Let's review briefly what we've talked about in the previous chapter.
- The Bible shows us that the potential for church growth is unlimited. This is the goal when it comes to church growth.
- The Bible also provides a pattern as well as multiple examples to guide us in the organization of the church so that it is structured to accommodate unlimited growth.
- This New Testament pattern can be summarized as follows: We must train the church to function effectively and simultaneously in the five areas of biblical ministry in order to promote unlimited growth.
- The relationship between ministry and growth is the following: The church grows in proportion to its ability in carrying out the five biblical ministries effectively and simultaneously.
In the 1960s Erich Brenn preformed a stunt on the popular Ed Sullivan variety television program where he spun five plates on the tip of five long poles that were embedded in a straight line on a table. He started by spinning one plate on one of the poles and added successive plates until he had all five spinning simultaneously. The crowd watching would scream in anticipation when one of the plates would begin to wobble precariously while he was attempting to get others up and spinning. This would send him rushing back to the first plate in order to roll the small pole between his hands which, in turn, would speed up the turning of the plate and prevent it from crashing to the floor and ruining his act. In the end, he was able to get all five plates spinning on five separate poles simultaneously, as well as five bowls twirling on the table beneath them, all to the amazement and wild applause of his audience.
I reference this video because it demonstrates, in a visual way, the ministry system laid out in Acts chapter 2. For example, the primary goal in church work/growth is to establish each of the five biblical ministries and make sure that they are functioning effectively (spinning). In the act, Brenn would have to re-start one plate or another as it lost momentum. Isn't this what happens in ministry? Everything is working well until a key family responsible for maintaining an important part of a certain ministry has to move to another town leaving you scrambling to find someone to take their place. Getting those plates (ministries) up and spinning, and continually maintaining their momentum when they falter for one reason or another is a familiar cycle in the day to day work of growing the church.
There are no pre-sets in managing ministry. The New Testament pattern for ministry is one that requires constant monitoring, ongoing encouragement and endless adjustments so that all of the different areas of ministry keep on spinning (ministering effectively and simultaneously), and when they do the synergy produced results in growth (the Lord adds - Acts 2:47). I refer to this type of synergy as "liftoff." At some point the church seems to have a life of its own. Things begin to happen that you did not plan for. People begin serving in the name of the Lord in ways you did not imagine or require. Members begin to take ownership for the maintenance and growth of the church without being asked and there are more acts of service and love being done than can be counted or accounted for in ministry flow-charts or involvement forms.
Like a plane that leaves the earth when it has reached a certain speed, the church has an entirely different momentum and way of movement (liftoff) when all five ministries are efficiently working together producing what seems like effortless and unlimited growth.
The Five Biblical Ministries
Now that we understand the process for unlimited growth, let's take a closer look at each of the five ministries described in the New Testament (Acts 2:1-47). Luke introduces them in the following order:
- Evangelism - Acts 2:1-41
- Education - Acts 2:42a
- Fellowship - Acts 2:42b
- Worship - Acts 2:42c
- Service - Acts 2:43-47
These are the five areas of ministry that the church must be active and effective in if it wants to grow. No matter what you do in church work, it somehow fits into one of these five areas of ministry that Luke describes in Acts 2:1-47. Let us, therefore, examine each ministry more closely.
1. The Evangelism Ministry
On Pentecost Sunday we see Peter establish the evangelism ministry as he begins preaching the gospel to the crowd gathered in Jerusalem for the Pentecost feast. In Acts 2:14-41, which includes a summary of Peter's sermon and the crowd's response to him, we see the basic elements of the ministry of evangelism.
A. Preaching the Gospel
The ministry of evangelism begins by preaching the gospel to the lost. Peter's summary point is:
Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified."
- Acts 2:36
B. Telling the story of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus to those who don't know it
There are many ways of doing this, however, the primary objective is to communicate this information to those who do not know it. A complementary objective is to encourage a response of obedience from the hearers.
37Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?" 38Peter 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. 39For 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." 40And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation!"
- Acts 2:37-40
Note here that Peter not only gives them the information contained in the gospel but urges a proper response (repentance and baptism) from them as well.
C. Baptizing repentant believers
So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.
- Acts 2:41
The evangelism ministry is rather straight forward and easy to understand. It is the first area of ministry where believers communicate the Gospel of Jesus to the lost with the objective that they respond with faith (believing as true that Jesus is the divine Son of God), repentance (a change of heart where one leaves the pattern of sinfulness in one's life and replaces it with a pattern of righteousness), and baptism (immersion in water in the name of or by the authority of Jesus).
