Church Alive: 4 Vital Signs of a Church on Mission
What come to your mind when you hear the word church?
I’m not sure what images come to mind, but I’m sure it’s much different than how they understood that word in the first century.
When it began, the church was essentially a movement. It was a movement built around one conviction: that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of the entire world, the only way that sinners can be reconciled to their Creator, and the rightful King of every last inch of the universe.
Because of what they believed about Jesus, they boldly proclaimed a message of repentance and faith to everyone.
Over the years, something strange has happened. People stopped thinking about the church as a movement of people and they started to think of church as a place that you went to for religious services.
Now, the danger of the church in every age is to cease being a movement of the gospel and become instead just a ministry that provides service to people, or even worse, a place where people simply attend.
By definition, movements should be moving. And healthy churches will be moving with the message they have been entrusted with.
So a church is not a place that you go. It’s a movement that you’re a part of.
You say, “Well, how do I know if I’m part of the church in that way? How do I know if my church is movement, not just a location? What are the marks of a church that is alive and fulfilling God’s mission?
At the end of Acts 2, we find 4 characteristics of the the early church - 4 vital signs of a church on mission.
There was a high commitment to studying and learning God’s Word. We might try to set the heart and mind up as enemies, but the Bible does not.
We need to be filled with the Spirit, but we also need to be students of the Word.
You are not a robot. The Holy Spirit doesn’t program you to say things to people that you don’t understand yourself.
The Holy Spirit works through the Scriptures. He opens our eyes to the truth of God. He helps us behold the glory of Christ in the Word, and He changes us with that truth. Then, after we have been changed, we are equipped to share it with others.
This is why we should never stop growing in our knowledge of God’s Word. This is why we should never stop reading it, studying it, and applying it.
To ignore the history of how God’s people have studied the Scriptures and prayed and memorized Scripture is to arrogantly assume that we have all the answers.
We don’t. And we’re never going to. So we need to keep diving deeper and deeper.
Fellowship wasn’t just something that they waited to happen. It was something they pursued. It was something they were committed to.
They were accountable to one another. They had a sense of responsibility to care and support one another.
And according to Acts 2:46, they did this daily. They had regular meetings where they studied the Scriptures, loved each other, and worshipped God. They did on a small-scale in these groups what they would do on a large scale when the entire church gathered together.
The believers in the early church were not casual acquaintances. They knew each other well enough to know when someone had a spiritual or physical need.
Are you known like that in your church?
In the early church, conversion was not seen individualistically. When a person was saved, they were added to the number of the church. They were incorporated into a deep relationship to the church body, not just to Christ.
The point is not to argue for one specific practice (like small groups) or one specific understanding of church membership. The point is to understand that regular, Christ-centered fellowship is essential to a healthy church. And it’s essential to fulfilling our mission as a church.
According to Acts 2, these worship gatherings were marked by two things - awe and joy.
These are two wonderful descriptions of God-centered worship. It is filled with awe and joy. We are struck by who God is and what He has done, and because of that, we are moved to joyful repentance, praise, and thanksgiving.
Earlier in the chapter, we get a vivid example of this kind of worship. We read that all of the disciples were speaking of the wonderful works of God. This was not a long monologue from one person. This is more like a round of prayers, Scripture readings, and testimonies.
What we have here in Acts 2 is a worship service for the nations. You can read the list in verses Acts 2:9-11. There are at least 15 nations represented in the audience.
And what is the content of their message? It is the wonderful works of God. The Greek there literally means the “mega-deeds”. They were proclaiming the mega-deeds of God.
All of these disciples were declaring the redemptive acts of God in history. They were recounting the gospel story.
They were worshipping God together. This God-centered worship is vital to the health of the church’s mission.
As a result of these other vital signs, Acts 2:47 tells us that people were being added to the church daily. These people were being drawn in through the faithful witness of God’s people. God’s people sharing God’s Word with others.
This last vital sign is closely connected to the one before it. If there is no worship, there will be no witness.
Edmund Clowney puts it this way: “The gospel message must be celebrated before it is communicated.”
Too often we make a false distinction between evangelism and worship. We think that a worship service is for believers and an evangelistic service is for unbelievers.
But in Acts 2, we learn that our worship is one of the most effective ways that we witness to non-Christians who are visiting.
We should welcome non-Christian friends to come to church with us, and we should pray that our heartfelt and joyful worship would draw them to our Savior.
If the goal of evangelism is simply to get people to “convert”, then all we need to do is transfer information to them. This is better done one-on-one. But if the goal of our evangelism is to turn a person into a worshiper – someone who has been transformed by God to delight and love Him – then it would be better to show them the gospel in the context of a people who are praising God together.
It is our unity in worship that is most compelling to unbelievers. It’s not our clever arguments or winsome smiles.
But when they are faced with a diverse and imperfect group of people who are alive with worship and unified around a common goal, that is compelling. That is the foundation for effective evangelism.
The worship and witness of the early believers in Acts 2 is a beautiful picture of a church on mission.
On the day of Pentecost, the disciples are filled with the Spirit, and they began to witness boldly. Then, something incredible happens. As the disciples spoke God’s Word in one language, the people heard it their native language.
Think about that. The first “worship service” in the New Testament is completely multi-lingual and multi-cultural. It’s a powerful reminder that the unity of the Spirit transcends all racial, national, and linguistic barriers.
Many commentators have pointed out that Acts 2 is a reversal of the curse of Babel.
In Genesis 11, a miracle of cursing breaks people apart through division despite their original shared language. Why? Because they were trying to make a name for themselves. This always leads to disunity and alienation.
But in Acts 2, a miracle of blessing unites people through the proclamation of a message that is miraculously heard by people who speak different languages. Why? Because this message is about lifting up the name of Jesus.
Here’s what this means for us. We must work as much as we can to show unity with Christians across racial barriers.
It is the mark of a Spirit-filled church that people get along inside the church who could not get along outside of it.
This radically diverse mission of the church will never be completely realized this side of eternity. We find out later in the Book of Acts that the disciples themselves did not fully understand the implications.
But we must still fight for this unity in our church. When we do, it will give us amazing opportunities to witness.