Can you imagine what it would have been like to witness the incredible day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit of God was unleashed upon the first-century church? With the sound of rushing winds and the appearance of tongues of fire, the church was supernaturally anointed and given great power, passion, and boldness. In that moment, the church was unleashed upon the world . . . and it turned the world upside down.
I believe we Christians read about the New Testament church in the book of Acts with a sense of awe and excitement. I believe there is a longing inside each of us to be like the early believers who were fueled and empowered by the Holy Spirit. We’re inspired by the way they took the gospel fearlessly to the four corners of the earth, defied the religious and political norms of the time, and impacted the world with the good news of Jesus Christ. We want to know, understand, and harness, in some way, the success of the first-century church. We want to turn the world upside down just as they did.
But sometimes we’re afraid to rock the boat, or offend someone, or get “in trouble” with the powers that be. Maybe sometimes we just don’t know the practical steps we could take to make a difference for God. So we become ineffective and satisfied with the status quo . . . far from what the Lord intended for his bride, the church.
How Do We Get Back?
Fortunately for us, we don’t need a time machine to get back to the church in the New Testament and discover the keys to its bold and victorious participation in the Great Commission. We just need to hop in a car, plane, or train and head to the 2011 North American Christian Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio, July 5-8.
The 2011 convention will feature such speakers as Dave Stone, Mike Breaux, Francis Chan, Anita Renfroe, Miles McPherson, and Jeff Walling. Our theme is “Unleashed: The Church Turning the World Upside Down.” We will examine what happened when the Holy Spirit was unleashed upon the first-century church as described so vividly in Acts. What resulted was widespread and difficult to contain or silence, for the power of God had been poured out upon his people. It defied the cultural and religious norms of the time. It involved some of the most dynamic ministry the world has ever seen.
Acts tells us the early church was focused and effective: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. . . .With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all” (4:32, 33). With those verses as a foundation, the 2011 NACC has been designed to inspire a Holy Spirit-empowered church that engages every segment of culture and changes lives for Christ!
A Very Special Lineup
With my opening-session sermon I will remind NACC attendees that when the Holy Spirit was unleashed upon the first-century church, its mission was very clear: to impact the world, to have influence, and to move throughout Jerusalem, Samaria, Judea, and beyond, lifting up Jesus to a lost and dying world.
The early disciples caused quite a commotion with their message, commitment, and passion. Despite the political and religious authorities saying, “No, you can’t do that,” Jesus’ followers defied this oppression and didn’t care if they were thrown in jail for the sake of the gospel. They truly turned the world upside down, and it would never be the same.
Daryl Reed from DC Regional Christian Church in Washington, D.C., will talk about the beautiful kaleidoscope effect that resulted from the disciples fulfilling God’s plan to go into all nations (Acts 1:8) and make the gospel available to all people groups (Acts 10). The church must take the lead in including people from all walks of life if we are to reach as many people for Christ as possible.
Greg Nettle of RiverTree Christian Church in Massillon, Ohio, will show us how we make innumerable followers of Jesus by mirroring the example of the early church in Acts 2:41 and 4:4, which show us thousands of people being saved. Eventually, there were too many people to count. This session will cast a vision for the local church being empowered to reach entire cities and grow beyond our wildest imaginations.
Mike Breaux from Heartland Community Church in Rockford, Illinois, will discuss the pandemonium that ensued when God moved in the midst of the first Christians in such a powerful and exciting way. Acts 4:13-22 tells just the start of the early church confronting culture.
By highlighting Acts 4:23-31, in which the first-century church was shaken by the power of prayer and the Holy Spirit, Phil Allen of Shepherd of the Hills Church, Porter Ranch, California, will assert that the power demonstrated more than 2,000 years ago should be seen in the church today. The Holy Spirit and prayer are essential in seeing God work in miraculous ways.
Dave Stone from Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, will emphasize the lavishness demonstrated by the first followers of Jesus in Acts 4:32-37. The gospel was spread in the first century by believers who gave lavishly and sacrificially. He will challenge us to see the needs of those around us and be willing to give up anything and everything so the church can impact the world.
Next, Jeff Vines of Christ’s Church of the Valley in San Dimas, California, will describe the hazardous faith the believers in Acts 5:17-42 possessed. Despite enormous risk, threats, severe floggings, and even imprisonment, these early disciples continued to preach, teach, persevere, and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. We must understand there will always be risk and danger—it’s a part of our calling. But when we truly grasp that God is with us always, we will be inspired to have greater boldness than ever before.
Francis Chan, best-selling author and sought-after speaker, will focus on the kinetic power of the gospel we see in Acts 13:44-49. When the Word of God was unleashed, it could not be stopped. Though it was rejected by the Jews, it simply diverted its course like a powerful, rushing river and flowed to the Gentiles. Rejection, fear, or calloused hearts cannot slow the work of God. We as Christians have this supernatural power within us to reach the world for Jesus Christ.
Jeff Walling from Providence Road Church of Christ in Charlotte, North Carolina, will wrap up the convention by magnifying the unequivocal task we have before us, a task that the early church described in Acts 20:22-24 fully embraced. We have a charge and an undeniable calling of the Holy Spirit to go into the entire world—regardless of hardship—and to testify and preach the message of salvation to a lost and dying world.
Let’s Turn the World Upside Down
It’s time for today’s church to become the New Testament church, valiantly standing before religious and political leaders, spreading in size and impact—in spite of persecution—and influencing the world by bringing the light of Jesus Christ and the message of salvation to all who call upon his name.
As seen in Acts, God’s plan is for the church to be a supernatural entity fueled by a passion to reach the lost. Therefore, the church should comprise a group of sold-out people who do whatever it takes to impact the world. The first-century church beckons us from the pages of Acts to follow its example, and this upcoming NACC will ignite a fire in each of us to do just that.
I hope you will join us in Cincinnati at the 2011 North American Christian Convention. I eagerly anticipate seeing God unleash his Spirit upon his church and then seeing the church unleashed upon the world. God’s people can and will transform the world!
Dudley Rutherford, president of the 2011 NACC, serves as senior pastor of Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch, California.