“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” – Acts 2:42
“Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ” (Bonhoeffer.)
The beloved German pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, reminds us that our Lord cares greatly about discipleship – faith as a lifestyle more than something flimsy built on religious activity. But, how can Christian faith develop as a lifestyle (a genuine expression of life) in the church today?
A Lesson from Younger Generations
Research Groups have recently reported that although young generations seem to drop out of church, there are large numbers who have remained, and they remain because of meaningful relationships. In fact, many who have remained report they have had a spiritually meaningful and helpful relationship with an adult inside the church, and some have even reported that they have had an adult mentor other than their pastor.
Such findings encourage us to value the influence of relationships within the church, for this represents the foundation for Biblical discipleship. And, this is how faith becomes a lifestyle. Such influential relationships are most often formed from within smaller Bible study groups than from larger gatherings.
A Lesson from the First Church
In the records of the early church, we have discovered how followers of Jesus were strengthened through meaningful relationships. The Book of Acts reports that within the church many lives were changed through relationships that were formed within smaller settings.
Acts, Chapter 2 reports that 3,000 people were added to the church. Chapter four reports that the church had grown to 5,000. Within this massive surge, most historians agree that the growth of the early church took place through house churches that were likely not much larger that 15 to 20 participants. In Acts 2:42, the Bible describes the emerging church of the first century: “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Such writers as Thom Rainer remind us that this passage gives a clear acknowledgment of the importance of the smaller gatherings that foster meaningful relationships so important to our growth and encouragement in faith today.
One significant way the first century Christians encouraged one another was in their devotion to the apostles’ teachings. While no formalized doctrine nor systematic theology had converged with the church at this time, the Holy Spirit-led truths of Jesus (His teachings, facts of His death and resurrection, and eternal life) were taught. When I consider that the apostles sat under the influence of Jesus for three years, I imagine their teaching to be fully in manner and in substance much like their Lord, who through the Holy Spirit continued to grow His followers. The unfolding of Gospel truths before these smaller gatherings reflected a hunger for the truth, and a relinquishment of the old way of thinking and believing.
Today, the church should be a place where relationships mutually influence one another in a hunger for the truth of Jesus and encourage a freedom from former ways of thinking and believing that the world offers.
A Lesson for You and Me
So, this leaves us with two very clear and personal questions offered by the example of the very first church: (1) Am I presently contributing to the church as a place of meaningful influence toward spiritual growth in small groups (do I look for opportunities in smaller gatherings to encourage someone in the truths of Christ)? (2) Am I presently involved in smaller groups of Christian encouragement (Discipleship) so that I am growing spiritually through meaningful relationships?
If Christian faith is to be a lifestyle (more than religious activity), the influence of meaningful relationships is a must! For, it is indeed true: Christianity without discipleship is Christianity without Christ.
Let’s make a difference. Let’s champion meaningful relationships for spiritual growth. This is indeed the church. This is the heart of Jesus.
[ a devotion by Dr. Ken Pruitt, President of Leland Seminary ]
READ – Read Acts 2:42-47 and be encouraged by the simplicity and profoundness of the developing community of discipleship.