By Michael C. Mack
The churches in our movement are “devoted to the restoration of New Testament Christianity, its doctrine, its ordinances, and its fruits.” That is stated in the indicia of every issue of Christian Standard—but what about its processes? What can churches today learn from the start of the church on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 about how to plant and grow the church?
An Acts 2 church begins in community: “They were all together in one place” (v. 1). Biblical community is the context or environment in which God does his work. This simple act of gathering together in community was in obedience to Jesus’ command; they were to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the gift and power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4). They were not to start the ministry of the first church until God made the first move.
What were these disciples doing as they waited together? Acts 1:14 provides one vital answer: “They all joined together constantly in prayer.” Prayer always precedes planning and performing. But as Tom Petty put it, “The waiting is the hardest part.” We are inclined to move, to act, to get to work, to carry out the mission. But Jesus told the first disciples, including impetuous Peter and sons of thunder John and James, to wait, to pray, and to trust God to provide what was needed.
The fact that the disciples did wait is evidence they had finally learned the way of Jesus. It likely happened in the garden the night before Jesus went to the cross. Jesus prepared for what was to come through prayer, as he always did. He wanted his disciples to do the same, so that when the time of testing came, they’d be ready. How unfortunate they failed to pray and failed the test. And then they responded to the situation in a normal, human, fleshly way, fight and flight, when they should have responded with faith. So should we. The only way we can respond with faith and be prepared for God’s next move is by spending time with God in prayer.
On the Day of Pentecost, the disciples’ waiting, praying, and trusting soon—and suddenly—paid off. The Holy Spirit arrived and began to move (Acts 2:2). Nothing that happened after the Spirit showed up would have happened without it. And yet, the disciples’ waiting was not passive. They had waited in anticipation for God to move so that when it happened, whatever it was, they would be prepared to go.
What began in inward community and upward prayer and worship now overflowed into outward proclamation of God’s Word (vv. 14-40). The first sermon of the new church resulted in repentance, baptism, forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and a call upon their lives from God (v. 38, 39).
The results were amazing. We see the first of many statistics provided by Luke: About 3,000 were baptized and added to their number that day. (That number grew to about 5,000 men by the time of Acts 4:4, and the church continued to increase in number, sometimes rapidly: Acts 5:14; 6:1, 7; 9:31; 16:5.)
These results certainly came about through great preaching, people using their God-given gifts, and their committed work in carrying out his mission, but it all started with a simple act of obedience in waiting, praying, and trusting. Then God’s Spirit took over. This is still how God brings results in his church.
This issue focuses on Pentecost—the beginning of the church that we steadfastly continue today. You’ll read articles on baptism, how one church is growing through the unique opportunities God is providing, new member gatherings, how the church can maintain its first love, and six church spotlights. I believe you’ll gain new insights and ideas for your ministry in these articles.
And as Luke did throughout the book of Acts, we provide numerical updates on how the church is doing. The tables of statistics for all churches that completed our 2019 survey (which we provide on our website this year) certainly do provide figures for how individual churches are doing, but more importantly, our survey results show how we are doing as a movement. We’ll write more about that in our June issue, but many signs point to the fact that we are doing well overall as a movement.
A record number of churches completed our survey this year, and I want to thank every single one that participated. By doing so you are partnering with us as we seek to help churches carry out Jesus’ mission. I believe churches can use the information to work together in unity with other churches and to gather ministry ideas. Also, the more churches of all sizes that participate, the more reliable are the findings we get from the survey.
We also thank Kent Fillinger, who is diligent in developing the survey each year and then gathering and interpreting the results. If you did not participate in the 2019 survey, I encourage you to do so for 2020! And if you did not receive a notice about this survey earlier this year, please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll add you to our list for next year!
What began in that first church in Acts 2 continues today in our churches. We still actively wait in anticipation, but in a different way. Now we wait for Jesus to return, and it may be any day. Until that day, let’s keep praying and trusting. And surely, just like back then, the Lord will continue to add to our number daily those who are being saved.