Recently I’ve been writing about the book of Acts and Christianity’s tendency to treat it like a history book and not a roadmap. A brother stopped by and asked a great question: How has the book of Acts informed how you live your life? It’s a really important question because we can spend so much time talking about the book but not really living out what it’s instructing us. On Friday, I wrote about how Acts convinced me that God’s power is for today and how Acts has helped me understand apostolic passion. Today I want to take a look at a couple more ways Acts has helped me and our house churches.
Acts Informs My Evangelism- It’s hard to read the book of Acts without understanding the primary goal of the church was to carry the Gospel to every man, woman, and child they could. Jesus starts the book by commanding the apostles to take the gospel to Jerusalem, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the Earth after they’ve been filled with the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit comes, the apostles take the Gospel first to Jerusalem (Acts 1-7), then to Samaria (Acts 8), and then begin the process of taking the Gospel to the ends of the Earth. Once the Holy Spirit indwelt the church, moving the Gospel from one place to the next became the priority of Peter, James, Stephen, Phillip, Barnabas, Paul, Silas, Timothy, and many others. They were intentional. They were committed. They were unapologetic about the message of Jesus and His claims, even to the point of being threatened with death and killed.
While I am not the world’s leading expert on evangelism, I can tell you that Acts has informed the way I approach evangelism and the way in which I train others to approach it. We are following a resurrected Jesus that has been given all authority over Heaven and Earth and has commanded us to go and make disciples. The degree to which the apostles were willing to lay down their life for the Gospel speaks to the critical nature of it reaching people. We’re not apologizing for bringing our message or trying to hide the fact we want people to know about Jesus. We follow the examples of the apostles who were lovingly forward about the Gospel because they believed it changed men and women now and saved them for eternity.
Acts Informs My Church Planting- Ever since a faithful friend of mine in college challenged me to build a church planting strategy out of the book of Acts I’ve been mining my strategy (at least in part) from this book. Almost every single page is full of churches getting started and then being supported by the apostles. Peter preaches the Gospel in Acts 2 and a thriving church is born. Phillip shares the Gospel with Samaritans and a new church is born. Every city Paul walks into almost inevitably has a church started because lost people have come to Christ. While there are definitely other parts of Scripture that tell us what the church should look like (Ephesians, 1 Timothy and Titus spring to mind) Acts shows us how the apostles planted and watered the churches in real life, not just in theory.
Because of the book of Acts, our practice here in our house churches has been to see church planting happening in the context of men and women turning to Christ. This is the reason church planting is needed–churches are birthed where people are born again. Any other type of church planting is just moving existing Christians from one meeting to a new one. We don’t plant churches for new believers to come to. We lead people to Jesus and start churches when they do. When new churches are started, we follow the methods of discipleship and church formation we find in the book: We teach them to devote themselves to the Gospel, to fellowship together, to eat together, and to pray. We don’t always set up elders immediately for every church, but we do believe shared eldership is necessary. We try to maintain a healthy balance between serving the body and proclaiming the Gospel. Though we’re not great at it yet, we have a high value for continuing to move and plant new churches, believing that the harvest is plentiful and we need more laborers. If the moving the Gospel is the priority of the church, how we start churches should be impacted by that priority.
These are just a few of the ways Acts has impacted how we live out our lives on mission. I could write for days about how Acts has informed what we do. But what about you? How has Acts impacted how you do what you do?
I’ve been combing through the book of Acts lately trying to understand what made the early church such a dynamic movement. This isn’t the first time I’ve done it, nor will it be the last. It’s a bit of an obsession with me. You’ll have to deal with it.
A few days ago I stumbled across something that I had missed in other translations. Acts 2 describes the coming of the Holy Spirit in the upper room and the message Peter preached in an attempt to explain it. When Peter finishes declaring the Gospel, many, many people come to Christ and the first church is born. This infant church begins practicing what I’ve taught as the four essentials of church for a long time (devotion to the Gospel, fellowship, eating together, and prayer).
What gripped me, though, was the next verse. It wasn’t the description of what the church did–it was the description of what the church had. Here’s what Luke records:
And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.
What struck me as I read it was the translation of the word “awe.” I’m used to that word being translated as “fear.” Whenever the word is translated as fear in relationship to God, we often understand it as “the fear of the Lord,” which Scripture over and over again defines as a healthy spiritual reality, despite what modern teachers tell us. Here in the English Standard Version, the translators chose the word “awe.” I like this translation because I think it clearly states what Luke is trying to describe. In those early days, everyone was in awe of what God was doing.
