Scripture Acts 2:42-47 A Day in the life of the first Christians:
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Message “Discipleship Reconsidered” Rev. Renfrew
How much do people remember from my preaching each week? I always wonder. Probably a lot less than I would hope, and, sometimes, I have to think real hard to remember what I preached about last week, too! Don’t worry, this time I do remember last week’s message. It was about “treasure” and we even had my granddaughter’s treasure chest on the communion table to help us understand what treasure Jesus shares with you.
Today I am preaching from one of my favorite Bible texts, Acts 2:42-47. In fact, I preached on this text in March, but with the virus taking all of our attention, I am sure no one remembers! I think it was our last service before we closed down.
So why preach about it again? Can’t I move on to something else? The reason for returning to this text is that I am going to RE-START the Vital Congregations Initiative today, a seven-week series of messages about the things that make for a vital congregation.
What is a VITAL congregation? The word VITAL comes from Latin and it means “life” or “life-giving”. During these seven weeks, and beyond, we will look at the things that make our congregation vital and life-giving within our membership, and beyond that in the community around us.
There are some definitions for the word “vital”, and you have my permission to look them up on your cell phone while I preach about this, but I will boil it down to this: a vital congregation is one that you want to keep coming back to. It’s energetic, enthusiastic, magnetic, it’s meaningful and it’s fun. I have visited many churches in my time that were the opposite of vital, they were dying and deadening. Of course, those congregations do many of the same things that vital churches do, prayers, preaching, singing, but the vitality is missing. It might be the first thing you as a guest would notice: instead of thinking as you enter, “Wow, what an awesome party!”, instead you wonder, “who just died?”
In a way, I am grateful to have served several churches that were dying long before I came through the door. The experience enables me to see where the vitality is or isn’t when I walk into a church.
VCI names seven of these vital qualities and practices. So, in these seven coming weeks I am going to address them one at a time, what are called the “Seven Marks of Vitality”. Today, the first Mark is this: “Lifelong Discipleship Formation”. A vital congregation takes training of disciples very seriously! Are you ready, let’s grab this one and run with it. Notice I didn’t say let’s study discipleship or ponder discipleship. Instead, let’s run with it.
Our text from Acts gives a vivid description of life in the early church, and as far as I am concerned it is the first lesson in discipleship. It describes what disciples do. People came together, they set their minds to important things, they cared for each other, they were always looking outward, and a Spirit beyond description lit a fire in their hearts. It’s the very kind of thing I want to be a part of as a Christian, not just to be there, not just to be interested, but to be a disciple, one whom Jesus himself has called into action.
Now, this key question, “are you a disciple?” Don’t just say “yes” because you’ve been here for a long time. Say “yes” if have committed yourself to Christ, showing his love, reaching out, and widening his circle. Say “yes” if you think you have a story to tell that will excite others. Say “yes”, even if you don’t have it all figured out.
When my granddaughter was very young, maybe 4 years old, I was painting my shed and she was watching me, she felt this incredible desire welling up inside of her, and she asked if she could help me paint. Why not, here’s a brush, here’s the paint, give it a try! That’s what a disciple does, awesome, meaningful things, and someone else comes by and wants to join in. Is our church a congregation of disciples eager to show the world what we have discovered in Jesus. I sure do hope so. I have a beautiful photo of that 4 year old with paint brush in hand and a huge smile. That’s discipleship right there!
But let’s consider what the opposite of a disciple is. A sinner, a loser, a reprobate, a bully, an obstacle, a problem? Maybe, but I think a better description of the opposite of a disciple is someone who wants watch Jesus from the sidelines, watch without actually getting involved. Sure, enjoy the friendship, enjoy the music, enjoy the good food, but hold yourself back.
So there’s that key question, “Are you a disciple?” Do you want to get back to being a disciple? Do you want to become a disciple?” We are here to help you run with those questions, that’s most basic purpose as a church, to inspire and shape new disciples.
It’s not just being a disciple, it’s being engaged in a lifelong experience of discipleship formation. You don’t just sign a commitment card and you’re in. It is all about learning, growing, and then learning and growing some more. This is the “formation” part. We train, equip and encourage ourselves to improve our discipleship skills. We’re never done with that. For example, if discipleship involves teaching children, we are in the process of re-thinking and re-imagining what Sunday School will look like in months to come in this time of face masks and physical distancing .
Jesus did not seem to have an elaborate strategy for finding disciples. He just shows up and sees who is there and who has potential. It began on a lake shore long ago. Jesus was watching four men fishing from their boats. And it struck him then and there, these are the people I need. They are hard-working, they know how to find fish, so I bet they know how to find people, too. And they have to cooperate with others to get the job done.
If Jesus happened to come by later today, he would see something in you, I am sure. What would excite him about someone like you? Today, he invites you to get on board!