it doesn’t, then I want to challenge you.
I want to challenge you to stay.
When you realize that your family is a bit dysfunctional, your first instinct shouldn’t be to jump ship. The hard moments are the moments that should spark change. Change always comes from within ourselves, first. Cry out to God in prayer and let the Holy Spirit show you how you can gently and lovingly nudge your church towards something that looks more like the model the early church gave us. It might upset the apple cart when some of the traditions that churches have held dear for so long have to give way for something new. But we have to realize that tradition is our enemy when it causes us to ignore the clear principles set down in scripture.
Our number one priority as a global church has to be reaching the lost and fatherless. Jesus is calling His church home, and I don’t know about you, but I want to show up with as many people as I can cram into my suitcase!
Even if that means sacrificing my comfort, my time, my money, or my energy.
We have to think eternal, and on the other side of eternity no one will care how many flavors of creamer were on the coffee bar.
No one will care if the worship team played too many new age songs.
No one will care what color the carpet was, or what translation of scripture was the approved norm.
The ONLY thing that will matter is how many souls we got to be a part of bringing home with us.
The ONLY words we will long to hear are, “well done, good and faithful servant!”