As I started to dig into this word, I found that it was translated from the Greek word “phobos” which is where we get the word phobia from. This word is used across the New Testament to describe two seemingly different realities. One is the fear of something that is dreadful, but the other is a fear of God that spurs Christians to grow in proper relationship to Christ. So while I don’t doubt that fear is a proper translation, as I’ve thought about “awe” as it’s translated in Acts 2, I’m wondering if awe might be a closer English word to what Luke was trying to describe.
Why else would the New Testament say the following:
- So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied. (Acts 9:31)
- Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others… (2 Corinthians 5:11)
- Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.
- …submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)
- …work out your own salvation with fear and trembling… (Philippians 2:12)
- And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile… (1 Peter 1:17)
Now go back and look at each of these passages and in the place of fear, replace it with awe. It’s not that fear is the wrong word, so much as it doesn’t touch the depths of fascination and respect that our English understanding of fear communicates. Imagine the church multiplying because it walks in the awe of God, persuading others about the reality of Christ because our hearts are awestruck by who He is, purifying ourselves because we’re so caught up in awe of God. Imagine a body of believers who conduct their lives in awe throughout their time on Earth…that is so awestruck by what God is doing in other believers that they submit to the Christ they see in each other! Living in the awe of God has a powerful influence on the way we live our lives.
I still believe that the church needs to return to the practices of Acts 2:42, but I’m starting to wonder if the church doesn’t desperately need to recover the “awe of God.” What if instead of just repeating the practices of the early church, we did them out of the awe of God and what He is doing?
Now awe is a funny thing. We can’t produce it in ourselves. God produces awe of Himself in the human heart, but we can learn to walk in it. We can hunger after the kind of experiences the early church had. We can seek to encounter the same Christ that worked miracles among the early church. We can lay aside our lesser fascinations and begin to fix our hearts again on the one we are supposed to live in awe of–Jesus. As we do, awe will grow. We’ll encounter Him more. As we encounter Him, our awe will grow.
When we have this awe of God glowing white hot in our hearts, it’s terribly easy to declare the goodness of Jesus and stand against persecution. Others will see it and turn to the Lord as well, especially as God shows up in the midst of those circumstances. In some crazy sort of way, as we experience the awe of God in our hearts, it whets the appetites of those around us and quickly others become hungry to encounter Jesus.
Friends, I’m writing today to encourage you to get an awe of God. If you’ve lost it, if you’ve never had it, or if you just want more of it, go back to God and ask Him for it. He will give you more awe if you ask.
Who knows? It may even be the start of a church planting movement like we see in the book of Acts.
Every night we have a certain bedtime routine where we read our kids a story from the Bible, pray with them, and tuck them into bed at night. However, the last three or four months or so, my youngest has started to ask us to tell her “the Jesus things” before we tuck her in. What she means by “the Jesus things” is the story of how Jesus rescued her (and all of us) from sin and its consequences. My daughter uses this as an opportunity to stay up late. I’m using it as an opportunity to soak her soul in the Gospel.
Last night on my 97th time telling my daughter “the Jesus things” I started to realize that I was only telling her part of the Gospel. See, I told her about sin, about how she was separated from God, about how Jesus came and lived, taught, healed the sick, cast out demons, raised the dead, and taught people how to be close to God. I told her about Jesus’ death and the cruel way He was treated. I even told her about how Jesus was raised from the dead and because of that resurrection, when we receive Christ, we are transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of God.
What did I miss?
Last night, I realized I missed anything that happens after saying “Yes” to Jesus. You see, I had focused on the theological, evangelistic portion of the Gospel…the “sign here” kind of Gospel that you come to expect from used-car-salesmen-style evangelists. what I hadn’t told her was what to expect after that and why it was still good news.
After I realized it, I changed the last few lines of my finely honed presentation to include a couple thoughts about what that would look like. It got me thinking about how often we present the Good News to people about Christ as a decision to make that will make their life better, but we present discipleship to people as a cross to bear. While I definitely believe that there is a cross to bear in discipleship, I do not believe that Jesus is the Good-News-yin to discipleship as a bad-news-yang.
