hat is your dream church? Often when I ask this question in seminars on church growth or spirituality people describe to me a church filled with joy and unity, filled with power and grace, active and involved in the community, full of love for one another and ministry to each other—a church putting God first, praying to Him, studying His Word, worshipping and praising Him. That is also my dream church. It did exist once, and it can exist again. What will bring it back is the second coming of the Holy Spirit. This dream church is described in the book of Acts—a church devoted to fellowship and to the apostles’ teaching, a place of miracles, generous sharing, constant joyful worship, and continuous numerical growth (Acts 2:42-47).
Acts 2 not only captures our holy imagination, but speaks powerfully to the issue of practical application, illustrating the reorientation of life toward closeness to God. It teaches us four things about authentic Christian living: It is (1) centered on Jesus, (2) empowered by the Holy Spirit, (3) driven by spiritual practices, and (4) lived in balanced relationships. This can be pictured using a model I call the Jesus-centered life.
The Jesus-centered Life
Most of us live fragmented lives. Church life, home life, and devotional life (if we have it at all) are left unconnected, or weakly connected at best. We believe in work and entertainment, but we are not even sure how they can be spiritual in nature. We compartmentalize our lives into a string of unrelated activities.
But the life God wants us to live has Jesus as its center and organizing principle, and the Holy Spirit as its empowering agent. This means that work, church life, personal devotions, and family all belong to, and are centered in, Jesus. Such a life is possible only through the grace and power of the Holy Spirit.
But how does it work? James, one of my parishoners, worked as an engineer for a large corporation, with more than 100 people under his charge. He was also very active in the life of his church and community, often preaching, giving Bible studies, and going on mission trips. Seeing his love and passionate service for God and the way he was led and empowered by the Spirit, people often said to him, “James, you need to be a pastor.” His answer always was, “I already am a pastor. I’m just being paid by the marketplace instead of by the church.”
He continued: “No pastor is allowed to be in my engineering firm, but I am here every day. When my employees are hurting, I hurt with them. When they are rejoicing, I rejoice with them. I pray for them on a rotation basis and invite them over to my home.” He concluded by saying, “I am a disciple of Jesus Christ disguised as an engineer.” If you looked around James’s church, you would see 20 engineers who came to the Lord as a result of his ministry.
James’s commitment to Christ touched every area of his life. Imagine what God could do with millions like you, disciples of Jesus Christ disguised as nurses, teachers, physicians, even pastors.
We can summarize the Jesus-centered life as one that is lived with a passion for God’s presence, that continually experiences His power and grace and reflects His love and vision. Living the Jesus-centered life changes how we relate to people, to ourselves, and to time, possessions, pleasure, problems, and all of life.
The model pictured on this page visualizes this Jesus-centered life as a wheel: Jesus is the center of that wheel, my life is the outer rim, the Spirit is the spokes. The wheel’s four quadrants each represent one of the four areas of relationship: relationship with God, with others, with self, and with resources. This model is Christ-centered, Holy Spirit-empowered, and balanced in all its relational aspects.
Centered on Jesus
The life and example of the early church is a picture of the Lordship of Christ ruling over every area of life—religious, secular, emotional, and physical. It is the integration and balance of the individual and the corporate, the theological and the practical, the internal and the external, God and others, and always with Jesus in the center. Peter presented Jesus as Lord and Christ, to whom people must respond (see Acts 2:36). The life we see in Acts 2:42-47 expresses such a response.
Those first believers had an intense passion for God. Their souls were
preoccupied with His kingdom, His purpose, His love, His creation, His people, and His vision for the world. Acts 2 records their commitment to learn more about Jesus through study, to be connected to Him through prayer, and to tell the world about Him through evangelism and ministry. This radical life was seen in their religious observance, in their commitment to live or die for Jesus, but also in their time, their living, and their giving. A life centered on Jesus will be changed in every area.
One Wednesday afternoon I had lunch with Tammie, a godly and committed Christian physician from our church who owned her own clinic. After lunch I asked her to give me a tour of the clinic. At the end we knelt and prayed that God would bless her business and turn it into an opportunity for ministry to touch the lives of the people for eternity. I said to her, “Tammie, you are a Christian physician. Your work goes beyond physical healing into spiritual transformation. God will send you people that only you can touch and bring to know the love and grace of Jesus.”
Tammie, the daughter of a successful public evangelist and pastor, said to me, “I never thought about it this way.”
Whatever your profession, your home and business are your primary places of ministry. Turn them into opportunities to make a difference for the kingdom of God.