This briefly explains what evangelism is and tries to accomplish, but not the way to accomplish it. There are many ways or methods given to us in the New Testament to carry out and be effective in the evangelism ministry. For example:
- Confrontational Evangelism – Peter in Acts 2. This is straight forward preaching or public speaking. This is my own personal approach to practice the ministry of evangelism. In college, my major was Missions (church planting and organization), but my minor was in Mass Communication. My interest has always been the use of media in ministry. From the very beginning I wanted to learn how to use media in the work of the local church, and how to best use media in communicating the gospel to the lost. However, there are all kinds of ways to practice confrontational evangelism: newspapers, pamphlets, meetings, small groups, seminars, blogs, etc.
- Intellectual Evangelism – This is an approach that the Apostle Paul used in Athens (Acts 17). Christian writers, scholars and debaters who proclaim the gospel in books and other ways. They explain the gospel. They provide proof of its authenticity in comparison to other religions and philosophies. Preachers find helpful information in preparing their sermons and classes from resource books and other materials researched and written by Christian scholars. Their work contributes to and is a form of evangelism.
- Testimonial Evangelism – The story of the demoniac in Luke 8 is an example of this. After he was healed the Lord sent this man back to his home region with instructions to tell others what had happened to him. When the Lord returned to this place later on, He was greeted by large crowds who doubtless had been told of His healing power by the demoniac. Telling others what Jesus has done for us continues to be one of the most powerful evangelism methods even to this day!
- Interpersonal Evangelism – We see an example of this in Matthew 5 where Jesus agrees to eat at Matthew's (the tax collector) house. Jesus became involved in Matthew's life in order to win him over as a disciple and then later as one of the Twelve. Today we call this "friendship" evangelism. The name is different now but the spirit remains the same. We take a sincere interest in people in order to know them and share with them the message of life.
- Invitational Evangelism – In John's gospel we see the Samaritan woman inviting the people in her village to come and hear what Jesus had to say because she herself had been touched by the interaction she had had with Him (John 4:4-26). We practice this invitational evangelism when we invite family, friends and neighbors to Bible class, devotionals or worship services so they can hear the gospel and be with Christians. This is the most common and successful method of evangelism.
- Benevolent Evangelism – Dorcas was a good example of one who practiced benevolent evangelism (Acts 9). She impressed her community for Christ with acts of charity and service in the name of Jesus. There are all kinds of opportunities for good works in our own communities that, if done with humility and faith, become effective evangelistic outreach and witness for the gospel.
Not everyone can preach from the pulpit or befriend strangers, but each can find a way to share the gospel with the lost in order to bring the saving blood of Christ to individuals as they enter the waters of baptism. The first area of ministry, therefore, is the work of evangelism. Its objective is clear, to share the gospel with the lost with a view that they believe the message, repent of their sins and are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
The first question to ask a congregation that wants to grow is, "Are you knowingly proclaiming the gospel to your community in some way?" If your congregation cannot name and describe the specific ways that it is consciously proclaiming the gospel to the lost in your community, then the evangelism "plate" is not yet up and spinning in your congregation.
There has to be a conscious effort to actually communicate the information of the gospel to people who don't know it, and if you are not doing this in some way then you don't really have an effective ministry of evangelism. If, for example, you are doing it only once a year at a gospel meeting, you can "say" that you have a ministry of evangelism, but in reality that plate up there is not spinning very fast and needs definite attention.
2. The Education Ministry
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching
- Acts 2:42a
Once people become Christians, the work of instructing them to know and obey Jesus' teachings begins. The education ministry of the church can be accomplished in a variety of ways because we see a variety of teaching methods in the New Testament. For example:
- They taught the disciples throughout the week in the temple area and in homes (Acts 2:42; Acts 2:46).
- They taught on the Lord's day when the members of the church gathered for communion (Acts 24:7).
- They taught in public meeting places. Again, Paul, in the school of Tyrannus (Acts 19).
There was no specific command as to where or how they were to be taught, only that they were to be taught the teachings of Christ (Matthew 28:20). The Bible, therefore, is the primary subject for learning in the church.
In normal circumstances we, as teachers, only have access to our students once or twice per week, and then for only a 40-minute class and one or two 30-minute sermons. This is not much time to thoroughly teach someone the material contained in the Bible. For this reason I encourage teachers and education coordinators in the church to focus on teaching the content and application of Bible material to their students and not pop psychology or "how to" books from the Christian bookstore.
People in Bible class ought to be learning the Bible: what it is, what it says, what it demands, what it promises, etc. I also remind teachers that the overarching purpose of our teaching is to equip our students with the information and desire to obey the things that the Bible teaches so that they not only be "hearers" of the Word, but enthusiastic "doers" of the Word of God (James 1:22-25). Finally, we must also train our students in such a way that they will be equipped and eager to teach others what they themselves have been taught so that the cycle of restoring New Testament Christianity continues into the next generation (II Timothy 2:2).