So what’s the good news in discipleship? It’s simple and its what caused the first disciples to leave their businesses, family, and comfort and face persecution and death to spread the Gospel–we get to be like Jesus. Jesus put it this way: “A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher,” (Luke 6:40).
That’s the good news in discipleship–that we can be like Jesus. This man who we begin to learn how to follow after coming to Him and surrendering everything, actually has a plan to make us like Him. We will grow up into all aspects of Him–His character, His power, His nature–everything Jesus was and is we get to grow into. This is the good news that keeps us saying yes to the discipleship process. It’s good news to our hearts when we’re tired and weary. Most importantly, it’s not the dreaded fine print to what had previously looked like a really good deal.
So, I told my daughter a little different Gospel. I told her when she says yes to “the Jesus things,” she gets to grow up and be like Jesus. I intend to tell those I’m discipling the same thing. My guess is they haven’t heard it from me nearly enough.
Maybe you should go back and check your Gospel, too?
Buried in the account of Paul becoming a Christian and a leader in the church there is a small phrase that I think has some fairly significant implications for how we understand discipleship:
Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” All those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, “Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.
When many days had elapsed, the Jews plotted together to do away with him, but their plot became known to Saul. They were also watching the gates day and night so that they might put him to death; but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket.
-Acts 9:19-25 (emphasis mine)
This story is about the tremendous transformation that happened in Paul’s (then Saul’s) life. Just prior to this, Saul had just been killing Christians and was finally stopped when the Lord knocked him to the ground, blinded him, and subsequently healed him. But one of the indicators of Saul’s total transformation was that within a few days (and possibly a few weeks) of his conversion, Saul had his own disciples.
Don’t miss this. These weren’t just random disciples. These weren’t disciples that already existed in Damascus. These weren’t disciples that were made by Paul after he had known the Lord for a decade or better. These were *his disciples*. Saul’s. They were disciples of a man who had come to know the Lord only days or weeks before.
Why is that significant? Well, when was the last time you expected a new believer to have disciples? When was the last time you saw someone who had just come to Jesus preach Christ in a way that caused others to gather around them? When was the last time you expected your new convert to begin pointing others to the Christ they had just received?
What this story tells me is that discipleship is not for the oldest believers or the most experienced believers in our midst. Discipleship is the responsibility and the inheritance of even the youngest believers among us. When we teach them to wait until they know more about Jesus, the church, and everything, we teach them discipleship is about knowing stuff. But discipleship isn’t about knowing stuff, it’s about obeying Jesus. Even relatively new believers can teach newer converts how to obey, if they’ve learned how to themselves.
My point isn’t that this is the story for every believer or we should expect this out of everyone who has come to Christ yesterday. Instead, I want us to be open to the possibility that the Holy Spirit can do this. The Holy Spirit can so transform a person’s life in an instant that they can make disciples quickly. There will be those that the Lord powerfully moves on and can start making disciples from day one or day two following their conversion. It’s not impossible.
More specifically, what if instead of doubting this possibility, we encouraged those who came to Christ to do this? What if we
stopped believing that God only works through those with seminary degrees started believing that Christ within someone is enough to point others to Jesus and help grow them into maturity? What if we encouraged people in this direction instead of encouraged them into immaturity and dependency on us?
Saul had disciples within days or possibly weeks. Not everyone you lead to Jesus will be like this, but I think we sell our disciples short when we don’t believe that it’s even possible.
Maybe it’s time we started encouraging our disciples to make disciples, even right out of the gate. Who knows? Maybe we might find a few more Paul’s that way.
Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.
Peter and John were uneducated and untrained men. In this way they are almost the exact opposite of the kind of people we would prefer to serve our churches or share the Gospel. We like people to be educated and trained–we believe they are better to lead and to guide others. Instead, Peter and John were the construction worker, the pizza delivery guy, or the car salesman of their day.
The difference was that these two men had been with Jesus. They had both trained underneath of Him as followers while He was here on Earth and by the presence of the Holy Spirit, they had been with Jesus in an ongoing way since Pentecost. It was the fact that they had been with Jesus that made these guys different from the other unlearned and untrained men that the rulers and Elders were used to.
Often in Christianity, we do this backwards. We select workers who are trained and educated but haven’t been with Jesus. We’re content with well-trained men who know theology and how to teach, but don’t bear the marks of having been with Christ.
