Scripture: Acts 2:42-47
42 They joined with the other believers and devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, sharing in the Lord’s Supper and in prayer.
43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together constantly and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their possessions and shared the proceeds with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved.[i]
What we have here is the picture of the early church. This passage is a good reminder of what the church should be about. For the past seven weeks, we have been taking a look at the core values of our faith. This morning we want to take a look at the core values of what the church is suppose to be. We get a good idea of what was happening in the early church. Remember that earlier in the book of Acts, we have the Holy Spirit coming on the church. The disciples (about 120 of them) gathered in an upper room in Jerusalem waiting for the power that Jesus had promised them. The Holy Spirit came and the disciples miraculously had the ability to speak in other languages that were not their own. Peter goes from the guy who always puts his foot where his mouth should be, to preaching a fantastic message and many came to a saving faith in Christ Jesus.
The Holy Spirit is working in power in the disciple’s life throughout the book of Acts. What does the early church see as important? Let’s go back to our text. It says that they joined with other believers and devoted themselves to teaching, fellowship, communion and prayer. In this early church there was a sense of community and that sense of community led them to helping one another and to helping others as they had need. Because of the teaching, fellowship, communion and prayer, and giving to others, many came to a knowledge of Christ.
Some of you may be familiar with the book, The Purpose-Driven Church by Rick Warren. Rick is credited with coming up with the five purposes that the church to which the church should be devoted. His book was written in 1995. While taking my FLAME courses, we had to read a book, Exploring Our Christian Faith by W. T. Purkiser. This book was written in 1960 and revised in 1978 from a “Wesley-an” perspective and here is what Purkiser says, regard to the church.
In summary, we may define the functions or purposes of the Church as five in number: (1) to provide and maintain worship in order to fulfill the requirements of the first four of the Ten Commandments; (2) to go into the highways and hedges and to the uttermost parts of the earth making disciples of all men, turning them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith that is in Christ; (3) to teach them to observe all Christ has commanded; (4) to build them into a harmonious fellowship of the saints; (5) to love and serve all men, thereby helping to relieve suffering and sorrow and to establish the rule of Christ in society.
The church has five purposes (1) worship; (2) evangelism; (3) discipleship; (4) fellowship; (5) ministry service. As we take a look at the state of our church this morning, we want to ask two questions. What is our purpose? And are we accomplishing our purpose?
Let’s break this apart and see how we are doing. First, we will take a look at worship. The main place that worship happens is during this time on Sunday morning. It is a time when we sing songs of praise, worship, and testimony to God for who he is and for what he has done. We do this through a variety of ways. There is congregational singing and we sing hymns and gospel songs, scripture songs. We also listen to other sing songs of worship through special music We are commanded in the scriptures to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. We do this very well. In addition we have times of prayer, both spoken and silent. We read and teach the Word of God (the Bible) again through a variety of means and we take an offering (which allows us to give back to God in a tangible way). I have enjoyed our worship services and I hope that you are finding them meaningful as well. Let me tip the hat to those who have helped in this area; Vicky, Patty, Joanie, Rebecca, Anna help each week in leading worship. There are several who have helped collect the offering and count it and count those attending; Blaine, David Saunders; Connie; Rhonda; Mike; and Dreama. Sometimes some others fill in and we thank all of you for yours service to the kingdom.
In the area of evangelism, we had something unique happen this year. Some of our men decided that it was time to start visiting prospects and guests and those who don’t attend on a regular basis. This has been successful. Usually the night caps off with a hot dog at the Old Country Store. Thank you to Billy, Tommy, and Blaine for doing this important task.
We also had a very successful Friend Day with 97 attending. I had a great opportunity to share the gospel because of your faithfulness in bringing your friends to Preston Wesleyan. There were many people who helped make that day a success. Also thank you to Steve Doss who helped prepare hearts that day through his singing.
In the area of discipleship, we have many good things going on. First, let me say thank you to all of our Sunday School staff; Dreama (Sunday School Superintendent), and the teachers; Vicky, Gayle, Rhonda, Joanie, Tommy, and Connie. They have been faithful to do their job week after week and we thank you for helping us grow in our faith.
We also had our Summit Weekend with Chaplain Gordon Ritchie. I heard many good comments about the weekend. We already are making plans for another one this fall and I have tentative plans for one in the spring. These are great times of spiritual formation and this fall we will also have one or two of our times devoted to evangelism.
We have restructured our Sunday evening service into a time of discipleship. We have been using the term spiritual formation, because that is what discipleship is. We have a time of praise and worship and prayer. Then we discuss what we have read in God’s Word this past week and then we take a look at an area of spiritual life that we can grow in.
