On Sunday, August 6, 2017 we delivered our last message at Jubilee Family Worship Center. Here is the essence of that message:
In the first seven verses of Acts 6 we are presented a picture of the church as Jesus intended –vibrant and multiplying – and, at the same time, a picture of the church as it became. The passage is about the appointing of seven men to distribute food, to “wait on tables”. As a result of their appointment, the passage concludes, So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.
That is the church Jesus designed. It was multiplying – and rapidly. People were not just being added to the church; disciples were being multiplied. Disciples – not just believers, but committed, grounded, transformed, followers of Jesus were multiplying.
In our day, we measure success by the number of new births added. However, the church was intended to multiply disciples.
We see hint of what was to come, the symptoms and the cause of it, earlier in the passage: In those days when the number of disciples was increasing. Wait. When the number of disciples was increasing? The church was not intended to grow sometimes, in seasons, for a while. It was designed by Jesus to be a constant, multiplying, disciple-making machine, until the whole world was reached. The word when indicates that at some point, shortly after this, the church stopped being that.
What happened? What went wrong? Here we see a glimpse of what the church became, what, for the most part, it still is today.
This passage of scripture tells us about a problem. The problem was, some people in the church were not being fed; they were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. That’s a real problem. But it’s also symptomatic of an even bigger problem: Why was the church so focused on feeding itself? Why was there a daily distribution of food in the first place?
To answer that question we need to go back to chapter 4: All of the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had (Acts 4:32). That sounds good – but it really wasn’t. The church expected Jesus to return any day. So, they thought, “Why should we continue with our businesses and normal lives? Let’s form a Christian community where we can together wait for the Lord to come back.”
Their intentions were good, but their focus was off: They were not supposed to wait for Jesus to return, (and in the process add some new believers to their company here and there). They were supposed to win the world.
The inevitable result of their approach was this: The church became a wonderful Christian community that celebrated the difference between us and them, that elevated separation from the world as a noble goal; it became self-absorbed with ministering to the needs of its own.
What a contrast.
We have been aware of this contrast for a very long time. But recently, something happened that made us realize we have to do something about it. We were confronted with the Father’s heart for his lost sons and daughters – and frankly, our callousness towards them. With any parent who has ever, even for a moment, lost a child in a mall or somewhere else, there is an urgency to find that lost child. The criticality of the situation is not lessened by the fact that they have other children who are still safe in their possession. Or that the lost child wandered off on his own accord. The heart of the parent is broken, howbeit momentarily, and completely consumed until that child is found.
Are we completely consumed? Do we share the Father’s heart? Do we care at all?
These are the questions we were confronted with. And they revealed how pathetic our justification has been to not be more personally involved in sharing Jesus with the lost people we are around every day. We had accepted two reasons that excused us: “They’re not interested” and “That’s not my calling or gifting”.
Both of these are lies and neither of them cut it.
We live in a city that we have been called to, filled with precious people who are separated from the Father. His heart breaks and we want ours to break too. We have decided to make it a habit to pray daily:
Father, let me see lost people the way you see them. Give me your heart that I may love them, like you do, today.
Without this focus, we become self-absorbed. And the church remains ineffective at its primary mission.
What was the simple formula Jesus prescribed for the church? Going back to our story in Acts 6, notice that the number of disciples in that city multiplied rapidly and this all happened, it was triggered, by seven men finding their place, stepping up and using their gifts.
Jesus intended the church to reach lost people and help them find their way back to the Father. He intended that by connecting with each other, new believers would become transformed disciples. He intended that each one of them discover their gifts and utilize them – thereby finding personal fulfillment (as we are all doing what we were born to do), and at the same time, multiplying the number of people who are reached. It’s really quite simple. And the model of multiplication is in everything that God put into creation.
Think about it: If you take a male and female rabbit and put them alone on an island, in ten years if you visited that island, if nothing stopped their natural order, you’d find thousands of rabbits. That’s how it works.
That is how the church was designed. And the consequences of not fulfilling that design does not just create an unproductive church; it results in a humanitarian crisis. Souls – thousands of them – are perishing because we neither have the heart of Jesus nor are we following his design for the church.
And for that reason, we are compelled to stop doing what we have been doing, to redefine who we are and what we are called to do, to reignite our people with a passion for the mission to which we are called, and to relaunch the church to reach our city.
Before we can relaunch, however, we need to make sure that this time, we lay the foundation right. We need time to not only distance ourselves from our wrong thinking about church, but we need time to develop a team and prepare to do this thing right. There’s a lot to learn because we’ve been doing it wrong for a very long time!
We are not going to relaunch until we are ready. That means every team is ready to serve guests in excellence – from the greeters, ushers, worship team, nursery, kids church – every part. But more than that, we are not going to relaunch until we are ready to intentionally lead people on a journey of spiritual growth, from new birth through transformation, all the way to each one fulfilling God’s plan for their lives.
For those who are moved by this and feel called to join us, we are meeting Saturday mornings at 10am for prayer. That’s our next step. And, sometime in 2018, we will relaunch. This time, not just as a church (as we have known church), but as a lost-seeking, soul-winning, disciple-making, life-transforming, believer-empowering, region-changing machine.
Because this city is too precious to sit by and do nothing. Because there is too much at stake.
Tim & Christine Schmidt