One of the benefits of preaching the “CONSPIRACY” series, is that I’ve had the chance to read, re-read, and then read again the first eight chapters of the Book of Acts. I’ve read these chapters before, but in the past I’ve always looked at them as a sort of a blue-print for how the church was formed. I’ve read them as a manual for church structure. I’ve sat through many sermons pointing to those chapters as a model of how churches should be be structured and governed today. I’ve sat through elders meetings and committee meetings where passages from these chapters were argued like case law to determine who should be an elder, a deacon, or a Jedi apprentice. (I think that last one might be from star wars…I dozed off at that point of the meeting)
In the last few weeks I’ve been reading these chapters in Acts with only one thing in mind: How did the story of Jesus being alive spread? How did they not fail, fracture, or give up against a vast conspiracy of powerful, wealthy officials from the religion and government? How did that story make it out of the first century to us today?
I’ve noticed something else in the meantime: The original church had no road map or manual on which to base their structure. They grew from a small-group to mega-church in just a few weeks. At that point they didn’t have a building…or campuses…or podcasts…or video venues. When they felt the need to fill in the place in the apostles vacated by Judas, they prayerfully “drew straws” (or tossed some dice) and picked a new leader. (Don’t try this at home, kids:-) When they needed leaders to deal with a food distribution problem and quell cries of racism in their growing church, they selected more leaders, called them deacons, and put them to work.
All of this happened without a manual or scripture passage. Live, without a net.
All of this happened in a period of constant change, and intense persecution.
The thing that drove the early church to form structures was not their by-laws or traditions, but their Message. The earliest church was so intent on spreading their message of Jesus being alive, that they simply refused to let anything stop them! If structure was needed to make sure that more people could continue to hear about Jesus being alive, they created it. When difficulties arose, they adapted. When leaders failed, they replaced them. I think it’s a mistake to look at the structure of the early church without considering WHY they existed. The basis for every structure they created…every leadership position…everything they did was for one purpose: to do WHATEVER IT TAKES to tell others about Jesus.
I can’t think of a better way to structure and “run” a church…
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”- Jesus (Acts 1:7)