Gather and Grow
January 4, 2015 | Brian Bill
How many of you made at least one New Year resolution? Anyone care to share with the class? How many have already broken it? I read this week that about half of us make resolutions but only about 8% are successful. Maybe that’s why one guy decided on this game plan: “My New Year’s Resolution is simply to remember to write 2015 instead of 2014.”
I want to propose that on the first weekend of 2015 we have the unique opportunity to make a significant kingdom impact as individual Christians and as a Christian community. But it won’t happen automatically just because we’re now in a new year. Here’s the main idea of the message: The depth of our devotion will determine our impact.
We’re going to give attention to our four defining values beginning with Gather and Grow this week and we’ll focus on Give and Go next week. We’ll also have a Ministry Fair after each service next weekend so that you can learn more about where God would have you give using the gifts God has given you. In two weeks we’ll begin a four-part series we’re calling “Counter-Cultural Christianity” as we look at what God says about abortion, homosexuality, racism and suicide.
We’re going to analyze the first church in the Book of Acts to see how well we’re aligned with their purpose and priorities. Before we get to our text let’s set the context. The second chapter of Acts records Peter’s sermon given on the Day of Pentecost. The Spirit was really working on hearts because we read in verse 37: “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’”
Peter tells them in succinct terms how to respond in verse 38: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ…” The order is significant. Believe and then be baptized. Belief must always come before baptism. I love what happens next during Peter’s invitation in verse 41: “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.” While we won’t have 3,000 baptisms this weekend, we will have five!
Belief leads to baptism, which results in belonging. That’s the order we follow at Edgewood. Once someone is born again, the next step is baptism and then we urge baptized believers to belong to the family of faith by becoming members of Edgewood.
They Devoted Themselves
Look now at the first words of Acts 2:42: “And they continued steadfastly…” The ESV says that they “devoted themselves.” The NASB renders it “continually devoting themselves.” Literally it means that they were continuing steadfastly. The idea is to give “one’s self continually…to be steadfastly attentive unto.” It has the idea of “persisting obstinately” in something.
So what did they persist obstinately in? What does it mean to continue steadfastly? I’m glad you asked. Let’s walk through Acts 2:42-47 to see how the early church organized itself. I’m going to insert our 4Gs (Gather, Grow, Give and Go) to show that our vision and values come right out of Scripture.
42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine [Grow] and fellowship [Gather], in the breaking of bread [Gather], and in prayers [Gather]. 43 Then fear came upon every soul [Gather], and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44 Now all who believed were together [Gather], and had all things in common [Gather], 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need [Give] 46 so continuing daily with one accord in the temple [Gather], and breaking bread from house to house [Gather], they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God [Gather] and having favor with all the people [Go]. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved [Go].
Gather with God’s People
Let’s start with our first G – Gather with God’s people. But let’s face some facts first. The state of the evangelical church in America is pretty shaky. Pollsters have discovered that even though 40% “say” they go to church weekly, less than 20% actually do so. And when people do attend services they’re doing so less often. Those who used to attend every week are now coming about three times a month. Those who normally came twice a month are now attending about once a month and those who made it monthly are now showing up about six times a year.
On top of this dire data, some Christians have unplugged completely and are no longer affiliated with any church. In fact, this group is so large and increasing in numbers that pollsters now call them the “Nones.” One-fifth of Americans – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today. In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to around 20% of all U.S. adults.
I was troubled by an article I read recently called, “Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore” where I learned that somewhere between 4,000 and 7,000 churches close their doors every year, with some researchers putting the number as high as 10,000. Between the years 2010 and 2012, more than half of all churches in America did not even add one new member.
One pastor lamented: “The great task of the church is not only to get sinners into heaven, but to get saints out of bed.”
Friends, this would have been unheard of in the early church! They wouldn’t even have had a category for these kinds of statistics. Let’s look at how this growing group of Christ-followers persistently and obstinately gathered together because the depth of our devotion will determine our impact.
1. Gather in fellowship.
Notice how these followers were committed to fellowship in verses 42, 44, 46: “And they continued steadfastly in…fellowship…all who believed were together…had all things in common…continuing daily with one accord.” Turn over a couple chapters to Acts 4:32: “Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and soul.”
The Greek word for “fellowship” means to “share something in common” or “to strive for a common goal.” Here’s a definition: “Real community is hanging out with others for a spiritual purpose.” I like the phrase “one accord” in verse 46. It means singleness of purpose and to be of the same mind.
