What Makes a Church Great?
"And with great power gave the apostles witness of the
resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them
The world defines a great church all wrong. How so?
huge crowd / amazing building / stained glass / white collar / huge offerings / social programs / pipe organ / rock concert / technology / dark atmosphere with laser spot lighting / positive message that leaves you just feeling good about yourself!
You see right through all of that or else you wouldn’t come to church here. And yet modern Christianity defines a great church differently than God defines it. In truth, most define it about the same as the world we just discussed.
Our text is all about a truly great church. They had great power because of the great grace of our great God! Are we a great church? We are when we make it all about Him and His greatness. We aren’t a great church when we make it about other things, go through the motions, and just ‘play church.’ A great church will have great people. And great people are fierce followers of our great Savior! And they don’t consider themselves to be great. They believe they have a long way to go, even if they have come a long way.
God still does great things! But there are greater possibilities…sure, we’ve seen a lot of blessings…but mercy drops need to give way to showers of blessing! We do have a long way to go, even though we have come a long way and have a lot to offer. And so greatness is the pursuit of God and His plan.
Some like a big church, and some a small church. [though you have to wonder about the ones who want to stay small, not reaching others!] For six years we were part of a ministry that tripled in size. I was privileged to be over the outreach there, but it was obviously our great God Who did that. We were blessed to baptize over 400 in our first pastorate. Everyone was just what you’d call normal folks. White collar/blue collar/no collar – and all of them will tell you they love that great church and give credit to the greatness of the Lord they follow.
Some like a country church, some a city church…I’ve loved both. I’m glad we have all types around here and all are welcome! You may think ours is a country church because we are in a rural location. If so, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But most of you know what a true country church is:
You might be in a country church if:
The Call to Worship is ,"Y'all come on in!"
The Preacher says, "I'd like to ask Bubba to pray for the
offering" - and five guys stand up.
Opening day of deer hunting season is recognized as an
A member requests to be buried in his truck
because, "I ain't never been in a hole it couldn't get me out of".
Never in its entire history has one of its pastors had
to buy any meat or vegetables.
The only time people lock their cars in the parking lot is during the
summer and only so no one leaves them another bag of tomatoes!
The choir is known as "The O.K. Chorale."
There's dried tobacco juice down both sides of the church van.
The church directory doesn't have last names.
Baptism is referred to as "branding."
There is a special fund-raiser for a new septic tank.
Finding and returning lost sheep is not just a parable.
High notes on the organ set dogs in the parking lot to howling.
People wonder when Jesus fed the 5,000 whether the two
fish were bass or catfish.
This great church at Jerusalem is our God-given example of
"how to do it." These folk got in touch with Heaven, received
their orders and the power to carry them out and please God. In
this day, when hundreds of churches are like dead batteries,
giving out their sermonettes to Christianettes by preacherettes
so they can get out and smoke their cigarettes, we need some
“prophets” who will stand up like the Rock of Gibraltar and lead some great people to build a mighty fortress for God.
Let me share with you seven things that made the early New
Testament church one of the greatest the world has ever known.
I. THEY HAD A GREAT PURPOSE
Their purpose was to obey the Savior. Jesus had asked them
to tarry in the Upper Room. He said, "But tarry ye in the city
of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high" (Luke
24:49). Obedience is always a vital link to power and blessing
from God. Someone has said, "Ours is not to reason why; ours is but to do or die."
Then, their purpose was to obtain the promise. The promise,
of course, was the blessed Holy Spirit. Jesus had promised in
Acts 1:8, "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost
is come upon you . . ." This promise is made to every person
who desires to receive it from the Lord.
Their purpose was to offer the Gospel. They were to be
witnesses . . ."both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in
Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
Peter stood before the great crowd in the streets of Jerusalem
and offered the Gospel to the Jews from many nations. The sermon
was simple, and his purpose was plain. He wanted to help people
get to Heaven.
II. THEY HAD GREAT PREACHING
Peter was an ordinary man and not really a great preacher,
but the content of his sermon was great. Great preaching in the early church had a 3 fold characteristic: It exalted the Savior, it
edified the saints, and it exposed sin. These great
characteristics are present in all great sermons. Emphasis on any one to the exclusion of the others is incomplete and fruitless. [The last 2 are important: Make sure you can be lifted [edified] up by cutting the ties that hold you down.]
Three thousand people responded to the invitation and then five thousand, at a later sermon. No one can deny that this was great preaching!
III. THEY HAD GREAT POWER
The power at Pentecost was the same used at creation, to
divide the Red Sea, to keep Daniel safe in the lions' den, and to
rescue the three Hebrew children from the fiery furnace. This
was also the same power that turned the water to wine, healed multitudes, fed the five thousand, gave sight to the blind man and raised Lazarus from the dead.
This great power is available to every Christian who will seek God
and pay the price. Notice this power depends on certain things.
It is dependent upon…
a clean life. God will not fill a dirty vessel with His Holy Spirit power. We must be clean. It depends on consistent walking. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is faithful, and so should we be. This fly-by-night, blow-hot-blow-cold, in-and-out kind of Christianity does not know the power of God.
Then, great power depends on continual asking. Great power comes thru great prayer. Will you pray for me, for your church, and for its members every day?
