Some Observations about the church from New Testament

I have started this article a few times and after two or three paragraphs, deleted the whole thing and started over. I want to share some thoughts without being critical of churches that think they have arrived at the ideal. Are there some local congregations of Christians who closely resemble those churches we read of in our Bibles. I believe so. I also believe they are few and far between. What are the characteristics of that church that is so intimately related to Jesus Christ that it is called in the Bible his bride? I’ll share some of my observations over the next few weeks. What has my attention will not be exhaustive, but will be at least a few of the most obvious ways to spot a local church that mirrors well the church of the first century. Maybe you see some others, I hope you will share them.

Emphasis on prayer, especially corporate prayer.

The very first thing that I notice is how much they valued prayer. Immediately after they had witnessed Jesus’ ascension the Bible tells us what they did.

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. 14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. (Acts 1:12-14)

They had heard the words of Jesus. They had his marching orders. But the first order of business was to pray together! Jesus had told them to go to Jerusalem and wait for the power of the Spirit and they knew instinctively what “wait” meant. And so they prayed together. There is something very special, and I’ll say very powerful, about Christian believers praying “together”.

We don’t have to go very far to find them praying again. It was time to replace Judas, to select a new apostle. Did they poll the congregation? Did they appoint a committee? No, they simply prayed.

23 And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias.24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” (Acts 1:23-25)

Again and again we read about those earliest believers emulating their Lord of whom it is written again and again in the gospels “and he prayed”. Anyone who has read about the life of Jesus knows that he prayed early, all night, intensely, and often. Just prior to the great historic events of Pentecost we read about in Acts 2 the Bible says of the apostles and the others,

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. (Acts 2:1)

I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume what they were doing while they “were all together in one place”. Of course they were praying together! Later, in chapter four of Acts a crisis had arisen and their response was to pray. Both the church and the state were in opposition to what they were doing. They were preaching Jesus, folks were being healed, and by now their number had grown to about 5,000. This fist mega church caused the religious people and the politicians lots of grief. So, after the authorities had threatened them not to speak in the name of Jesus any more, this was their response and the results.

23 When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,

“‘Why did the Gentiles rage,

and the peoples plot in vain?

26 The kings of the earth set themselves,

and the rulers were gathered together,

against the Lord and against his Anointed’—

27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.(Acts 4:23-31)

I love this story! Rather than cower to the wishes of the ministerial alliance or the local ordinances  they simply prayed together and the result was that they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and they spoke the Word of God with great boldness. Do we want our churches to grow, do we want our message to be powerful for God and for the people? Then we, like our ancient family of the faithful, must pray together.

It is a wonderful exercise to pray alone, in your private place. Every believer ought to be praying about everything. But there is something special about Christians praying together. Couples, families, small groups, and even large church gatherings are the right places to pray together.

The New Testament church was a praying church. How about yours? How about mine? How much do we emphasize prayer and specifically praying together? In my view, a local church will not be what God wants it to be unless prayer is a priority.

Will we pray together? I hope so.














What does love look like?

A couple of weeks ago Carol and I visited with the good folks at the Hemley Road Church of Christ. We are always so encouraged and built up in our faith to just be with them and observe 1st century Christianity up close. One of my experiences was on Thursday morning at the food give away.

I arrived at the Civic Center in Bayou La Batre to find the parking lot full of cars. I drove to the side of the building, found a place and entered through the service entrance. When I entered I saw a long line of people who were waiting to have their ID’s checked and then receive a large box of Hungry Man dinners. The Mobile County Bar Association was present offering pro bono legal work for the citizens. Medical personnel were there checking blood pressure, trying to get a snapshot of the health of those who wanted the service.

Each week a semi trailer of food is distributed. This week about 400 family units received about 1700 meals. They also received tooth brushes, tooth paste, and other essentials most of us take for granted. Perhaps 30 volunteers helped in the effort. The local jail’s trustees, dressed in their horizontal striped black and whites carried cases of food out for people, ladies at a long table checked the necessary paper work so food and other supplies would go to those who most need it.