Partnership involves participation.
We have been gathered together to be partners in the gospel according to Philippians 1:5. That’s our purpose. Partnership involves participation. Related to this, there’s no way to live out the 59 “one another” commands in the New Testament unless you are in close fellowship with one another. It’s also interesting that the word “saints” which refers to Christians, is used 62 times but is never once used in the singular. We are designed to gather together in community with one another for the glory of God. I like how Gordon MacDonald defines fellowship: “Christian community occurs when two or more people enter into a conscious covenant to organize their lives together around Jesus, emulate His character, and become agents of some aspect of His mission.”
And yet, while we long for community, we also run from it. That’s why Hebrews 10:25 challenges disconnected disciples to stop living in isolation: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
In the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, fellowship among the team was critical. I asked a couple guys from our Ignite Singles Ministry for their insight. One guy said this: “One of the huge advantages that the fellowship had was that, despite their various backgrounds (some even conflicting), they were able to come together with a common purpose.” Another Tolkien lover added, “Without the fellowship there is little doubt that Frodo would have failed in his mission…the fellowship protects from outside forces…and…from inside forces as well. This is done through encouragement when the burden is great, confrontation when the ring’s influence changes Frodo’s humble demeanor into that of pride…and literally carrying Frodo to his destination when despair sets in.”
If you’ve seen some slippage in your commitment to gather with God’s people this past year, determine afresh to make an unwavering and unconditional commitment to be faithful to fellowship this New Year.
2. Gather in communion.
Verse 42 says that these committed Christians continued steadfastly in “…the breaking of bread” and verse 46 says: “…and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.” Shared meals played an important role in the life of the early church. Actually, the First Rule of Church Growth is this: “If you feed them, they will come.” When they met to eat, they also celebrated the Lord’s Supper.
We’ll be celebrating communion at the end of the service today. How cool that we’re celebrating both ordinances that Christ gave to the church – baptism and communion on the same weekend!
3. Gather in prayer.
Verse 42 says that they also continued steadfastly “…in prayers.” We see the emphasis of prayer in Acts 1:14: “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication…” Since prayer permeated the early church, we need to become more devoted to prayer ourselves.
One way that we’re encouraging prayer is by asking everyone to take 5 minutes every day to pray our defining values for yourself, your family and our church.
4. Gather in worship.
Look at verse 43: “Then fear came upon every soul…” Verse 46: “…with gladness…” and verse 47: “praising God…”
Another way to translate verse 43 is to say: “Everyone kept on feeling a sense of awe, amazement and terror.” I like how Drew Dyck puts it: “God is dangerous. That is the way the Bible portrays Him. You don’t have to like it…you can pet Him if you like — just don’t expect your arm back.”
To be in awe conveys a sense of holy terror. It’s what should happen when we come into the very presence of the Thrice-Holy God. This sense of awe pulsates through the book of Acts…
Acts 3:10: “They were filled with wonder and amazement.”
Acts 5:11: “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.”
Acts 9:31: “…It grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.
Acts 19:17: “…They were all seized with fear, and the NAME OF THE LORD JESUS WAS HELD IN HIGH HONOR.”
Here are a few questions to ponder. Do you hold the name of Jesus in high honor? Are you seized by the splendor of a Holy God? Are you in awe of Him? It was A.W. Tozer who said that what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.
In a major study that was published in Leadership Journal, the authors discovered that of those who attend church on a weekly basis, fewer than 1/3 say that they feel God’s presence there. That makes me sad – and it no doubt grieves God.
We strive to fill our services with reverence and rejoicing. There should be a sense of holiness and happiness.
The early church enjoyed gathering together in fellowship, communion, prayer and worship. Let’s look now at how the early church focused on growing in Christ.
Grow in Christ
1. Grow in the Word.
Go back to verse 42: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine…” The most basic essential for any healthy church is a commitment to hearing, learning, and applying God’s Word in order to grow as disciples of Christ.
How many of you are using a plan to read through the Bible in 2015? If not, can I encourage you to do so? It’s not too late to start and it’s not as hard as you might think. I was given some perspective recently when I read these words: “For those considering the journey in 2015, you may be surprised how doable it is. It takes about 70 hours to read the Bible from cover to cover. That’s less time than the average American spends in front of the television every month. In other words, if most people would exchange their TV time for Scripture reading, they’d finish reading the entire Bible in four weeks or less.”
