Welcome to Friday’s Podcast. Next week my colleague Helen Ward will pick up the baton as we continue our journey through the book of Acts. Today our reading is Acts 2: 42-47 and I’ll focused on verse 42:-
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
I’d love to think about the first three words of verse 42 – ‘They devoted themselves’.
Church growth specialists have spent so much ink writing about these verses: The conversion of the 3000; and the practices of the fledgling early church church. However, within this verse – actually, within the first three words – describes something that’s easily overlooked: culture. The business guru Peter Drucker once said that ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast.’ You can have all the fancy plans you want but if the culture, essentially behaviour, doesn’t change then the strategy is futile.
These 3 words have always challenged me. It makes me think: what is devotion? According to google the word describes a love, loyalty, enthusiasm for a person or activity. It makes me think – is my life a life of devotion to God? Our church?
Paul Scanlon, the former leader of Life Church Bradford wrote this in his book ‘Crossing Over’ :
‘I once met an ex-Baptist pastor, who after twenty years in ministry, had resigned and was now a landlord. He told me that what led him to this radical change was twenty years of soul-destroying ministry that put him and his wife on prescription medication. He described a church where he felt completely responsible to persuade people to get involved, but they refused. He became worn out from the huge effort to convince, persuade, remind and sometimes beg people to get behind his vision, but they wouldn’t.
I asked him what he enjoyed about being a landlord, and his reply hit me like a hammer. He said ‘I love this job because my drinkers are devoted all by themselves.’ He explained how we never had to persuade or remind his customers to come back. He never had to call his absent drinkers to assure them they were missed, nor did he had to inspire them to part with their money. Finally he said ‘my drinkers came early and stay late, but in twenty years of ministry the church did neither…’
Why is this? We know our society is shaped by consumption. I know that I can open an app on my phone and buy something and it will arrive the next day. Or I can do the same with a taxi – hopefully not arrive the next day but the way we purchase, we consume is more comfort driven than before – it’s easier than ever to consume. Marketing, advertising, those ‘blessed algorithms’ – means I can create my own entertainment – watch what I like on Netflix when I want to. I can order whatever food I want and have it delivered to me. I don’t even need to leave my house.
This shapes how we think and how we act – consumption and its excesses can leave us passive. We become consumers, not creators. And this folks is a problem when we worship the creator who has made us creative.
John Mark Comer – the American pastor from Portland, Oregon – asked his church to draw an image of a church. They did – they drew either a church building or a theatre or a cinema style building. He said this – if you asked someone in the early church to draw their church – they would probably draw a table – right at the heart of the home. The church over the centuries has evolved from a table – to now a theatre style – the very symbol of entertainment. Lights, music – speakers on platforms – working hard to inspire and entertain. The issue with that is the responsibility falls on those on the platform not in the pews.
The image of the church gathered round the table – if you’re part of STC, think back to our summer series Big Table – is the place where we turn up, we contribute not consume – we bring something to share – we invite people into our world – our home – which is pretty costly at times but we get involved, jump in.
In the church I grew up in – I often would hear the term: ‘follow up’. This was a practice of calling people up if they didn’t show up for small group. The idea was that it displayed care and looked out for people. While the sentiment is good – I can’t help feel that it put the responsibility upon the person doing the following up – not the person who hadn’t shown up. Sometimes we can become more committed to that person being followed up – then they themselves are to Jesus. My only push back these days – is that we do need to think on that stuff through the lens of the New Testament? Jesus, as far as I can see, never followed anyone up. In fact it was the converse – they followed him up.
Just those three words: ‘they devoted themselves’ leave me challenged. Am I taking responsibility for my walk? Am I partaking or consuming? Am I bringing stuff to my mid-week communities – do I have skin in the game – or am I sitting back, comfortable?
Today – reflect on those words and allow the Lord to search your heart.
Lord let us embrace the challenge to be partakers – not consumers and where we’re not taking responsibility – we turn back to you. Amen
READING: Acts 2:42-47
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.