Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Are We Adding to the Church?

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to attend a satellite session of Willow Creek Leadership Summit at Cheyenne Hills Church. The Summit was phenomenal to say the least. Even though the focus was on leadership (pretty much all facets), there was one thing that kept jumping out at me. During the Summit, bringing the good news to the lost, being the church for the needy was talked about a lot. We, as a church, are commanded to be witnesses for Christ to the ends of the earth. So I left the Summit with this feeling that we as a church don’t do enough to fulfill that command (I know I don’t, at least).

Now, I’m not saying that we all need to run out to the far reaches of the isolated ends of the earth and preach to some indigenous tribe. It needs to start at home, where we live. In that same command to be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth, He commands his disciples to be His witnesses to Jerusalem first. That is where they lived, that is where He commanded them to start. There are plenty of lost right where we live. I’m pretty confident in the fact that if every church focused on the vision that God has given them for the city they are in, then the world will be touched. It’s a chain reaction. If our churches focus on their God given vision for their local area (their neighborhood, zip code, town, city) then they will provide people in that area with a path to Christ. At the same time the Church is serving it's community, they should also be training and raising up disciples for Christ. When that happens, God will begin to show those people His vision for them. When that happens, some might be called to another city, state, or maybe another country.
Keeping in mind that I know there are churches that God has given vision to reach other countries, my point is that God has really given us all the same vision – to be His witnesses to the world.

With that said, I've been reading Acts as part of my devotional and after the Summit I started to realize the similarities in how many of the chapters end. Here's what I noticed:

Acts 2:47b “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Acts 3:31b “Then they preached the word of God with boldness.”

Acts 5:42 “And every day, in the Temple and from house to house, they continued to teach and preach this message: “Jesus is the Messiah.”

Acts 8:40b “He preached the Good News there and in every town along the way until he came to Caesarea.”

Acts 9:42 (after Peter raised a woman from the dead) “The news spread through the whole town, and many believed in the Lord. “

Acts 10:45 “The Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too.”

Acts 11:24 “Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and strong in faith. And many people were brought to the Lord.”

Acts 12:24 “Meanwhile, the word of God continued to spread, and there were many new believers.”

Acts 15:41 “Then he traveled throughout Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches there.”

Do you see a trend? I could go on, there are other chapters that end with “added to the church”, “believers were encouraged”, etc.

What I've begun to see is the book of Acts is not just a chronology of how the early church was born and developed. It also, repeatedly, punctuates most chapters with the point that as the apostles witnessed for Christ they added to the church and encouraged and strengthened other believers. Luke makes sure to point out, numerous times, that the apostles were successful in taking Jesus' message to others, because of the boldness at which they preached the word of God.
Acts is intentionally filled with comments about “strengthening and encouraging” our churches and believers and adding to The Church by leading people to our Messiah.

Just in typing this, I am prompted by the Holy Spirit that it is equally important to preach the good news to those that don't believe or know AND to encourage each other in Christ. That encouragement helps strengthen us to bring the message of Christ to others. As a matter of fact, Acts should serve to encourage and strengthen us today.

The point is, our goal as followers of Christ should be to have our days punctuated by a statement similar to those found at the end of many of the chapters in the book of Acts. Christ commands us to be His witnesses “telling people about [Him] everywhere”, but He commands us to start where ever you are first. Shouldn't we want to add to the church?

Encouraged and Strengthened,