The average person reads 200 to 250 words per minute; there are about 775,000 words in the Bible; therefore it takes less than 10 minutes a day to read the whole Bible in a year. We have printed plans in the lobby and over a dozen listed on edgewoodbaptist.net for easy downloading. We’d love to see everyone “Take 15 in 2015” by spending at least 10 minutes a day reading the Bible and 5 minutes a day praying through our 4 Gs. I can barely contain myself when I think about what God will do in each of us and in our church for His glory when we meet with Him consistently like this.
2. Grow in large gatherings.
The early church was also committed to grow through the preaching of God’s Word in corporate worship settings. Look at verse 46: “Continuing daily with one accord in the temple…” They got a daily dose of God’s Word as it was preached.
3. Grow in small groups.
We believe that growth comes from God’s Word preached in a large group celebration and fleshed out in a small group study as seen in verse 46: “…from house to house…” It’s not an either/or but a both/and. John Wesley insisted that new converts be folded into groups (he called them bands and classes) of people who met weekly in order to check on the condition of each other’s souls. He was convinced that there was no such thing as a solitary faith. One historian has pointed out that Wesley believed that it was only through such close fellowship that people continued in their faith. Those who did not join a band or a class sooner or later fell back into their former careless life.
Actually, if you’re serious about growing in Christ this New Year, there are at least three essential ingredients that will help you ingest God’s word.
- Meet alone with God every day for Bible reading and prayer.
- Listen and live out the weekly sermons in our corporate worship services.
- Plug into a Life Group or an Adult Bible Fellowship class where you can flesh it all out in your daily lives.
None of this will happen automatically in 2015. You and I must intentionally go after it because spiritual growth is intentional, not automatic. A simple self-change resolution at the beginning of the year won’t last but a resolve to gather and grow will last if you lean on the Lord and His power.
Did you know that people who make resolutions are ten times more likely to achieve their goals than those who don’t? We included an insert that has some helpful questions to ask yourself this new year. I respect two of the resolutions Jonathan Edwards made: “Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.”
The Apostle Paul wrote down one of his resolutions in 1 Corinthians 2:2: “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
As we transition into Communion, let’s use this time to settle some things spiritually. At its heart, communion is designed to help us remember what Jesus did for us on the cross. It’s also a time to celebrate who we are and what we have because of what He did.
Communion means we have a “common union” with Christ and with other Christians. The word in Latin refers to a “mutual participation.” We’re a body of believers with a common commitment to gather and to grow, to give and to go. 1 Corinthians 10:17 is written to a community of Christ-followers that was starting to unravel: “For we, though many, are one bread and body, for we all partake of that one bread.”
That’s why it’s important before we take communion to make sure we are in common union with Christ and each other. The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 11:28: “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”
One reason Jesus gave us this ordinance is because He knows all about our tendency to head south spiritually and that we’re prone to go on autopilot. Instead of gathering together we gripe against one another and we’re slow to grow.
There might be some sins that are knocking you off course. Confess them right now and determine to make your ruptured relationships right.
As a way to demonstrate our common union with Christ and with each other, let’s pray the prayer that He taught His disciples to pray.
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”
Lets remember what Jesus went through for us as I read 1 Corinthians 11:23-26: “23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.”
He gave His life so that we can be free from our sins. He tells us to take the bread to remember His body – so that we don’t forget what He went through on our behalf. And, when He launched His church, He gave us four key lifestyle areas to focus on – Gather, Grow, Give and Go. He tells us to drink the cup – so that we don’t forget about His blood that was shed to cancel our sin debt and to inaugurate the new covenant.
Let’s remember and then let’s recommit to be resolutely devoted followers of Jesus Christ. If you were to put a percent on the depth of your devotion, how would you rate yourself? 50%? 75%? 95%? I heard someone say once that if I’m 99% sold-out to Christ, I’m still 1% short. What about you? Take some time to recommit because the depth of your devotion will determine your impact this year.
This recommitment is deeply personal and yet it has a corporate element as well. Listen again to the first three words of Acts 2:42: “And they continued steadfastly…”
I’m wondering if we could demonstrate our corporate commitment to Christ and to His cause right now. I’m going to ask you to stand if you’re ready to recommit yourselves as a church to be steadfastly devoted as we together seek to live out our four defining values – gather, grow, give and go.
Stand right now if you are ready to make this commitment. We certainly can’t do this in our own strength so let’s sing “Lord I Need You” as our closing prayer.