I never tire of reading the New Testament book of Acts. My favourite part of the story is the account of the many journeys the apostle Paul made with his friends across the Mediterranean world of the first century. Far from being the modern package holiday these were bold adventures into unknown and sometimes unforgiving territory. The primary aim was the advancement of the Kingdom of God. The results were remarkable; individuals encountered Christ by faith and local Christian communities were established to the extent that it was said that this apostolic team "turned the world upside down."
As they plant churches and revisit them, I am struck by the two clear objectives that guide the task. They seek to strengthen and encourage the local church. On at least ten occasions those twin goals are highlighted. "There they met with the believers and encouraged them once more" (Acts 16:40). "Paul went back through Galatia and Phrygia, visiting and strengthening all the believers" (Acts 18:23).
If this was such a priority at the birth of the church, then, why is it important, how is it practically achieved and what might it look like in practice today?
Why is it important?
The Christian life can be tough and we need encouragement to stay the course. Opposition to the faith may arise and we need to be strengthened to hold fast to God.
How is it achieved? My highly personal reflections...
It will be achieved through a ministry:
- Saturated in prayer
- Built on the teaching of God's Word
- Committed to genuine fellowship
- That releases the gift potential of the church
- That fosters a spirit of worship
- That recounts God's work in people's lives
- That encourages a missional approach to living
Admittedly much flesh needs to be put on these bones but I believe these considerations are a start.
What might it look like today?
It will begin when Christians let go of the consumer mentality that is evident in much of contemporary church life and begin to invest time in other people. Again, a thought in seed form!
At the end of Acts we find Paul travelling to Rome to stand trial. Just outside the city the Roman Christians meet him. Luke records, "When Paul saw them, he was encouraged and thanked God" (Acts 28:15).
What would church culture be like if our lives drew this response from other Christians?