It seems that a lot of pastors and ministers use the early church as the ultimate model of what the church should be today. And honestly, I’m one of those pastors. What did it look like in its purest form? But I’m also the guy who thinks that the church of today has brought some great additions to the table. There need to be key underlying principles from scripture that we creatively build upon, in order to reach a culture today that is much different than the culture of Jesus’ day. So here’s your assignment before going any further with this article: Read Acts 2:42-47. Now on to the principles.
First of all, it starts with devotion. The Greek word for devoted actually reflects that they kept on devoting themselves to these key things. It wasn’t a one-time devotion to key things, never to be visited again. Rather, they were devoted and continually devoting themselves to the following:
The Apostles’ Teaching—What would the apostles teach? If we look at Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost, we see how he quoted the Old Testament in his message. It’s what Jesus would teach. It’s what the disciples would teach because they learned how to do ministry by being ministered by God. Today we need to have a commitment to teach the Bible. Topics are good and helpful, but there’s also a need to teach through books of the Bible. It was scary for me to hear a Bible professor at my old college tell me that the students he comes across in his Bible classes are pretty much biblically illiterate. We need to be teachers of the word—not just of the topics that will bring a crowd but also the teachings that will cause the crowd to become true disciples of Jesus.
Fellowship—Eugene Peterson’s take on this concept of fellowship is “the life together.” Awesome. In a time when “church-shopping” is the craze, the thing that’s lost by so many is the life together. I am not against Christians going to other churches to worship with other believers, but I’m concerned that the idea of having a church-home has been replaced by the church with the coolest events. We need to be purposeful in creating opportunities for true fellowship to happen within our ministries instead of only experiences to be had.
The Breaking of Bread—I understand that there are a couple of different interpretations of what Luke meant when he wrote these words down. Was he speaking about communion? Sharing a meal together? Honestly, I think both work, but I lean toward this referring to sharing communion together: to share the love feast and to continually remind themselves of Christ’s sacrifice for salvation. It can mean the sharing of meals (which we actually see later in the passage), but since it’s mentioned later, and that this was something that they devoted themselves to, I lead toward it being communion. So in response to this, we set up communion for our high schoolers to take every Wednesday night during the worship service. And every week, students are going over and remembering the sacrifice of Christ.
Prayer—And what can I say about this to expand on it? Nothing. Prayer is a necessity, not an option.
These are the four key things that the early church devoted themselves to as they began this journey with Jesus as the church. These principles are just a relevant today as they were back in the day, even for youth ministries. Let’s let the creative juices flow as creatively as the Creator, but let’s not lose the foundational pieces that make the experiences have substance and the activities have eternal value. We want God’s kingdom to be affected and for people to become true disciples of Jesus instead of experience-chasers and mere believers in God.