This past January, I was able to visit with folks from our former church in the Mount Washington Valley of New Hampshire.
When the church closed ten years ago, it was an extremely difficult time for everyone. Our fellowship and the patterns we had for gathering together were broken apart. For many of us, the get together last month was the first church service we’d attended in years. For all of us, it was a loving reunion of friends long ago separated. So yes, it was a very blessed time together… a taste of what joining together in heaven will be like!
For those of us who had been out of church for many years, the quesiton came up of how to reinstate that sense of Christian community once again. The answer we’re looking for can be found in the Bible in Acts 2:42-47 which says:
“(The believers in Jesus) continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers… Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”
This passage reveals what true fellowship was like in the first century church. It is still our guideline for what it means to be the body of Christ today. It’s rooted in simplicity. It did not require a mega-church atmosphere. It did not require a church building. It did not rely on dynamic musicians creating a moving spirit of worship. It was not centered around a single man, other than Jesus. There were no pews and no pulpit. It was simply a group of people, living together for the Lord. So let’s break “church” down into seven key componants as outlined in the passage above.
1. They studied what it meant to be a Christian (“apostles doctrine”). This is as easy as simply opening a bible with a few friends or reading a good book about faith or lifestyle and talking about it together. No “gifted speaker” necessary. Just reading, learning, asking questions and sharing what you learned.
2. They were together (“fellowship”). No 501(c)(3) non-profit church corporation. No bylaws. No committees. No real structure at all. They just hung out and developed relationships with each other. Isn’t that SO easy to do?
3. They ate meals together (“breaking of bread”). Hey, I like that part! Food is awesome stuff, and sharing it with friends and family is what holidays are made of. We all do food. Who would have thought so much of Christian fellowship is simply about sharing a meal together? (It would be even better if – just like in the first century – it was organic, free-range, non-GMO, etc. But more on that subject another time.)
4. They prayed for each other. We ALL need prayer. Why? Because no matter how complex life gets or how obvious a solution may appear for simple issues, no one knows what’s best for our lives like God does. He’s got it all figured out, and He’s absolutely willing to clue us in if we simply pray. Easy. And prayer works even better when done with others. Just open the mouth and do it.
5. They helped each other out with material needs. Let’s think about this for a moment. The church I came from in southern California spent around a hundred thousand dollars each month on utilities and rent alone. Many churches spend tens of millions (or hundreds of millions) on building programs. The church I pastored in NH spent roughly 85% of the offerings on the facility, salaries, and structures of ministry. Now, compare this to the first century church. They spent ALL their money (that’s 100% of the offerings) on taking care of each other’s personal, financial needs. Wow. Modern Christianity has a long ways to go here. Church finances should be all about caring for others. Not caring for property and budgets. The body of Christ really needs to make drastic changes here.
6. They met together in open, public places and in each other’s homes. Again, this speaks to the simplicity of fellowship and the low financial cost of gathering together. Do we have this down? You don’t need property to be a church. You do need fellowship, and that fellowship can happen at the town park, or in someone’s home.
7. The life they lived together was the best evangelism project of the first century (“the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved”). Today, churches spend vast resources of time and money on outreach events, buying and selling books on evangelism, and attending conferences and training seminars on impacting the community. This is all so contrary to what we just read. GOD added to the church daily, and He did that through showing off how wonderful His family of believers lived their daily lives. So it appears that the best outreach plan is to simply live in fellowship as followers of Jesus. No stress. It’s all about that genuine lifestyle of faith.
We live in an age of mega-churches and so many stories of traditional churches struggling with attendance. Really folks, it’s not that hard to simply live as a community of believers. My challenge to you is to NOT wait for some new church movement to begin. Don’t keep waiting for the “right” church to attend or for something or someone else to change things for you. Instead, simply BE the church using these seven steps outlined from the book of Acts. Any of us can read. Any of us can hang out with others. Any of us can share a meal, pray, or give some money to a friend in need. Any of us can open our home for a small, informal get-together. We can do this.
Do you see how easy this is? Just start being church and the blessings will follow. Got it? Awesome!
– Sanford Kravette