It is worth noting that while the essential ministry of education remains the same from generation to generation, the methods and the tools change as new technologies enable teachers to be more effective in their roles. Jesus used the technology and methods of His time. Things like parables, word pictures, the teaching of crowds in open spaces as well as the established opportunities afforded Him as a Jewish rabbi to teach in local synagogues and certain areas in the Temple complex in Jerusalem.
Today, in addition to the traditional Bible class format, we can teach people God's word using the worldwide reach of the Internet. Not only can we use this electronic platform to connect with large numbers of people each day (e.g. in 2017 my own teaching website - BibleTalk.tv - had 50,000 visitors per month watching Bible teaching videos or downloading books), we can now offer this material in almost any language through the automatic translation services provided online for free.
Churches have also learned how to use different approaches in order to teach different age groups and people who are at different levels of spiritual maturity. For example, we use music and puppets to teach children, plays to interest and emphasize various ideas with teens, special classes for new Christians, young marrieds or seniors. These things were not in use by the Apostles when the church was originally established. Each generation produces different tools and approaches but the objectives are always the same: 1) Teach Christians to obey the words of Christ. 2) Equip and encourage them to do the same for others. New methods and tools for teaching are permitted because the New Testament doesn't tell us how, when or where to teach, this is left to our judgment.
When it comes to the education ministry, the Bible gives us the who, what and why, and we supply the how, where and when.
3. The Fellowship Ministry
There is such a logical progression here. Luke writes:
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship,
- Acts 2:42b
People are converted through the preaching of the gospel, and these converts are taught the teachings and commands of Christ. Another important aspect of the conversion process is their integration into the body of believers. As it does with many other important concepts, the New Testament uses a special word to describe this integration: the word fellowship or communion. This term means more than simply becoming part of a group. It means that each member shares what the other persons in the group have.
Let us say that I have invited six people over to my house and ordered pizza to feed everyone. The word fellowship explains the difference between the pizza delivery guy and my guests. The pizza man is present inside my house as are my guests. However, the pizza guy is only there for a moment and leaves. My guests, however, are there to share the pizza with me and because of that sharing what we have is fellowship, unlike the pizza guy with whom I only have a business transaction. My guests and I share love as well as pizza.
Fellowship is also the word used to describe what Christians experience when they share Christ. He is what believers share. My own natural family (parents, uncles and aunts, etc.) has not accepted Christ as Lord. I still love and have a family connection to them but I don't have fellowship with them. I only experience "fellowship" with my Christian family, no one else.
Fellowship is also the word to describe what Christians experience. It is the sharing of Christ that places our relationship and interactions as a church on a much higher level than relationships with those who are not Christians. Let's face it, regardless of who or where they are, my relationship with other Christians is fellowship because we both share Christ and conversely regardless of who they are or how close they are, I cannot have fellowship with someone who is not a Christian. I can be friends with them. I can love them. I can even be married to them, but I cannot have fellowship with them.
43Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. 44And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common;
- Acts 2:43-44
Here we see the joy and the extent of the sharing being expressed by these new Christians. They shared the excitement of seeing the power of God at work. They shared a new sense of community as people who had left an old life behind and begun a new one with fellow believers. They shared their time and lives together along with the joy of their newfound faith.
The pattern of fellowship established by the early church provides a good example for us to follow today as New Testament Christians. The ministry of fellowship, therefore, is the effort to facilitate and enable Christians to participate in and enjoy each other's lives and faith in Christ. It is not just about pizza parties. Church events are the vehicle, but not the destination. The destination is the sharing our faith as we share some activity together. People from different backgrounds, different cultures, different schedules need to work at sharing time, faith, service, meals and lives together in Christ. These things require an effort at planning and organization because these "events" do not happen spontaneously.
The fellowship ministry, therefore, has as its primary goal the creation of opportunities for Christians to come together and share Christ whether it be in social gatherings, service projects or times for reflection and thanksgiving. If Christians don't take the time to bond with other Christians in fellowship they become vulnerable to attack through temptation and isolation. This is why the fellowship ministry is so important.
4. The Worship Ministry
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
- Acts 2:42
The next ministry we see in sequence is the ministry of worship. Luke describes it briefly with reference to prayer and communion (the breaking of bread meant a meal or communion, depending on the context). Luke only mentions what the disciples began to do as they were initially converted, afterwards the Bible explains that Christian public worship included five basic elements.
