July 3, 2013

Every Day is a Church Start

 

"All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need" (Acts 2:44-45).

"All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need" (Acts 4:32-35).

Here’s a test question for you as a church leader: which is more “successful?"

  • ministering to the needs of 50,000 people by mobilizing five people?
  • or ministering to the needs of only 500 people by mobilizing 500 people?

Some 15 to 20 years ago (suddenly feeling great surprise that it’s been that long now) my wife, our two little girls and I joined a small team of about five other families, all spending our Spring Break on mission in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, doing Vacation Bible School at a small church there.  Over the ensuing eight years, that same trip grew to become a churchwide Spring Break family mission trip of some 100-150 “missionaries” ranging in age from six months to 80 years. We had medical mission teams, construction teams, music teams, drama groups, VBS on multiple sites, sports evangelism teams and even pastoral care teams. We gathered everyone together at our campsite every night for worship and reporting. As you might imagine, it was chaotic and fantastic all at the same time.

There was no childcare ministry; we all took care of everyone’s children. There was no “poverty” ministry; everywhere we worked, lived and slept was impoverished, so all of us ministered all the time. We had assignments, to be sure, but there was very much a spirit of everyone pitching in and doing whatever he or she needed to do to minister. It was an amazing experience for those of us who had grown a bit calloused and ingrained in an otherwise “institutional church” experience.

That was the closest I have ever come to being a part of a “church start” experience.

For that growing group of families, we were “church” together for a week every year. We definitely made an impact there in Mexico, but the overwhelming testimony of all of us was that the larger impact was on each of us. That experience changed how we “did church” when we returned each year. We all recognized that it was much closer to the “church start” experience described in Acts. If you have ever been a part of a church start or perhaps of a similar mission experience, then you know exactly what I am describing.

Reading the two passages from Acts 2 and 4 above, there are a lot of numbers that might jump out to you, and there are a lot of concepts that might grab you.  But, I think we make a mistake in what application we draw from these passages if we focus in on the wrong numbers and the wrong concepts.

To me, it is the very first word in each passage that merits our most attention: All.

That, it seems to me, is what these passages teach us about the genuine New Testament church. How many “members” were mobilized into ministry? What percentage of them were finding a way to contribute, to make a difference in someone’s life?

All of them. 

That, my church leader friend, is what success looks like.

I admit that kind of success is easier to achieve in a church start than in a well-established, institutional church. Once we get very, very efficient with our ministries, we start missing the wild-eyed, “just do whatever it takes” attitude of a people who are running around meeting needs and plugging holes — like in a church start.

And therein lies one solution: we really should be starting more churches. That is where we are the most like the New Testament church.

But don’t we also have to develop some strategies for the institutional church? Isn’t it possible, no, isn’t it critical to find ways to jumpstart the hearts of our people into a bit more of that wild-eyed, “just do whatever it takes”, everyone-is-a-minister mindset?

Here’s a challenge: stop measuring your success in gross numbers, and start measuring your church’s success in terms of percentages, i.e. the percentage of your people who are meaningfully engaged in ministry.

That might just change everything!

Image • ChurchWhisperer.com
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