I have been studying through the book of Acts in my devotions lately as I seek to understand what made the early church tick. We look at the example fo the early church and see so many things that the Holy Spirit was able to do. The book starts with 120 people gathered in an upper room; after Peter preaches 3000 people were added to the number of believers, then after the appiontment of deacons in the church, Acts 6:7 says that the number of the disciples multiplied. The church was growing exponentially. After the persecution, the gospel began to spread across the globe. Paul took it as far as Rome. Church tradition teaches that Thomas was able to take the gospel as far as India. How much was the early church able to accomplish in the power of the Spirit.
We Need Leaders who will Model the Path Forward
We all want to see results like these in our lives. No one who truly loves the Lord when asked if they want God to use them says, "No, I just want to do my thing." There should be a yearning to serve God in new and greater ways than we have thus far and that desire should spill over into our churches. I want to challenge those who see potential areas for growth in your church with a maxim that I heard somewhere and have repeated often, but I was reminded of reading an article by Cary Nieuwhof in the context of leading in a mob culture:
Leaders, be what you hope to see. For example, if you want people to behave reasonably, be reasonable.
We have to have leaders, not men in a position, but people who will stand up and lead in areas of spiritual growth in our churches. To see the revival that these early believers saw, to see the Holy Spirit use our churches greatly, we need people who will step up and lead their churches the way that the Apostles led this early fellowship. (Acts 1:13, 15)
So, how are we going to get in a position where we can be used as a church in similar ways to the early church? We are going to have to prioritize the same things that they did. Acts chapter 1 describes the moments of preparation before the Spirit was poured out on the early church. Jesus had specifically told them to wait in Jerusalem until the Spirit was poured out on them and with that Spirit they would have power to preach the gospel from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and unto the ends of the earth. But what did the early church do while they waited? They were all united in prayer.
We Need Unity as a Community of Believers
In that same article by Cary Nieuwhof, he stated that "Focusing on division brings greater division. Focusing on unity brings greater unity." It is so hard to focus on things that bring us together when that guy over their is just so annoying. Or this person just won't do what "right". Or so and so doesn't agree with me on this tertiary doctrinal issue in the church. It is easier to focus on what makes us different from everyone else, but when you live like that eventually you will separate yourself from everyone. Within a local church, we are all called to unity. Paul speaking of the gifted men given to the church in Ephesians 4 tells us that their purpose is to perfect (complete) the brothers in the work of the ministry and to build them up until:
13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
Now that day of complete unity may be a long ways off, but it should still be our goal. Notice Paul is not talking about uniformity. Throughout the biblical teaching on unity found in Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12, we are spoken of as a body with many different parts. Each serves its purpose and each is different. Unity in diversity.
If we are going to accomplish true unity in our churches, we need to be united in prayer.
We Need United Prayer
This quarter Pastor asked me to lead in the prayer portion of our Wednesday evening services. It has increasingly become a burden of mine to see the church united in prayer. It saddens my heart to see people who before we made the switch would leave as soon as prayer time was started and now that prayer time is in the middle of the service, they come after the prayer time is over. It also saddens me when to think about how we pray. We have been used to praying in groups of two and now we are praying as men on one side of the auditorium and women on the other. Don't get me wrong: I love that prayer is occurring and we have made a move toward united prayer, but I feel like something is still missing in our prayer time when the church cannot gather together as a whole to pray, but we have to split up into groups.
There are all kinds of considerations when making these decisions, but sometimes the logic of how we do things keeps us from doing what the bible expects of us. Acts 1:14 says,
These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren
This is what they were doing before the Spirit came down. This is the attitude that we need in our churches if we are going to see God work. But they are not separate things. There is a tight relationship between praying together and being united. They prayed in one accord. Their unity and their prayer went hand in hand. If we want a united church, we must pray. If we want a praying church, we must be united. We will not have the one without the other.
In Matthew 18:19-20 Jesus taught:
19 Again, I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
The greek word for "agree" in this passage is συμφωνέω (symphaneo) from which we get our word symphony. In a symphony orchestra, all the instruments of an orchestra join together to make beautiful music. It isn't necessarily that they all sound out at the same time. Some pieces will take center stage at certain times, but they are all united in their sound to make one beautiful message. So the church should be in prayer: a beautiful symphony of voices calling out to God for His praise and the needs of others.