Private worship is much more inclusive and flexible because everything we have can be offered to God in this context (Romans 12:1-2). For example, if you are a jogger, you can run for Christ and offer that activity in worship because it is part of your being and you are offering your complete self to God for His honor and glory. There are many ways that we do this in private worship. Whatever I do that is acceptable and worthy of praise I offer to God as part of the offering of myself as a living sacrifice each day.
Public worship is different because we have guidelines. The New Testament contains a pattern for public worship given by God and acceptable to Him:
- We take the communion – Acts 2:42, I Corinthians 11:23; 26
- We offer prayer – Acts 2:42c
- We sing praises – Act 2:47, Ephesians 5:19
- We teach God's word – Acts 2:42, Acts 21:7
- We give to support the church – I Corinthians 16:2, Acts 2:45
In the New Testament these are the only activities taught or practiced in Christian public worship. No parades. No special traditions. Baptism and the breaking of bread are the only "rituals" that are in the New Testament for Christians to practice. Choirs, bands, parades, candles, images and statues of saints are all human additions not supported by any teaching in God's word. The early Restorationist leaders appealed to the church to put away all of these man-made items and traditions in order to follow carefully the things that the New Testament taught concerning Christian worship. We, in the Churches of Christ, don't claim to have restored the perfect practice of New Testament Christianity but are convinced that we are aiming at the correct biblical goal that God has set in His Word for His people and their practice of worship.
As a New Testament church we follow these guidelines in preparing our public worship to God when we meet. Of course, as the church grows in numbers it requires a certain organization to make sure that the communion elements are on hand and prepared, people are selected and trained to serve as prayer leaders, worship leaders, teachers and preachers. This organization and attempt to worship God in accordance with the Bible requires the time and effort of many dedicated people who serve in the worship ministry.
For worship to be acceptable and edifying (it truly honors God and blesses the worshipper) many details have to be taken care of. These could include organizing a nursery to providing listening devices for the hearing impaired, and everything in between. There is much more to worship than simply picking the songs and assigning the men to serve communion. It is the most visible part of our church life seen by visitors and invited guests (including those watching at home if you live-stream your services online), therefore, it needs to witness the fact that we are not only enthusiastically worshipping God, but that we are doing so in a decent and orderly fashion following carefully the guidelines for public worship given to us by God Himself in His Word. After all, He is present when we gather (Matthew 18:20).
5. The Service Ministry
and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.
- Acts 2:45
In this verse we see the natural outcome of the cycle: sinners, who receive forgiveness and are taught Christ's word, begin sharing their new life in Christ with other believers in fellowship and worship to God. The natural product of this is love for God and one another. An example of this love is seen as they begin to serve one another using the resources that they have.
Luke doesn't mention specifics, he simply says that they pooled their resources in order to take care of any needs that came up. This activity pleased God (Matthew 5:16) but it impressed the community as well. Once people hear about the love of Christ through the gospel and respond to it in obedience, they begin to experience the love of their Christian brethren. This leads them to share in thankful worship and praise to God which in turn moves them to return that love by serving others in the name of Christ.
The service ministry is quite varied but is motivated by the same spirit of love that moved early Christians to pool their resources in the service of other people, in and out of the church.
This ministry is broken down into various sections in order to facilitate the management of the many areas of work that the church is involved in, and I will explain these later on when we examine how to organize the church's ministry system. For now, I have given you a brief description of each biblical ministry as it appears in the book of Acts: evangelism, education, fellowship, worship and service. One last point remains.
I've also told you that this passage explained the relationship between ministry and church growth:
And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
- Acts 2:47b
"When the church is active in ministry the Lord will cause it to grow."
Note that the very last sentence in the passage ties everything together. They were busy preaching to the lost and baptizing repentant believers. They focused on teaching the disciples to obey all the words of Christ. They provided encouragement and opportunity for fellowship and worship, and this led to the natural outpouring of love seen in Christian service. What, then, was the outcome? Jesus added to their number. This is why the objective in church growth is ministry, not growth. We minister and the Lord adds. Don't worry about the adding part, just focus on the ministry part.
Conclusion: If you want your congregation to grow, you must effectively minister in every single area of biblical ministry. The more effective and integrated the ministry, the more dynamic the growth.
Organized ministry equals unlimited growth.
There is nothing radically new about this approach. It is easy to understand that there are five ministries in the book of Acts and if we execute them well, the Lord will add to the church. I can tell you from experience, however, that it is not as easy to do as it is to explain or understand. In other words, it is very difficult to get all five biblical ministries functioning effectively and simultaneously. It requires time, effort and patience, but the constant encouragement is the fact that you know that you are aiming at the correct biblical goal. As you improve and begin to feel the "liftoff" of unlimited church growth in your congregation, I guarantee that the spiritual joy and excitement experienced will be worth the effort.