I studied the faces of those people in line to get food. Most of them entered the line showing no emotion. Their faces were those hardened by days in the sun on shrimp boats, working in ship yards, and a history of fighting for survival in a place where drug abuse and alcoholism is as common as the sun. Their faces did not reflect hope, just a determination to survive. Most would force a faint smile as they said “Thank you” when they received their allotment of food.

A series of storms topped off by Katrina, the Gulf Oil Spill, and stupid government policy has forced this once thriving fishing community to its knees. Will they ever recover seems to be the question of most people I spoke to. It is difficult to be optimistic when you and most of your friends are unemployed and only a fraction are eligible for any benefits.

When the local network affiliates come from Mobile or Pensacola, or CNN, and PBR come calling to find how and why all this is going on in south Mobile County they find that the Hemley Rd Church of Christ is responsible. It is an amazing story of God’s faithfulness to a hand full of people who believe He can do anything.

Only 4 1/2 years ago they were less than a half-dozen common folks who together decided that they would make a difference in hurting people’s lives. They were distributing what ever they could find that the people needed. They started to repair storm damaged houses and people began to come and help. Soon, they decided they would worship together and they met at Hardees, the Odd Fellows Hall, on the beach, and finally in their own building. They have gone from nothing to being the leading church in the area, touching lives both for time and eternity.

Not only have they fed thousands, repaired almost 500 homes, given tons of bedding, furniture, and large appliances, they have also baptized people regularly who have decided to follow Jesus.  In God’s providence, funds, goods, and volunteers have come to help from all across the U.S. Not only church of Christ people but perhaps a dozen or more other groups continue to be staunch supporters both with funds and people on the ground.

Recently a church gave a 28 passenger people mover, another church purchased a 2010 van, and a local denominational church opened its heart and check book to help them help the community they serve well into the next year. The stories are too numerous for this format. Again and again, when the funds are almost completely gone and bills are due God supplies every need and more. I had not seen this kind of faith first hand in a long time. I’ve read about it, but when you see it up close and personal there is no denying that God is faithful to those who are depending only upon Him.

Carol and I spent a week working, worshiping, laughing, watching, and being amazed at these simple and unlikely hero’s of the faith as they feed the hungry, heal the broken-hearted, love the unlovable, and give out of their poverty in Jesus name.

Want to see some first century Christianity at work in 2010? Drive down to south Mobile County, Alabama and ask someone where the Christians are. They are easy to find.




A new look at an old institution – the Church

Brian Mashburn’s post today reminded me of something I needed to write. Brian’s post is titled “Change how you do church or watch your church die“.

The traditional way we build churches is sort of  a competition. Group “A” will locate a town with no church like their brand in it and they will plant a church there. Then they will try to grow that church, especially numerically. In truth, the goal, even if unspoken, is to be the largest church in town one day. I think its settled that the way success is measured is by Sunday a.m. attendance isn’t it?

Consider a new way.

A congregation wants to evangelize Yourtown, USA.  Three young couples who have been discipled and are mature believes are willing to move to the town to plant a church. So they move, find housing, get jobs, put the kids in school, and start meeting in the living room of one of the couples. The group grows, and soon outgrows the living room. Here is where the story changes.

(Back to Yourtown, USA for a moment. Lets suppose this town has 8 major apartment complexes, 4 large subdivisions, and a large trailer park. There are jobs, a favorable climate, acceptable tax structure, and people are moving in.)

The traditional way, is to begin trying to find a larger space, first to rent, until they get big enough to purchase land and build a building. And many thousands have done just that. In a few years they have lets say 200 solid members.

What if when Bob and Carol’s space becomes too small, they simply start a simultaneous group over at Ted and Alice’s apartment complex, and when that space gets to small they begin another at Bill and Susan’s trailer park meeting room, etc, etc, etc.

You tell me which is more Biblical and a more effective model.

Traditional: In five years there are two hundred members, two services on Sunday and one on Wednesday night. There are Bible classes, the church is supporting foreign missions, people are happy and things are going well. People are members from all over the town, there were 7 baptisms last year and some other families joined whose jobs brought them here. The young church has a full-time preacher, a youth minister, two elders, and a huge mortgage. Pretty typical huh?

