One of the unexpected gifts of church planting is the often-forced opportunity to think critically and prayerfully over the most basic functions and purposes of the church. At every turn we have the opportunity to search the Scriptures and evaluate our cultural context to make informed, gospel-centered decisions.
In our church planting journey we have stripped away about every loose-end and unnecessary function of the church for a singular reason: to focus on the essentials of corporate gospel ministry. Just as a house builder cannot begin construction of the wood frame until the foundation is poured, level, and dried, we too cannot begin to build the programs or ministries of our church until the foundation is cured and set in place.
I believe that Acts 2:42 reveals the blueprints for a healthy, remarkably simple, and easy to replicate foundation for every church community. Here, we find a brief description of the early church, only a few days following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all believers at Pentecost. This was a miraculous mass-conversion moment and suddenly thousands of new believers were beginning to organize themselves into smaller, local gatherings called an ekklesia, or “church”. In Acts 2:42, we read what these first believers devoted themselves to as four essential functions in their new communities.
“All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42, NLT)
These new believers knew they had been given a life transformational message in Jesus Christ through the ministry of the apostles. Since each of the apostles had personally lived with and been students of Jesus Christ including witnesses of his death, resurrection, and ascension, they were by default the trusted source and teachers. But what exactly did the apostles teach? The gospel and mission. Just as Jesus was sent to share the gospel message, He also taught what it meant to live a life on mission for His Kingdom. Even in His final words to the apostles, Jesus instructed them to teach these very things to the world (see Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8). The apostles simply continued the teaching of Jesus, gospel & mission, and it was this teaching that the early churches were devoted to.
The early believers also emphasized fellowship with one another. They not only enjoyed each other’s company, but they intimately knew one another. They shared life, joys, sorrows, trials, and successes in the context of authentic relationships. They knew the names of one another’s children, they knew their family background, the nature of their business dealings, and their favorite hobbies. Superficial conversations around the weather, their favorite sports teams, and complaining about local politics was not of interest. To be in fellowship meant to be in deep and authentic relationship with one another.
Most Bible translations here will read “the breaking of bread”. The NLT here helps with an interpretive question by reading as, “sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper)”. To break bread with others was the formal act of communing with one another over a meal. It too was an act of relational intimacy. In the church, we often speak of communion as a formal ordinance of the church known as the Lord’s Supper. The same was for the New Testament church, but not exclusive from one another. In other words, communion was practiced both ways. Whether they participated in a formal breaking of bread and drinking of wine in remembrance of Christ or the sharing of a simple meal among fellow believers, both were acts of communing with one another and in their union with Jesus Christ. In our church plant we have opted to practice a traditional Lord’s Supper at each of our weekly gatherings along with the occasional sharing of meals together.
Finally, the fourth essential function to a healthy gospel ministry is prayer. Whether these are formal prayers, spontaneous, elder-led, or personal, this is a natural expression of a local community of believers. Our individual and corporate intercession with the Father, in the Spirit, by way of the Son, is the satisfying experience that every believer is blessed to participate in. The veil that was once in place to separate us from our sin and God’s holiness has been torn because of Christ, and now we can approach our great heavenly Father with our joys, fears, and requests in prayer. This is where the great power of the church is found. In their collective prayers for one another, their communities, and the world.