On the other hand, we cannot just look to people who are untrained and uneducated to serve and proclaim the good news apart from Jesus. We have to teach people, trained or untrained, to be with Christ. They have to understand the vitality of a life lived close to the resurrected Jesus.
The sweet spot…the place where Christianity becomes alive and infectious and reproducible…is where we can equip normal, everyday people who many would look at and call untrained and uneducated to be with Jesus. If we can put the Gospel and the truth of Christianity in the hands of a common man who knows how to be with Christ, we are that much closer to turning the world upside down.
Missional community is a buzz word right now.
The phrase was meant to describe a Christian group who were not just committed to each other, but to Jesus and the lost. The goal was to live on mission as a people in a way that drew others to Jesus. Like most buzzwords, though, it has begun to be applied to lots of different things to the point where it can mean just about anything. I find in these circumstances, examples are far better at giving meaning than definitions.
Case in point: Our house churches this Wednesday did a fantastic job on living on mission together.
My awareness of this began on Wednesday over my lunch hour. My friend Josh and I had needed a chance to catch up. We were able to catch up for lunch, tell each other about what the Lord has been doing in each other’s lives, and encourage one another. Make no mistake, true missional community means continuing to encourage each other because the mission can be hard sometimes.
Fast Forward to after work. A couple of the families from two of the house churches had decided to get together that night, but due to circumstances it was going to be me, the children, and the wives of all the families, but none of the men. So, I asked my wife if after we had dinner I could go and take care of some yard work a neighbor had flagged me down and asked for. So after eating together (missional communities eat together a lot!) the ladies allowed me to take off and go help the neighbor with the hopes of preaching the Gospel to them. Here is another facet of missional community: serving the lost out of the love of Christ in ways (we hope) give us opportunities to share the good news.
One of the reasons I happened to be the only guy at our dinner on Wednesday night was that Josh, who I had mentioned before, had to meet with a guy he has begun a discipling relationship with. I wasn’t there and can’t speak to what happened there, but the important thing to note is that missional community is about more than just serving. It’s about sharing the Gospel AND discipling those who come to Christ. The mission isn’t complete until we’ve made disciples.
I was forced to return earlier than I planned from helping neighbors. The neighbors I had gone to help weren’t home and shortly after that a big storm rolled in. I ended up on my front porch with my kids and several of the kids from the other families, while the ladies got a chance to encourage and fellowship with each other. For me, this is part of missional community as well–serving the body so each part is strengthened to share the Gospel.
The storm passed. One of the families left. Josh arrived from his meeting to pick up his family. After spending some time together enjoying our kids and talking, Josh and his family left to put their kids to bed. We thought our day was pretty much done. We put our kids to bed and began the process of winding down for the night.
At about 9:00 PM, my wife realized that she had a missed text on her phone. A neighbor and someone that’s been part of our church had been trying to get a hold of us. Her neighbor and friend had a window broken out of her front door by a disgruntled “guest.” Our friend and her neighbor were looking for some help fixing the situation. I sent my wife over to help (long story, but she was better in this particular situation) expecting her to help fix the door and have her back by 9:30.
Instead she returned around 10:30. She told me the story. When she arrived, it became clear that the situation was much larger than she thought. My wife realized that we might need to bring in a professional, but didn’t know who to call at that hour. We had a friend who repaired auto glass professionally that was part of yet another house church we hadn’t seen that day. She called him to get a recommendation about who to call. Instead, he came over, assessed the situation, and miraculously had the right tools to make the door secure that night. Tim, our friend, was the perfect blend of consistent and flexible that night. With the door secure, our neighbor and her children could rest easier knowing she was safe. This was yet one more example of serving the community with the hope of getting to share the Gospel.
I laid down in bed that night thinking of everything that had happened. Encouragement between the body. Discipleship. Attempts to serve the lost. Prayer. After going through the list, I was thankful that the Lord had allowed our body to pursue mission the way we have.
I don’t write this to boast in our house churches. Rather, I write this so that you can have a window into what missional community might look like on a given day. How do you get here? Find a group of people who love Jesus and want to walk out mission. Give yourself to encouraging the body and attempting to serve the lost around you. Always have the name of Jesus and the Gospel on your lips.
Often we think the workers are many and the harvest is small, but when we venture outside of our fellowships, we find that the harvest is great and the workers are few. If your community is truly committed to being a missional community you will find needs and as you try and meet those needs you will have the opportunity to share the Gospel. I guarantee it.