Empowered by the Holy Spirit
The early church was born out of a radical transformation that took place after the Holy Spirit descended upon it. When they “were filled with the Holy Spirit” the otherwise unremarkable disciples began to preach “as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:4). It was a far cry from the ragtag band of disciples we find in the Gospels. In the last week of Christ’s life it seemed that Jesus’ entire ministry had failed, and failed miserably. By Thursday and Friday of that week one disciple had denied Him, while others had run away (Mark 14:50-52; Luke 22:54-60). Yet this same group of people later turned the world upside down by their witness and boldness. The transformational difference was not because of leadership or evangelism seminars. It resulted from the transformational presence of the Holy Spirit: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you” (Acts 1:8).
As Ellen G. White explains: “The Christian’s life is not a modification or improvement of the old, but a transformation of nature. There is death to self and sin, and a new life altogether. This change can be brought about only by the effectual working of the Holy Spirit.”1
Many in the Adventist Church today sense that they have lost their passion for God and are not sure how to capture it again. Some voices direct us to go back to living as did our founders. Others urge relevance and love. Still others promote every new church growth program as the solution to our problems. But the church’s greatest need today is not more programs, techniques, books, or seminars. The greatest need of the church today is to be filled, guided, moved, and controlled by the Holy Spirit.
Driven by Spiritual Practices
Christian disciplines are spiritual practices that facilitate growth. The list recorded by Acts includes Bible study, prayer, ministry, evangelism, fellowship, giving and sharing, worship, praise, joy, and simplicity. The earliest Christians practiced these spiritual disciplines in order to advance in the Christian experience both individually and corporately. Though not all the disciplines are recorded in Acts 2, this passage has a higher concentration of spiritual disciplines than any other place in the Bible. For the sake of space, we will highlight only a few of the most prominent. The Acts 2 church was a learning church
, devoted to the apostles’ teaching; a fellowshipping church
, devoted to fellowship; and a praying church
, devoted to prayer (verse 42). It was a sharing church
, where believers had everything in common (verse 44); and a worshipping church
, meeting together in the Temple courts every day (verse 46). As a result, it was a growing
church (verse 47). The disciplines produced growth.
Lived in Balanced Relationships
The spirituality of Acts 2 nurtured four major relationships: with God, with others, with oneself, and with resources.
A Relationship With God:
The first converts’ worship and praise of God was done with the utmost devotion and commitment. God was the center of their lives, and they did everything to demonstrate that He was. Prayer, study, worship, and meditation are disciplines that encourage a healthy relationship with God.
Relationships With Others:
When the flame of the Spirit descended upon the
gathered disciples, it turned their attention outward to the crowd. Part of the wholistic and balanced portrait of spirituality we find in Acts 2 is a powerful description of the connection between the individual believer’s experience and the corporate Christian life. In this wholistic model we see that the believers had a powerful connection with God and also a strong and intentional bond with fellow believers and with their community, neighbors, and associates. Their lives were so desirable that they held the favor of all the people and “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (verse 47). Some disciplines helpful for developing health in this area of spirituality are fellowship, evangelism, ministry, encouragement, and love.
A Relationship With Self:
Starting with the initial repentance and including everything that came after, the character of the early church was predicated on the grace of God and individual choice. In biblical spirituality personal choice plays a crucial role. Just as the early converts responded to Peter’s call and then chose to devote themselves to the Christian way, so also is our spirituality partially dependent upon our choice. Our relationships with God and others are linked to our relationship with ourselves, our own Christ-centered commitment to live totally and whole-
heartedly for God’s glory. This is about allowing God to change us into His image (2 Cor. 3:17, 18; Rom. 12:1, 2). This relationship manifests itself in our lives through obedience, changing of heart and mind, guidance, personal growth, and otherwise.
A Relationship With Resources:
A fundamental component in spirituality is a dedication of the entire life to God. “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:1, 2). From this flows a change in how we relate to what we used to call our own: time, talents, money, possessions, and bodies. The wise use of resources, regular giving, and healthful living are demonstrations of a healthy relationship with resources. As an outgrowth of their relationships with God, others, and themselves, the early Christians had a radical relationship to resources, giving everything they owned, and spending all that they were for the kingdom. They gave because they loved God; they gave radically because they loved radically (2 Cor. 8:1-15).
The life God dreams about for us and His church is a Jesus-centered life, empowered by the Holy Spirit, driven by spiritual practices, and lived in balanced relationships. It is an admired life. The saints of Acts 2 were “having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47, NKJV).2
A good measure of how much your church is like an Acts 2 church is to ask, “If your church were removed from this community, would it be missed?” I have asked this question hundreds of times, and the most common answer was “I do not think they even know we are here.” How do you change that? What can your church do, learning from Acts 2, that would now make it hard for the people of your community to function without you?
1 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), p. 172.
2 Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
S. Joseph Kidder is an associate professor of Christian Ministry at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, and an experienced practitioner of what he preaches. This article was published May 10, 2012.