If you talk with any artist or craftsman, they can easily share a time when they hit a slump, or their work wasn't the quality they desired. It may have been a time when the paintings didn't look quite right, the recently built table wobbled, or the sculpture was crooked. Despite setbacks, these talented people don't give up on their craft or skill. Instead, they harness their passion again and go back to the basics.
The Church can function in a similar way. There are seasons when everything is clicking, many salvations and baptisms, discipleship growth, and mission opportunities. On the other side, though, are those seasons when growth is stunted, salvations are few and far between, and nothing missional is happening. What happened? How do you become effective again?
Many churches can quickly fall into the cultural trap of making church about the people and their preferences. Churches start relying on their programs or stage production to draw people in instead of the saving grace of Jesus Christ and the work of the Spirit. Program and stage production tools aren't inherently bad, but when they become the tool to measure success, a so-called slump or ineffectiveness may not be surprising. We can be so busy doing church that we forget to be the Church. At that point, we have missed the mission of the gospel.
Just like the artists and craftsmen, the Church will struggle. When that happens, the basics found in Acts 2 ground the Church in the mission of the gospel once again. The indicator for success in your congregation isn't the multi-million-dollar building, the latest discipleship program, or the most current worship songs; it is how much Jesus lives and breathes in church members.
As the early Church began, the apostles set out to lead the people the way Christ led them for three years. They held dear those practices Jesus established during His earthly ministry. These practices are summarized in Acts 2:42-46.
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple, and broke bread from house to house.
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching...
First, we must devote our hearts to the reading, teaching, and meditation of Scripture. The apostles taught the early church from the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms and explained to the people how Jesus fulfilled each one (Luke 22:44). Additionally, Scriptures tell us to "let the word of Christ dwell richly among you" (Colossians 3:16) and that a happy person "delights in the Lord's instruction, and he meditates on it day and night" (Psalm 1:2). Our churches must dwell and meditate on the Word in all they do. That begins individually and flows out corporately.
They devoted themselves to...fellowship, to the breaking of bread...to meeting together in the temple.
Second, Scriptures call us to do life together. The early Church made it a priority to spend time together in their homes and the temple. Believers were never meant to be islands. Instead, we were meant to walk through life supporting each other in times of joy and suffering. The author of Hebrews tells us in Hebrews 10:24-25, "And let us consider one another in order to provoke love and good works,not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching." Make a practice of gathering with your church family weekly and living life with a small group of fellow believers.
They devoted themselves to...prayer
Third, pray! Prayer is often the most neglected practice of the believer and the Church. Throughout the gospels, Jesus often went to desolate places to pray to the Father. He knew His direct connection to God sustained Him, encouraged Him, and carried Him in His earthly ministry. If Jesus, the Son of God, needed prayer with the Father, how much more do we need it? Prayer reminds us we are utterly lost without the power of the Spirit in our lives. When the local church ceases to pray, their effectiveness diminishes because they no longer harness the necessary power of the Holy Spirit. Paul reminds us in Romans 12:12, to "be persistent in prayer" and in Colossians 4:2, "devote yourselves to prayer." The Church must ground itself in prayer.
Now all the believers were together and held all things in common...
Fourth, we are called to unity. The commonality the early Church shared was their faith in Christ. It didn't mean they lived their lives in the same exact way, following an identical checklist. Instead, they filtered everything through the lens of the gospel. They sought to glorify the Lord in the way they lived. They lived life in the way Paul encouraged in Ephesians 4:1-3, "walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." Unity is difficult, it can be especially difficult in the church. To a watching world, unity sets us apart and points to Christ. Only through him can we "work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith" (Galatians 6:10).
Don't give up on your church if it seems to be in a slump. To be clear, a "slump" is not the same as rampant abuse or corrupt leadership. And it does not mean that we sweep abuse or sins under the rug. There certainly may be times where you need to step away from your church to heal, seek biblical counciling, or find a new church body. However, there are also times when, like artists and craftsmen, we need to go back to the basics with our church.
Cultivate your love for the Word and the Church and encourage those close to you in this as well. As each believer holds firmly to the foundations of our faith, the Church will feel these effects corporately through the Spirit. Our churches will never be perfect because they have always been filled with imperfect people, but we can trust the work of the Spirit. The Church is God's chosen vessel through which the gospel is furthered. What a joy to be a part of His mission!