In a world that increasingly does not know Jesus or the good news of the Gospel, what should the Church do? This is the question that increasingly faces the Church today. Interestingly, the more we live in a world that is not familiar with Jesus, the more we live in a time similar to the original Church in the book of Acts. Thus, the book of Acts serves as a “Road Map” of sorts when it comes to sharing the news of Christ in a world that has never heard such news before.
Acts tells the story of how the church lived out Jesus’ instruction to “…be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The church started in Jerusalem, the center of the Jewish faith, but quickly spread to places like Antioch, where new Christians included Gentile converts who did not have the rich heritage of being God’s chosen people. But in both places, the word of the Lord spread (See Acts 6:7 and 11:1). In Acts, we see that when the church was born there was an intentional effort to proclaim the gospel to BOTH the religious and the non-religious. New converts to Christianity included both the people who knew God as well as the people who were spiritual, but not religious and who worshipped idols.
In Acts, we also see that Christians went to the people and didn’t just expect the people to come to them. Peter and Paul both went TO the temple and the synagogue to preach Jesus to the religious folks. However, the apostles ALSO broke bread in people’s homes (2:46) and Paul preached in the marketplace (17:17).
At First Church, we want to be a multiplying, vibrant church like we read about in Acts. We want to see “The word of the Lord spread” in our established ministries and we believe that it is essential to preach Christ to as many people as possible on Sunday morning. We know that God has used the established form of church in significant ways from the very beginning so that “the Word of the Lord” would spread. At the same time, Acts reminds us that we have to go to the people because the “Spiritual but non-religious” people won’t come to us–and we do this so that “the Word of the Lord” will spread. We believe that new expressions of church are needed in our time to reach as many people as possible with the gospel of Jesus. And so, like the first apostles, we believe we are being sent out to break bread in our homes and share Christ in our modern-day marketplaces along with our Sunday morning gatherings. We dare not forget that it was in Antioch, among Gentiles, that the disciples were first called Christians (11:26). It was not in Jerusalem, the established center of religion! New expressions of church that are different from the established church ARE “real” church. BOTH forms of the established and new expressions of Church have always been used by God.
Why do I bring this up? I believe there are some very important clues here for First Church today in a world where folks increasingly do not know the love of Christ. Acts gives us some guidance as to how we as the church today can honor BOTH the established form of church AND new expressions of Church– at the same time. It shows us how forms of church complement each other to build off of one another’s strengths rather than be obstacles to each other.
I believe First Church has a unique opportunity to set a model among other churches and at the same time increasingly connect people to know the transforming love of Jesus by learning to simultaneously embrace both forms of church. It takes a very special group of people to be able to do this, and I sincerely believe that YOU—First Church—are just such a people.
In the next part of this series, I will provide some answers to these questions from my perspective and what this means for First Church. Would you join me in prayer as we seek to be a church that lives out the love of Christ in a world that increasingly does not know such love? And that we might be a model of church that is helpful for other churches to learn from at the same time? Thank you, First Church, for the privilege of serving with you. These are exciting times God has called us into. May God continue to foster “Transformation In Christ, Changing Lives Inside And Out.”