What are the activities of a missional community? What are the essential practices of those following and exploring Jesus together? Even if we are intentional in all areas and rhythms of life, how does a community learn the gospel, learn our identity, and get equipped for living the gospel in daily life? Essentially, what does a gospel community do together?
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. — Acts 2:42-47
The Nature of Activity
“If we do the right things, if we can manage the right blend of busyness, then we can truly be the type of community we want to be.”
“I want to be a community that does _____ more. If only we did more of that.”
“If we could just go back to the early church and live that way, then we would be the church. When is the church going to sacrifice and become radical?”
These are my quotes from years of angst, frustration, and genuine zeal to see the community of God reflect what I see in the Scriptures. However, they aren’t just my quotes, they also belong to an entire generation of Christians longing for community with a purpose. The description of Acts 2 has become our standard and hope. However, it is a false hope and a misunderstanding of the hope of the believers in Acts 2. Community didn’t save them and it wasn’t for the sake of community that they did these things.
They did not set out to create the most dynamic and authentic community. They repented, believed, and were baptized. They set out to believe the gospel and live like it is true in every aspect of their lives—to live as though Jesus conquered sin and death and they now have everything they need and everything to live for. This early church believes Jesus and repents from their idols, false kings, and weak saviors. Belief and repentance is evidenced in the Christian community and its activity in Jerusalem. The gospel is made visible through the seemingly intense activity.
This distinction is important because it is the Christ of Christian community that makes Christian community anything at all, not the practices. However, the activity and the doing of a community is crucial. The activity of a community reminds Christians of the gospel they believe in. The practices call them back to repentance, and truly, repentance is expressed in their obedience. The activities and doing of a community are only helpful in forming a Christian community if they are about Christ.
For example, a community prays because it believes God is personal, gracious, merciful, and abounding in love. You study the Apostle’s teaching or Bible because in it you hear the message of the gospel. You care for one another because you’ve been given everything in Christ and have everything to give. You share meals and your possessions because you believe you are part of God’s family rescued, saved, and adopted through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. A time of prayer responding to God’s grace with thankfulness and expectant requests, calls our hearts to believe God is gracious and good.
What makes Acts 2 a significant passage for us is it gives us a picture not of the ideal but the essentials. The practices of the Jerusalem church are the practices of discipleship and are affirmed in the way Jesus discipled and in the rest of the New Testament. The things this gospel community does are the things we will do if we are formed in the gospel. What are they exactly?
- Eating together
- Praying together
- Worshiping together
- Caring for one another
- Learning the Bible together
- Caring for the poor together
- Inviting others to repent and believe together
- Multiplying: being sent or sending
These are the core activities a community does together to learn the gospel, learn our identity, and get equipped for living the gospel in daily life. There’s nothing sexy or groundbreaking about this list. It’s a list of Christian basics that you would find in “new believer” classes all over the world. It sounds more like historical church than cutting edge strategy, because it is historical faith in practice. This is the stuff the Puritans wrote about, and Fansis outlined as he established his monastic orders.
These are the activities Christian community has always been known for but there have been two major factors in deteriorating these faithful practices: individualism and consumerism. We’ve taught people these are personal disciplines of spirituality, not communal functions of faith in the gospel. We’ve taught people to have their own quiet times, Bible studies, ‘calling’ for service, one-on-one individual evangelism, and to give generously to the multiplying of the church privately and separate from the community. Essentially, we have drifted from the ‘togetherness’ of faithful Christian living. Likewise, we’ve promoted prayer, learning from the Bible, evangelism, mission, and even serving the poor as something that ‘feeds’ the individual. We’ve made the activities of following Jesus something to be done to improve our lives, self-esteem, and health. The church has tried to convince people to care for the poor using the same methods Madison Avenue convinces us to buy cars and potato chips. “It will move you…It will bless you…It will inspire you.”
Ultimately, we’ve removed the gospel from these activities, we’ve lost the connection between prayer and the saving grace of Jesus. We don’t see how loving the poor is an overflow of God coming to the world to lay his life down for it. We’ve settled for individualistic practices and choices based on what ‘feeds’ us best—disjointed from the powerful intervention of God to restore the world. Throughout the book of Acts, we see early Christians, as a result of repentance and faith in Jesus, caring for one another, sharing what they have, and carrying each others’ burdens. Instead of private disciplines, prayer, learning, communion, mission, and service are communal disciplines.
Activities With Gospel Focus
Acts 2 makes one thing very clear: our doing, activity, and life focus is reoriented by the gospel. The gospel brings us into a new kingdom and world where Jesus is the king who saved us from death. We live in a new family that God has adopted through Jesus. We stand accepted, new, holy, forgiven, and exceedingly blessed because of Jesus. This brings us into a new community and new mission and the activity of our life is defined by it. Every activity in life and community flows from the truth of who God is and what he has done in the gospel. You will call people to pray, communion, study, mission, justice, and sending by articulating the gospel. God will be the reward and the motivator for right worship in everyday life.
How does the classic list of communal disciplines shapes a gospel-centered community and how does the gospel center those disciplines? As we dive into the how, we will press into who God is and what he has done to redeem the world. We will explain how each activity is gospel driven, community oriented, and mission critical. Also, we will see how these activities are integrated—how you cannot separate eating from mission and prayer from serving the poor. Ultimately, we will see how all of this doing is integrated into our being, our new identity in Christ.
I’ve written about how some of these communal disciplines center us in the gospel and are lived in gospel belief: