Making Disciples vs. Making Plans
Charges to feed the hungry, host the homeless, and clothe the naked are peppered throughout the bible, but you won’t find Jesus mentioning ice cream socials, vacation bible schools, carwash fundraisers, or any other such event today’s churches keep in rotation (Matthew 25:31-46). Jesus simply commands us to, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19, NIV). Of course, events like these can potentially contribute to fulfilling the Great Commission, But could the cycle of planning and implementing church social calendar events be distracting us from living out God’s redemptive message in our day to day lives? Is making disciples truly our priority?
How we allot our blessings clues us into where our real values lie. As fishermen are recognized by their equipment and the time they spend by the water, so fishers of men are defined by their efforts toward interacting with and reaching the lost with the gospel (Matthew 4:19). Apostle Paul’s description of the early church in Acts 2:42-47 presents us with a basic model of how we as Christ-following communities should prioritize our use of time, energy, and resources to effectively reflect the love of Jesus to our neighbors. Paul reveals the church’s heart by reporting, “They devoted themselves to . . .”
The Apostles’ Teaching
The word “devoted” in verse 42 suggests regular deep study, discussion, and application of what Jesus’ apostles shared. This includes passing on the legacy of scripture through receiving instruction, then teaching others. Members of the church keep the gospel central to all they do. To live by God’s word, we must immerse ourselves in what it says. Any activity we plan as the body of Christ should not only be held up to the light of biblical wisdom but promote relationship with God through his written message as well. We can flood the world with charity and good deeds, but they are all meaningless if not performed through the power of Christ’s love (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). Keeping scripture central in heart and mind is how we ensure the motives behind our ministries in God’s name are pure.
In verses 46 and 47 we observe believers enjoying one another’s fellowship daily. They grow stronger in faith and rapidly in numbers because everyone works toward the same goal: living together in a way that makes Christ irresistible to the world around them. Sustaining unity is no easy task – especially in today’s culture. Unlike the ancient church community, most of us live spread apart and work in less interconnected industries, but when believers dedicate themselves to living for each other, we glimpse the perfect fellowship promised us in Heaven. This common love springs from roots in soil enriched with prayer, sharing, openness, encouragement, and honesty. As humans we crave membership, a place where we can know and be known by others on an intimate level. When nonbelievers feeling the isolation, superficiality, and emptiness of secular culture see us sharing our lives, it should draw them closer to the heart of God.
Selling Their Possessions and Goods
Verse 45 describes early Christians sacrificing their wealth and resources to “[give] to anyone as he had need.” It is safe to assume both believers and nonbelievers benefit from this spirit of generosity. By meeting needs in and out of the temple courts, they debunk any ideas about prejudice or intolerance, and reinforce Jesus’ open invitation to anyone who will listen. God’s love is not exclusive; neither should be our service.
Physical, social, and spiritual needs intertwine as God crafted us so intricately in his image. Ministering to one type of need opens opportunities to minister in other areas of life and demonstrate how God cares for us as whole people. In Acts chapter two we see the church living out the truth of James 1:17 by recognizing that all their possessions are gifts from God meant for living a lifestyle of serving Him through serving others. Popular projects such as volunteering in soup kitchens, building houses for the underprivileged, and donating supplies to impoverished schools are practical avenues through which we can apply our resources to providing for others’ immediate needs, but the early church reminds us that giving is not the main event. Giving should be a byproduct of daily dependence on, gratitude to, and expression of trust toward God. Experiencing relationship with the Savior then empowers us to actively love those in need of grace. As we develop a heart for God, we develop a heart for those he loves.
Special programs, projects, potlucks, and events hold potential to draw people’s attention to God and pique interest in his church, but they will never communicate as effectively as a consistent lifestyle of scripture-based, service-minded fellowship. Our daily routines speak a more convincing message about the nature of Christ and his goodness than anything else we have to offer. Each time we lend a hand, offer a listening ear, serve a meal, and extend kindness, we honor our Heavenly Father.
When we live out the gospel by capitalizing on opportunities to meet the needs of those around us and share the love of Jesus, we take part in fulfilling the Great Commission. Every chance to serve is a chance to invite someone into a deeper experience of God. A one-time flashy event might attract a crowd for an afternoon, but the consistent witness of a family of believers living for one another will make people want to stay and discover the God that makes such authentic fellowship possible.
Ministry isn’t about how many cans we collect for the food drive or even adding numbers to the weekly attendance record; it’s about reflecting Christ’s likeness to everyone around us through a way of life that makes Him attractive. If we spend more time and resources on filling the church calendar with events than we do investing in people desperately in need of Jesus’ gospel, then now is the time to take a closer look at Acts 2 and reevaluate how we live up to the basics of God’s intended purpose for us.