Non-Traditional: In five years there are 12 cell churches. Each of them meets weekly for teaching, praying together, communion, worship, and mutual encouragement. Each member of each group lives in the apartment complex, subdivision, trailer park, etc. For instance, Ted and Alice have 9 couples in their group and are about to birth another in a nearby community where a member’s brother and his wife live. Ted and Alice and the other 8 families minister to the people who live in this complex, first, and then to others. When someone has a death in the family these Christians are there with food, a listening ear, baby sitting, money, or whatever help they can give. Ted and Alice and their group try desperately to love the people of that complex in Jesus stead. They will see people who have been loved open to the gospel and the Lord will add to his church.

Twelve small communities are being saturated with Christian love, concern, and modeling life as it should be lived to a watching world. Each of those complexes, subdivisions, and trailer parks are well aware of these good people who want nothing but to love them.

The leaders of the several groups meet once every few weeks to pray for each other and their people, to brainstorm, to plan large group community fairs, picnics, ect where the whole town (and all the groups) can be invited. Three men, who each lead a group, are elders. Any problems that cannot be sorted out by the people themselves is shared with these  three men who decide what is best and right.

Which model is better?

I contend that the very best traditional church, where most of what happens happens inside the “building” can never reach a community as well as the newer model. There is no competition between groups in the new model because when a group gets to about 9 or 10 families (or less) they have already been praying about where to begin a new church. (they are churches you know…) There is no salary to pay, there is no mortgage payment, so guess what? The people have more discretionary dollars to use to help others and support missions.

In my view the new model is an ego crusher. There is no big “I” and little “you”. There is just Christians being salt and light to the people who live near them. They are Christ’s ambassadors to the people they play ball with, bowl with, eat BBQ with, etc.

It might be a new way or the highway!

The attractional model of doing church once worked pretty well. No more in my view. If we don’t find a way, some way, to actually be involved in our neighbors lives with love, and help, and healing, and hope, we are a dying breed. There are some churches, even mega-churches, that are doing a great job of ministering to the communities they serve. They are meeting the needs of the people in tangible ways and making opportunities for gospel conversations. They are rare though, and I think becoming more rare.

I can imagine dozens of house churches all over a city sitting in living rooms, or on back porches, watching a live stream of a man of God teaching the Bible on a big screen TV patched to a computer. What does the future hold? Only God knows. I do know that where ever God’s sheep are that is where the church is, big or small, traditional or non-traditional. Jesus is still building it and until He comes for it, we get to work with him in his mission.



Jesus said, “I will build my church…”

In the 5th chapter of the Revelation John wrote about the scene revealed to him when Jesus would break the seals and read from the scroll. The whole 5th chapter is remarkable but these verses caught my attention.

“And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9,10)

Jesus said in Matthew 16:18b,

“I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

And he is doing just that. I wonder if we sometimes get off message, out of focus, and busy doing the wrong tasks?

Jesus is building HIS church, not our church. The question then becomes “Will I join Him in what He is doing?”. “Will you join Jesus in what He is already doing?”. You see, in spite of our pettiness, our in-fighting over singing, our doctrinal differences, Jesus is at work gathering His chosen ones who will one day rule and reign with Him. And, it is clear He is doing it quite well. He will do it with us or without us, but He will build His church!

Who are those He is redeeming? They are “from every tribe and language and people and nation”. He is calling to himself people for his own from every people group, pretty effective huh?

I am not the King, I am an ambassador for the King. My role is to serve the King. He says to his people “I have all power in heaven and in earth, go in that power and tell the good news. Baptize those who believe my story and teach them to love the unlovely, be holy, and keep telling the story until I come.”

He enables us to love the unlovely, He empowers our words to the powerless and helpless, and He promises that if we will tell the story as we live our lives while loving others He will do the church building.

Not one person will be left out who should have been saved. So we can confidently say to the thirsty, “Come and drink from this water and you will never thirst again! And to the hungry, eat this bread and you will never again be hungry. And we speak words of life to the spiritually dead and they are raised to eternal life in the power of the Spirit. Why? Because He is “with us” and “in us”. Immanuel is with me today as I go in his name to herald the good news of Jesus.

What if I don’t go? What if you don’t go? What if your church don’t go? Jesus will still be building His church and will keep building it until the last sinner is made a saint and He comes for His own.

His church will be built and it will be from every people group. Let us join Him in what He is already doing.