Flourish 7/7: Community
We cannot flourish in isolation. Every spiritual discipline we've discussed in this series is accelerated through practicing them in community. At Pentecost we celebrate, not only receiving the Holy Spirit, but also the birthday of the church. In this message we study how community - gathering together around Jesus Christ - was at the heart of the first church.
Today we close off our 7-part series on spiritual disciplines. It’s been such a joy to explore all these beautiful aspects of the Christian life together. If you have not been able to watch all the videos in this series, you can find them all on our YouTube channel.
I believe that God is using this time to draw you closer to Him, and the spiritual disciplines we’ve talked about are some keys to help you to live a life of intimacy with God. I pray that as you begin to explore these disciplines, they will become habits. And these habits will begin to transform you from the inside out.
Today we come to the last discipline in this series, and that is community.
So far, we’ve talked about spiritual disciplines emphasizing our personal spiritual flourishing. We talked about them mostly as things that we do in private. And that is vitally important. I think that God is pointing out to us during this whole time that we need to establish personal habits that revitalize our relationship with God.
Yet, we cannot flourish in isolation. God has designed us in such a way that we need other people to flourish spiritually.
We cannot flourish in isolation.
All of these spiritual disciplines need to find an expression both in our personal lives, as well as in community. I would go as far as to say that; for all the disciplines we have discussed, an expression in community accelerates the effectiveness of that discipline in our personal lives.
Expressing a longing for God through worship and prayer in community, intensifies our personal desire for God.
Reflecting on Scripture together, helps us to understand Scripture better in our personal readings.
Seeking intimacy with God together, feeds our personal times of drawing closer to God.
Interceding together strengthens our personal time of prayer.
Even submission and confession can find expressions in community that help us to do this in our personal lives.
Learning from the first church
Today is Pentecost Sunday. And not only is Pentecost the celebration of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is also the birthday of the church!
After receiving the Holy Spirit, the disciples went out into the streets and told everyone about Jesus who was resurrected from the dead. This is what happened:
Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all. (Acts 2:41)
3,000 people put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that day, and so the first church began. What an incredible start!
In Acts 2:42-47 we see how they gathered.
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. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity — all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
At the heart of the early church was community. The early church was gathering in community around the message and the person of Jesus Christ. That’s the heart of community.
At the heart of the early church was community - gathering around the message and person of Jesus Christ.
The Greek here uses the word koinonia, often translated as ‘fellowship’. This indicates a deep connectedness and belonging together. Paul uses the same word to describe the connectedness of us with the Holy Spirit and how the church relates to Jesus Christ.
The early church gathered around Jesus in five different ways, which is what we’ll be discussing in the rest of this message. I hope this will inspire you for the micro-church meetings you are going to have in the coming time in your small groups.
1) Learning about Jesus together
The early church gathered in homes and they devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles. Now, we don’t know how they received the teaching exactly, but I think that the apostles were quite busy going around all these houses to teach. I’m sure that if they had internet, they would surely be using video messages.
It’s fascinating to see that their learning was a learning together. Learning together often goes much deeper than learning alone. You will learn when you absorb ideas and information – through a book or video or podcast for example. Yet, through talking about it, hearing the perspectives of others, and wrestling through some of the questions that come up, you can truly apply and integrate what you are learning.
And certainly, when it comes to following Jesus, something that is so set in the reality of our daily lives, it is best learned in community with others.
2) Worshiping Jesus together
Their worshiping together happened in the Temple, which probably was a larger setting. But the point is here that it was something they did together – as a community.
There is something about worshiping together that is just so powerful. And I’m sure that this is something you’ve been missing over the last couple of months.
You know, I’ve been at concerts and conferences with some of the best worship leaders in the world. And sure, those times were inspiring and beautiful and inspiring. But I always found myself longing for the people in my church back home. And even though that worship setting wasn’t as slick and perfect as what I was part of there, in my church, I could worship with my people – I belonged to that community. And there is no worship setting in the world that could replace that.
The church is a worshiping community, and when we gather, we worship.
3) Remembering what Jesus did together
At the heart of the gatherings of the early church, was the celebration of the Lord’s supper. In whatever they were learning and doing, the heart of their gathering was remembering that Jesus died on the cross to for the forgiveness of sins and to install a new covenant. This practice put the death and resurrection of Jesus at the center of what they were about.
Through the bread and the wine of communion, you declare that your reason for gathering is that you have found new life in Jesus Christ. It’s a beautiful way to put Jesus and what He has done for us front and center in our gatherings.
The early church would actually combine celebrating communion with sharing a larger meal. Let me encourage you to do that as well. Turn every Sunday into a potluck and get to know each other better as you share a meal.
4) Praying to Jesus together
I love how prayer is so central in the first chapters of Acts.
Between the Ascension of Jesus and the outpouring of the Spirit, what did the disciples do? Pray.
Whenever the people of God gathered, what did they do? Pray!
After Peter and John were arrested because they were telling about Jesus, what did the church do? Pray!
When Peter and John were released and went back to their community, what did they do? Pray! And the earth shook because of it.
More than ever, now is the time for the church to seek God’s face together. We’re in times of great uncertainty, of cultural change, of personal need and in desperate need of direction. Let’s again become a people of prayer.
It’s through prayer that the Spirit binds us together. Flat on your face in the presence of God, we realize how equal we are. When we seek God’s direction together, lift up each other’s burdens and minister to each other, intercede for our city and our church – God is strengthening our sense of communion with each other.
5) On mission for Jesus
The last sentence of this quick summary of the practice of the first church is this: And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
It is clear that this was a community with a purpose! They didn’t just gather because it was so nice to gather – and certainly not to escape the evil world outside! Their gathering and the fellowship they shared as a way that they were testifying of the Good News.
As we are heading into this time of re-entering into gathering as a church, but without a clear perspective of what this will all look like in the future, I want you to know that God can use any model for gathering to expand His Kingdom, as long as there is authentic community going on.
The model for gathering ultimately is not what makes a church healthy or what makes a church grow. Leaders in the church world have been saying for a long time that we need to married to the mission, but only dating our model.
This is our mission statement: “Building a community of disciples of Jesus, with a passion to worship God, who care for one another and bring God’s love into a broken world”
In the coming months, our model for church will be changing – and probably keep on changing as we manoeuvre through these times. Yet, our mission will stay the same, our values will stay the same, most importantly: our Lord and Saviour will be the same!