As a church, we believe there is a God-given vision, given to PD, the planting pastor, many years ago, to see this congregation grow to 1000+
We believe that there is a coming move of the Spirit, and we believe that in this time, where everything is being shaken, in different ways, whether through coronavirus, or exposure of hypocrisy in society with systemic racism and racial prejudice, or challenging of immoral pressures – like the recent rejection of amendments to the bill on domestic violence, which would have seen the liberal extension of abortion laws to 28 weeks at home via ‘self-medication’ with an abortion pill, we believe that God is preparing his church to be ready to absorb and manage, and facilitate the coming move of the Spirit, to be Revival Ready!
Facilitation, management of what God is doing is nothing new.
When God was delivering his people from slavery in Egypt, they all fled together, taking with them whatever they could manage. God did miracles of deliverance, allowing a million plus people to cross the Red Sea on dry land, destroying their oppressors who came after them.
But even in their freedom, as they faced new challenges, crossing through the wilderness, there were those who wanted to go back to how things were – Exodus 16:2,3
In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat round pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.’
God then miraculously provided food for them – manna – which means, ‘What is it?’ Something that looked like coriander seed, but which when prepared tasted like wafers made with honey, or olive oil depending on how it was cooked. But the people weren’t satisfied with that…
The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost – also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!’
God gave them over to the lust of their flesh, and overwhelmed them with his provision – quail driven in by wind off the sea v31ff falling all around them around 3 feet deep – for as far as people could walk in a day!
That’d be a bit like some of us moaning and complaining about the lack of corporate sung worship in gathering together and the Lord saying, well if you so want it, I’m going to deluge you with loads of gifted musicians and you are going to engage in nothing else but sung worship for the next month!
Tell the people: ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow, when you will eat meat. The LORD heard you when you wailed, “If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the LORD will give you meat, and you will eat it. You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, or ten or twenty days, but for a whole month – until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it – because you have rejected the LORD, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?”’
That’d be like the Lord saying to us, well you’re not just gonna have sung worship for a Sunday, not just for a weekend conference, not even for a week long conference, but continuously, every day for the next month… and nothing else….
Even when God is powerfully at work, we as human beings fail and fall short. In the midst of the tensions of the people grumbling and complaining and of God promising to meet their need, God poured out his Spirit. God is not limited by our failure
So Moses went out and told the people what the LORD had said. He brought together seventy of their elders and made them stand around the tent. Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took some of the power of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied – but did not do so again.
God’s Spirit being at work doesn’t mean there aren’t tensions!
For Moses there may have been grumbling against him and Aaron and against God, but there were also arguments going on between people, and he had to support them.
Paul writing to the Philippian Christians, possibly the church he most delighted in, and had the most praise for, had to say in Philippians 4:2
‘I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with one another in the Lord.’
Trying to manage tensions and work through human hearts and longings can be difficult.
If you have a Bible available, turn with me to Exodus 18:13-26
READ Exodus 18:13-26
As human beings we are all different. As a result, we don’t all get on well all of the time, and sometimes there are tensions we need to work through.
If we are to facilitate and manage a growing church we need to recognise like Moses did that everything can’t go through one single leader. There needs to be a whole series of leaders at different levels operating in different ways, who may well have to consult with senior leadership at different times
There are things that we need to do if we are to be rooted to thrive as a body of God’s people, to be Revival Ready.
In times of revival historically, there have been those who have been disapproving of what is going on – those who haven’t liked the emotionalism and excessive singing – those who haven’t liked the manifestations of the Spirit and have said its emotional hype, or even demonic – those who haven’t liked the outpouring of spiritual gifts because they had no theological framework for them, or experience of them and it was easier to say, they can’t be of God….
In periods of revival there have been churches that are not affected by the revival, because they have rejected what God is doing, preferring to stay in Egypt as it were.
At other times revivals burned out, because everything was focused on one charismatic leader and everyone looked just to them – when revival continued it was because the body ministry was effective.
The revival which took place under the ministry of John Wesley and others was marked by effective body ministry!
John and others may have been preaching powerfully under the anointing of the Spirit, but what had the impact was alongside them, there were members of the congregation who would come alongside others who were showing that they were responding to the work of the Spirit – either because they were broken with their sin, because they were released in tears or laughter, they had fallen under the power of the Spirit or were shaking, they were bursting forth in praise and so on – these folk operating in body ministry brought them to the Lord, led them to give their lives to Jesus if they hadn’t done that yet, or ministered to them in other ways as appropriate, whilst everything else was going on around them.
This is why I love and believe in body ministry (aside from the fact that it’s the biblical model for church life – which we’ll look at, and live out in coming weeks at Thrive at Five – Ephesians 4:11-13
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ.
Do you know why Methodists are called Methodists?
It was because they were methodical, they followed a method and they stuck to it!
John Wesley believed wholeheartedly in body ministry and he went back to the model of the early Christian church that we see portrayed in Acts.
As well as the big gatherings for worship and teaching, all of the church were gathered in small groups, where they loved, supported and challenged one another to be true to their calling as disciples of Jesus. These gatherings weren’t just a nice social time. They were methodical in discipling one another to grow in Jesus. They were transparent and honest and direct – how are you doing living this teaching out in your life? How can we help you, help one another to live out this teaching better? They had clear structure and intention in their small group gatherings. They had method. They were methodical in putting it into practice – and so they became known as Methodists!
Turn with me if you would, in your Bibles, to Acts 2:42-47.
In one short paragraph, the life and function of the early church is summed up brilliantly.
I, along with many others, believe that through this time of shaking this is what God is calling his church back to – what we are supposed to be about – what our priorities need to be about if we are to be able to be Revival Ready, if we are to be able to facilitate the effective and fast growth of the church which there is the potential to see come in to being as God moves in reviving power again in the coming days.