Consider David…God used him greatly for good reasons:
David had a willing heart. When the Lord looked into his heart,
He saw a boy . . ."after his own heart" (I Sam. 13:14). His
motives were pure, his life was clean, and he was ready to go
where the Lord led.
David also had a wise head. He was wise enough to wait
until the proper time to claim the throne. His experience of
victory over the bear and the lion, as well as over Goliath,
expresses a note of wisdom.
David had working hands. Notice that out of eight boys,
he was the one working. This is an indication that he was more
suited to be king. When the Lord recruits His workers, surely
these areas of the heart, the head and the hands are of major
importance. Do this: allow preaching to speak to your head, your heart, and your hands! God is looking for a clean heart, a clear head and
calloused hands. Let the Word of God put you into the Work of God by prompting you to action!
The story is told of a rich farmer in Greece who was about
to die. As he passed he whispered to his sons that he had buried his
treasure in the fields. Before he could tell which field, he
passed away. The boys began to dig and turn the soil, searching for the treasure. For weeks they worked to no avail. At last and near exhaustion, they realized that planting time was upon them. Since they had
literally plowed the fields with their digging, they agreed to
plant and wait until after the harvest to dig again.
The harvest came forth, in great abundance, because of
the deep turning of the soil. It was then that they awoke to the
wisdom of their father. He had inspired them to work and labor
in the fields, and they had found a great treasure of wealth there!
Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.
“Work for the night is coming…”
The story is told of a huge barge loaded with brick and rock
that sank in a New York harbor. Over a long period of years, it
had mired deep in the mud, sinking a little more each year from
weight. The engineers, attempting to build a large bridge across
the body of water, were hindered by this barge because it was
necessary to plant a foundation footer in that very spot.
Finally, a young engineer came up with an idea, and they
gave it a try. Several big barges were chained together and
floated into the area at low tide. Several chains were hooked to
the sunken barge, and then they backed off to wait. As the tide
began to rise, there was a creaking, groaning and stretching of
chains. Soon the barge broke loose and was lifted out of its
place and floated away. The power of the Atlantic Ocean had been
used to raise the barge.
Surely there is an example here for us. When all efforts of
human wisdom fail, God's mighty power can do the job!
Great power comes thru prayer, but not prayer only. We must put “feet” to our prayers! Will you be part of our outreach this year?
Ill.—I used to pray “God, use me.” Now I pray, “God, make me usable!”
And He only puts His mighty hand into a clean glove…He uses willing hearts, wise heads, and clean, working hands!
IV. THEY HAD GREAT PERSECUTION
It is sad that those who do the work of God upon the earth
are persecuted, but this is history. Christians have always been
persecuted. Jesus said to His disciples, "In the world ye shall
have tribulation . . ." (John 16:33). The Apostle Paul promised,
"If we suffer, we shall also reign with him . . ." (II Tim. 2:12).
These early Christians went through deep waters, and eleven
of the twelve apostles were killed in a violent way. When people
really go all out to please God, there will be criticism and
threatening, as there was in the early New Testament church.
And the blood of millions of Christian martyrs was shed, and continues to be today…this concept may soon come to a country near you!
And today, though Christ doesn’t ask us to die for Him, He does ask us to live for Him, which still involves paying a price of persecution.
II Tim. 3:12
Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.
If you aren’t being booed at all…you’re not in the game!
V. THEY HAD GREAT PEOPLE
The people in this early Christian group were those willing
to give up their very life's work. Peter left his nets and
followed Jesus. James and John were willing to forsake their
fishing business and become fishers of men. These folk were
willing to give up their wealth. Barnabas sold his house and
laid his money at the offering table to be used for the work of
God. They were willing to give up their very life. Stephen was
willing to lay down his life in the street and give up his soul
unto the Lord.
What a blessing to look out over the congregation of people
at our church and see those who have been willing to do these
very same things to further the cause of Christ. It takes great
people to make a great church. So many sacrifice every week, day after day, to see God’s church here succeed! We’re blessed w/ a faithful people that make every effort to come out to every service, and bring 10% of their income rather than ‘eat free’ like many dying churches today…thank you! We have a great message, a great mission, and great members.
A church is people, not a building. We have a great people, following the great God, and that makes a great church!
VI. THEY HAD GREAT PRAISE
We read that "They continued daily with one accord . .
.Praising God, and having favour with all the people . . ." (Acts
2:46,47). As miracles took place, such as the healing of the
blind man at the gate of the Temple, all of the people
joined him in praising God.
There ought to be great praise for God, for the Gospel, and for
His goodness. How good God is! But the world is bad. So there ought to be great praise for His grace to get us thru this world.
Ill.--One little old lady listened to the testimonies of people in the church about the goodness of God. She stood to her feet and said, "I don't have much of this world's goods. My health is not so good. I only have two teeth, one pointing up and one down; but, praise God, they meet together in the middle!" This ought to be the attitude of all Christians. There is always something to be thankful for. A good, positive attitude of gratitude will keep this a great church!
VII. THEY HAD GREAT PROMISES
These people had a promise of Heaven, and so do we. These
people had a promise of the Holy Spirit, and so do we. They had
a promise of genuine happiness, and so do we. "And this is the
promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life" (I John
2:25). Thousands of promises in the Bible are for your benefit
The need of this day is to analyze carefully these seven great things that this great early church had, and apply them to our situation, that we, too, might always have a great church for our great and marvelous God.
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