Growing up in the Bible-Belt of Arkansas, I had seen very traditional ways that church was done. Those ways had been comfortable for me and many others. As I served in churches, I saw slightly different expressions of ‘church life’ but the basics were still there.
As I began preparing to plant a new church, a big question on my heart was ‘What should it look like?’ The clearest Bible text on this was Acts 2:42-47. Here it is in the ESV: And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
These are the elements that would describe what the first church looked like and I believe they should be in the forefront of any church today no matter if we describe ourselves as traditional, contemporary, relevant, practical or in some other way.
Devoted to the Apostles Teaching - John 20:21 says that as The Father sent Jesus, He sent the disciples (and us). To be devoted to this teaching is to be devoted to God’s Word. It is the central part of the faith life and is where our faith is anchored. This devotion must permeate all other facets of ‘church life’ so that it serves as the strong foundation to build upon.
Devoted to Fellowship/Communion/Community - The first church was together. This didn’t make them squeaky clean…it made them messy! They did the mess together. They fellowshipped in that they spent much time together…but they also formed a community in that they were committed even when times where not perfect. They shared in The Lord’s Table. These times would build the bonds to their God and to one-another that would be maintained even in persecution.
Devoted to Prayer - Prayer would be central to the culture of any church because it is the dialogue between the One the church is worshipping. Listening to and speaking to God.
Devoted to Generosity - The sharing and generosity that these first followers had with each-other was a true picture of the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ (ultimately displayed on The Cross). It drew them together and drew others to them. It was counter-cultural. It still is…
Happy - This word isn’t used in the text. We read ‘glad’. I just imagine a contented smile. The early church was not just a bunch of stoics. They found a deep and abiding joy in Christ and it showed. No sour-faced, arms-crossed, ‘bless me if you can’ attitudes here.
Multiplying - They grew. Fast. How? The Lord added to their number day by day. They focused on Christ through the above things and God built His church. Funny, he mentioned He would do that (Matthew 16:13-19). They didn’t list any multiplication techniques…but I’m sure they put many into place as the chaos of growth threatened to consume their focus upon Christ. 10 months in and I still can’t describe to you what a new church plant should look like…but these elements haven’t changed. Do they show up as central in the work of ministry for you?