One of the ministries in our church that has been resurrected is our Wednesday evening ministry. This actually is a microcosm of the entire church. On each Wednesday night, we have worship, evangelism, discipleship, and fellowship. This is an important time. You may ask why. Sometimes it feels like to all of us that we aren’t accomplishing anything. Some nights the students are rowdy. But let me share a story that I’ve shared with our Wednesday night staff.
Back while we were laypeople at our church in Allentown, Pam and I taught the Junior High Sunday School class. Can I tell you that it was a source of constant frustration. Most of the class came to see their friends and did not want to participate, so they sat in the corner and talked. Pam and I taught that class for two to three years. (That was the longest anybody had taught for about 5 to 6 years) Several years later we came home from New York and visited our church. A young man approached us and asked if we recognized him. I didn’t. He said, “Do you remember those three juvenile delinquents that sat in the corner every Sunday?” I asked him which one and he said Chuck. He proceeded to tell us that he had gotten away from church and even became very depressed because he got involved with the wrong gang and drugs. He came to his senses and asked himself, who do I know that loves me? His mind went back to several years before when a young couple taught his Sunday School class and tried to teach him even when he didn’t want to be taught. He told us he remembered that the people at Trinity Wesleyan loved him, especially Pam and Dale if they could put up with him for three years and not quit. It literally saved his life. He is now in church and getting right with God. You see, we never know what kinds of seeds we’re sowing on Wednesday night. Child Evangelism Fellowship tells us “The most spiritually productive harvest field anywhere is among the children. Statistics show that 84% of all who accept Christ do so between the ages of four and fourteen-when they are children.” You can see that our Wednesday night ministry is important to our growth as a church. In the past we have always said that children are the church of tomorrow, let me say that our children and students are the church of today. We also face a crisis of keeping our students in church. The church must also face an internal problem involving their own youth leaving the church. One survey shows that when both parents attend church, seventy-two percent of their children remain faithful to the church. When the father alone attends, fifty percent of the children remain attenders, but when mother takes the children to church, only fifteen percent remain faithful to the church. I stand here to declare that student ministries are important to our church. One of the things that the Ministry Leadership Team has done is to begin a search for a student ministries pastor. This position will encompass kindergarten through 12th grade. This will not do away with any of the fantastic workers we have already. Let me recognize those who help so faithfully on Wednesday evening; Connie, Vicky, Dreama, Rhonda, Ruth, Gayle, and Mary. Let me also say that they could use your help. You may say, I can work in student ministries. Could you help us provide food? One of the unique ministries we have is to feed these students each Wednesday night. The seven people I mentioned freely give to this ministry. Only occasionally do we take money from the church treasury to meet this need. Let me encourage you to get involved.
The next area is fellowship. This has been another good area for us. One of the things we are trying to do is establish a regular Celebration of Praise. When we have these events we are trying to have some type of fellowship event around it, like the Chili Cook-off or Super Celebration of Praise for the Super-bowl. A great tradition we have established is the Fall Festival. We had a great time last year cooking hotdogs and making s’mores. We had a great time at the Christmas banquet as well. Look for more opportunities for us to get together for fellowship and building a harmonious fellowship of the saints.
The last area is ministry service. Of all the areas I believe this is probably are weakest, but I also believe that we are not at our potential, so that is a good thing. I believe in you as your pastor. This is one of the reasons we bring in missionaries. They are part of our church’s ministry service or even missions. This year we had Jim Pickett from Mozambique and next week Greg and Shannon Rast are coming to share with us. One of the organizations of our church that does a great job with this is Wesleyan Women. Vicky has done a fine job leading this organization. They were very busy last year, and I hear some great ideas for the coming year. Let me encourage you in this area of missions. One of the things I see our church doing is taking a regular offering for missions. We’ll probably start taking this offering on the same Sunday we take communion. These offerings will go to both local, domestic, and international missions. Some examples are Good News Jail Ministries and Salvation Army (Martinsville), Global Partners missionaries (Jim and Karen Pickett and Greg and Shannon Rast); Hephzibah Children’s Home; Wesleyan Native American Missions; North American Missions; FLAME; The Wesleyan Hour; Self-Denial; and Heart of Ministries. I know that sounds like a lot, but I truly believe that we cannot out give God. If we are faithful giving to him, he will be faithful in giving back to us and we will not have to worry about our churches finances or our own finances.
As you can see, I feel that we are headed in the right direction as a church. We need to continue to focus on these five purposes in order to have a well-balanced church. If any of the spokes of this wheel are short, we become unbalanced and the ride gets rough. As we conclude this morning, it’s even more important that we keep our focus on the one who saved us. That’s who we are doing this for. We are building God’s kingdom. This vision that I gave you this morning is not mine but what Christ has for his kingdom. Our challenge this morning come from an old Irish hymn, entitled “Be Thou My Vision.” This morning is Christ your vision. If it is let this song be a song of victory for you. If not let this song be a prayer for you that you let Christ become your vision as well.