I am a curious person, always looking around and observing people and the things around me. I have been curious lately about about what the church might look like if we tried doing things new, creatively, or unconventionally. The traditional church has many strengths going for it. What we typically see each Sunday has worked for several generations and for some contexts. Most churches have set worship times and locations, usually Sunday morning at a designated chapel facility. There is an order of service, usually involving 20-25 minutes of singing, a few prayers, possibly scripture readings, offering, and then a sermon. There may be other things involved, but this is most common. And this is what people call “going to church.” What would it be like to rethink the church as if these were the days following Pentecost in Acts?
Acts 2:42 is a great place to start in re-imagining the church for our day:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
First, the early church was devoted to the apostles’ teaching. They studied together. They listened and interacted with eye witnesses. Obviously we do not have eye witnesses today, but we do have their written testimonies. The focus of every church ought to be God’s revelation of and about Jesus in the Bible. Bible study with the goal of character change, growth, and mission should be part of any gathered group, no matter how simple it might be. It does not need to be something formal, a three-point sermon, or a teaching lesson, although these have their purposes. An unconventional church will seek to strengthen its body of believers through digging into the Word of God in ways that will make a difference in people’s lives. I can imagine a group sitting around a table sharing together, sitting on couches in a family room, around a camp fire, under the mango tree, in the office break room, sitting on a park bench or on the grass, and many other places. People may be sitting on the floor, on a log, in a nice chair, on a park bench, standing in a circle, or any other place where at least two people can share together about the Scriptures. What is the goal of the study of the apostles’ teaching? We can know what Jesus taught, how the Old Testament gives the foundation and need for Jesus, the wisdom of the ancients, lessons for daily living, encouragement for trials and suffering, and how to do our mission in the world. We will learn best in a community where we can make sure our interpretation is accurate and where we can help each other apply what we have learned.
Second, the church had fellowship with one another. Fellowship can take so many forms. It can be more formal, such in a worship service in a large auditorium, or more intimate in a small group. Based on the evidence of the New Testament, the early church met in smaller groups in people’s homes. It is difficult to have much fellowship with a large group or in a typical worship service. Rethinking church may require us to downsize and be less programmatic. What makes good fellowship? When lives can be shared for mutual edification and accountability. Fellowship helps us work out the details and challenges of life. It brings unity and purpose and guides us into more effective mission. If we do not have opportunities to share with other believers in more open and intimate situations, we are not reaching our potential as God’s church. If fellowship is weak, every other aspect of being the church will suffer. An unconventional church may have a worship time around a barbecue pit, on a basketball court, fishing on the beach or lake, in a coffee shop, during lunch break at work, in a living room, on a porch, and so many other places and times. Christians ought to like to hang around one another and enjoy each other’s company, not for selfish reasons, but to help one another get through the challenges of life.
Third, the breaking of bread is sharing of meals together. In a broader sense, this may represent living life together. As believers, we are involved in the care and nurturing of one another. Many church break bread only on special occasions such as potluck, or the occasional communion service. The early church ate together often, sharing their food, making sure no one went hungry, and remembering the sacrifice that Jesus made as the Bread of Life. In many contexts today, people have become isolated. We may eat with other believers sometimes at restaurants, but this takes money and not everyone has money to eat out. Few churches have potlucks or provide meals. I enjoyed a recent visit to South Korea where many churches have a meal after every Sunday morning service. It is free and provided by the church. Different people devote their mornings to preparing it as a ministry. Everyone is invited to stay. It is a good time of fellowship. I visited another church in the USA last year that provided meals every Wednesday night. Providing meals is a great way to make sure people are being fed well. Eating together is part of Christian theology and ministry. It provides opportunity for fellowship and compassion. Few churches seem to make this a part of their ministry plan but there is great opportunity with it.
Fourth, the earliest believers prayed together. I suspect their prayer was not quick two minute closing prayers or a pastoral prayer in the middle of the service. As indicated at the beginning of Acts 2, they prayed fervently and long as they waited for the Holy Spirit to come. The waiting period was a good time for them to form the habit of continuous prayer. Prayer can take many forms. Some people and cultures will pray out loud as a whole group with everyone praying at the same time. This can be distracting for some cultures, so there are other who prefer quiet contemplative type prayer. Prayer should not be tucked only into a few spots in a 60 minute worship service. Praying together may require people to share their needs, spending time praying for one another in groups of two or more. An unconventional church modeling the earliest believers could encourage its members to visit and pray for one another. The pastor would make prayer visits a part of his or her ministry. Spontaneous prayer could be part of when any two or more believers get together, even for something fun like sports, hunting, shopping, or other things. Prayer essentially becomes part of the very identity and activity of the church. It is the church’s second nature. Every person prays and is brave enough to pray for others at any given moment or place. The fear of shame or embarrassment is replaced by courage, faith, and hope.
For more pastoral reflections, click here.