Faithlife Sermons

The Growth Factor

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I have a confession to make. I am not a gardener. I have never been good at it and I do not think I will ever be good at it. If you are going to be a good gardener, I imagine it requires several things. First, it starts with an investment of time. If you are going to have a beautiful garden, it is a major time investment. It requires that you do the same things over a long period of time. You have to keep watering it; you have to cultivate it; you have to pull weeds. It is a lot of work that I am not willing to commit to.
The same can be said of the church. It is very difficult to grow a church. It is not an automatic process. Church growth comes from doing very intentional things over a long period of time. Growing the church is also very different from growing a garden. There are analogies we could come up with about pulling weeds, pruning plants, and such. In fact, Jesus himself has used similar analogies. The truth is we all want to see the church grow. The greatest truth in the world is that God stepped out of heaven, took on human flesh, and satisfied the demands of his own law himself for a people who could not. His sacrifice paid the penalty of our rebellion and paved the way for restoration. Because this is true, it is the greatest truth of all because it changes what we know about ourselves and what we know about God. We do this thing called church to ascribe worth to our Creator and to learn how we can live according to his will.
The reality is that while we want to see growth, it is a slow process. That is because there is no shortcut to life. We learn about the Lord and ourselves as we live through life and he does not give us an instant download of everything we need to know. Through the revelation of his word, life experiences, and living in authentic community with one another we experience growth.
But what is growth? What does that mean? Is it merely adding people in attendance? How to we measure true church growth? These are the questions that keep many of pastors awake at night and countless books have been written on the subject. We always look to scripture as our guide and so we turn to the early church to see what they did and look for principles we can apply to the modern age.
The passage of scripture we are looking at today follows the sermon Peter preached on the day of Pentecost. As you may recall, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the people gathered in the upper room that day, resulting in them spilling into the streets proclaiming the good news. While they were speaking, people from other lands and speaking other languages were hearing these people speak in their languages. As the crowd turned their attention to the commotion, they were amazed at what was taking place, but the apostles’ critics claimed the men were drunk. Peter responds to the accusation by preaching a sermon.
As the sermon came to a close, the people said, “What do we do? What’s next? How do we respond to what we are hearing?” Peter replies in verse 38,
Acts 2:38–39 NASB95
Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”
And then I love what Luke writes in verse 40:
Acts 2:40 NASB95
And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!”
Peter kept on preaching. Then it says that all who received his word were baptized, and it is reported to us that 3,000 people were saved that day. From there, we come to the passage for our attention this morning.
Acts 2:42–47 NASB95
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Last week we talked about our responsibility to go and do as Jesus commanded. We are to fulfill the great commission through evangelism followed by a process of discipleship. We want to see people saved, but we also want to see them live out their salvation as the Holy Spirit transforms them and leads them to embrace the life he has for them. But as we do, we must look to scripture to see how the early church modeled it for us and how those same principles can be modeled today.

The church maintained a sense of unity.

When we look at verse 44, we see that the believers, that is the church, were together and had all things in common. This is not to say that everybody had the same personality or they were all from the same tribe. Rather, they held everything in common in the sense that they did not seem to have a high view of individualism. We see in verse 45 that the people began selling property and possessions for the purpose of supplying needs.
We read this astonishing report that 3,000 people came to faith in Christ in one day, but what we may not realize is that some who only intended to stay for the duration of the festival found themselves extending their stay. So imagine the Holy Spirit moves in the hearts of the people here in First Baptist Three Rivers, we go out into the streets witnessing, and the church increases ten fold in a single day. What a challenge to have. All of a sudden, we will have more people and will need more resources. This is sort of what is taking place in Jerusalem. The church grew so exponentially and some of them stuck around, so needs rose as well.
It is important to note that there is still a sense of personal property here. The church was not going to individual members saying they needed to sell their possessions, nor could one member lay claim to another member’s property. I can’t claim an acre of Richard’s property as my own, yet if I truly had need of it, we could probably work some sort of agreement. I can’t go to Lura and tell her that we have a couple that needs shelter and tell her that they will be staying in one of her bedrooms. That is not what is going on here. These church members were voluntarily selling possessions to meet the needs that arose within their community.
There was a spirit of unity in the early church that drove them to meet needs. One factor for growth in the church is that we strive for a spirit of unity in the church. The good news is that at the current moment, I feel there is a good spirit of unity here. There has not been any major issues to address. It seems everyone gets along pretty well and are willing to put differences aside for the sake of the mission.
Unity is an important factor and it can only be achieved by the closely related factor: community.

The church was committed to community.

In verse 42 we see that the church devoted themselves to four things: the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer. The early church did not have access to the New Testament. It had not been written yet. At best, they only had access to the Old Testament. Even then, the people did not have individual copies of the Old Testament. At this point, the available copies of scripture were still on scrolls. One would have to have a library in his house just to contain all the scrolls of scripture. If the people wanted to hear the word of God, they went to the temple or to the synagogue.
Not much is different today. If the people want to hear the word of the Lord proclaimed, they go to the church. The early church was committed to the apostles’ teaching, as their teaching was the only access to the commands of Jesus to which they were called to follow. But I impress upon you the importance of doing this together in community. There are certain things that you must do yourself if you are going to grow in your faith, but it does not mean that you have to do them by yourself. The reading and hearing of God’s Word should not be done only in isolation.
The church also devoted themselves to fellowship. They lived life together. They saw each other outside of Sunday morning gatherings. They spent time doing things together. As they were together, they broke bread together. They shared meals. Can I get a good old Baptist amen? We love having people at our house for a meal and spending time getting to know them.
They also committed themselves to prayer. And we should see this both as communal and private. As they gathered, they prayed. As they were apart, they prayed. But just like the other things they devoted themselves to, the focus on prayer here is in community. We are committing ourselves to pray for each other often. How often do we ask each other how we can pray for one another? All these things are part of living in authentic community with one another.

The church must strive to live in community as it shares the message of Jesus.

These two factors, unity in community, combined with the sharing of our faith will lead to church growth. When we commit ourselves to the things we ought to prioritize, and live in authentic Christian community, we can expect to see growth. It may not be in the way we expect. We will surely grow ourselves and we will surely see God call people to himself through the bearing of fruit in his children.
How committed are you to the things of God?
What stands in your way of being “all in” for Christ?
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