READ Acts 2:42-47
The early Christians were devoted practically to 4 things:
- The apostles’ teaching (learning, growing, understanding their faith – all the truth there was to know about Jesus, about God, about his Kingdom and what it meant to live as disciples of Jesus)
- To fellowship (they loved being together – they spent time together – they didn’t just bounce off one another briefly for 20 minutes over coffee after a service – their love for one another was so great that they were financially committed to one another – giving sacrificially to ensure everyone’s needs were met, even down to selling investments, property, possessions. (Praise God for someone who has given sacrificially to help us ensure that we can adequately pay our preschool staff during the early part of the Autumn term when numbers of children and funding are reduced – praise God for improving numbers – but we still need more – pray on!)
- Fellowship meant that they didn’t just come together for the spiritual stuff, though that was at the heart of everything they did – they shared life together, eating together in one another’s homes.
- They devoted themselves to the breaking of bread – to focusing their hearts and minds on the Lord Jesus Christ, taking bread and wine and remembering his sacrifice for them – this wasn’t something they just did in a special ceremony ‘at church’ – the indication is that as they shared meals together in one another’s homes, they regularly ‘broke bread’ as part of their meals – as lockdown eases and it’s possible to welcome another household into your home, why not think about inviting others around, sharing a meal, and breaking bread together?
- And they devoted themselves to prayer. Prayer is key to any move of God.
- 2 Chronicles 7:14
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
God is moving his people to pray at this time. It’s been great to see an increase in prayer in the life of the church over this period – going from possibly one prayer meeting a month to now 4 a week – and there’s room for more! If you haven’t come and prayed yet in our 7-11 Prayer meetings, come along and join in in seeking after God, in prayer and intercession to see God’s Kingdom coming and his will being done; to pour out our hearts in agony; to pour out our hearts in seeking cleansing and renewing, in repentance; to pour out our hearts to be the people God has called us to be.
Psalm 133 says
How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity… for there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life for evermore.
And in Acts 2, we see that being lived out. As the disciples devoted themselves to those 4 things – the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread & prayer – they lived in unity and the Lord bestowed his blessing
V43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles
V47 They were ‘enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.’
Don’t you just want to be in that place??!!
The first signs of it are here. An openness to the Gospel in a way that there hasn’t been always. But we need to be Methodical if we are to live this out.
In this short paragraph in Acts 2 we see the model for church life in the early church. They met together in the large – gathering in the temple courts for worship – and they met together in the small – in people’s homes.
If we are going to see this church grow, we need to do the same. We need to release the body into ministry, building one another up, being devoted to teaching and equipping from the 5-fold ministry, then discipling and helping one another grow and walk closely with the Lord as we gather in small groups. We don’t have any isolation if we are all part of a small group committed to one another, living out these 4 things from Acts 2, because we love and serve one another.
I’ve used the term ‘small groups’ because the adjective there is key – people only grow and develop if the group is small, otherwise the stronger personalities, the more mature and experienced Christians will dominate the group.
Jesus’ small group was 12, with a core of 3. Moses split the million plus of God’s people down into groups of 10 (which yes, did meet in larger ways too, but functionally operated in those small groups). What they did was methodical, just like John Wesley’s approach to structuring the Methodist movement was methodical.
Observationally over the years, I have seen that the smaller a group is the more effectively people grow and develop in their walk with God and in developing their gifts. In terms of growth and function, I would say groups of 6-8 are the most effective – the larger a group grows, the less participation and growth occurs amongst the members of the group.
Another observation is that they are most effective in terms of growth and discipleship when they are not based around peer or friendship groups or interest groups, or ministry teams – because in each of those situations it is so easy for that identification with the group to become focused on the social or the ministry (both of which should legitimately be there) so that the real aim of seeing everyone built up, all equipped for works of service, all growing in the knowledge of the Son of God and becoming mature and attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ is eclipsed by the other foci.
As our preparation to be Revival Ready, to help us all become effective disciples of the Lord Jesus, being discipled and discipling others, we need to look afresh at, relaunch, empower and release an effective small group structure in the life of the church, where we are all part of a small group – where we can all be devoted to the apostles’ teaching, we can all be devoted to fellowship and be blessed with enjoying the presence of one another; where we can break bread regularly, where we can share life, grow and develop in our gifts and walk with God; and where we can pray for and with one another.
At this time, the Government has put a restriction on gathering of small groups to 6 people from different households – or an unlimited number from 2 households – currently only 2 households can meet together within a home, but up to 6 outside of a home.
But 6 is a good number – 6-8 as I’ve mentioned earlier seems observationally to be the most effective functional size for a small group.
With our larger ‘connecting groups’, as I mentioned last week, some have been missed, or fallen through gaps somehow or another.
In the coming weeks we will be seeking to form multiple small groups across the life of the church, perhaps they could be ‘Thrive groups’… with the anticipation that they will grow and develop in how they function as Government guidance changes and develops in the coming weeks and months.
They will start off in that optimum size with the anticipation that they will grow and see others added to them, and when they get to around 12, they will multiply out to form new groups, allowing everyone to continue to grow and develop and to absorb others.
I call you church today to enter into the life of the new wineskins, in preparation for the new wine of the Spirit that the Lord is going to pour out. I call you to a new level of devotion to the Lord, devoted to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to breaking of bread and to prayer. I call you to a fresh commitment to the Lord, to one another and to making his presence known in the community, seeing his Kingdom come, so that we will have the joy of awe and wonder as God works amongst us with signs and wonders, and as he adds to our number daily those who are being saved.
I look forward to seeing some of you next Sunday evening for Thrive at Five, to Raine preaching next Sunday morning online, and to all that God has ahead for us.