Each year the beginning of February marks the start of a new year of ministry at St Paul’s. We are the beginning of our 7th year of Vision 2020. Vision 2020 is our 11 year ministry plan (commenced in 2010) to focus our efforts towards one big, bold and broad ministry agenda to know Jesus, treasure Jesus and represent Jesus for God’s glory and the joy of all people.
My desire is that as we plan and pray and labour towards this corporate vision we will see growth across St Paul’s. Growth in knowledge and love of God, and of each other - and more people treasuring Jesus. By God’s grace over the past year we have started to see some fruit of hard decisions in previous years.
One of the key strategies for St Paul’s as we grow towards 2020 is our network of smaller groups - Activate. As a church grows the number of people we personally identify with shrinks. In a large and diverse church the primary circle of belonging is not the Sunday congregation but the small groups of the church. Our desire at St Paul’s is for every personal who calls us their home church to be committed to a small group. It is the primary place for connection, growth and pastoral care. I’d encourage you to sign up for an Activate group in the next couple of weeks.
Of course, there are more important reasons and benefits for joining an Activate group than Vision 2020 and ministry strategies. A favourite insight into early Christian fellowship of mine is Acts 2.
The book of Acts is a story of the first church — the first regular gathering of followers of Jesus. It’s an awe-inspiring story, but it’s much more than a story. In those 28 chapters, God gives us a glimpse of how he moves in a community captured and shaped by a joy in him. Acts offers a kind of formula for loving one another and welcoming the bigness of God into our lives together. Maybe it’s the formula for seeing God do spectacular things in your Activate group this year? If it is, it’s surprisingly simple.
The Big God in Your Everyday
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. . . 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. (Acts 2:42, 46–47)
It says the church in Acts 2 gave themselves to four things: 1. the apostles’ teaching, 2. the fellowship, 3. the breaking of bread, and 4. prayer. Much should be said about each of these critical pieces in a church’s ministry, but the flavour of this passage in general is one of regularity and intentionality. These disciples developed real rhythms of living together in Jesus and for Jesus. It wasn’t a two-hour routine reserved for one evening per week. It was a weeklong effort to keep each other in the faith and to be a winsome witness for the world around them.
Our love for another is a lifestyle, not a weekly activity. There’s no corner of our hearts or lives that God meant for us to keep from our local church family. It doesn’t mean you have to spend every waking hour with these people. It does mean they should be tied into your life in more significant ways than what seat you sit in on Sunday in church. Like that first church, we need to find creative ways to live together in the everyday, incorporating the word, prayer, food, and meaningful relationships. Our big God calls us to live together in the everyday, because that’s where he is and that’s often where he works.
The Big God in Your Gifts
All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to everyone, as he had need. (Acts 2:44–45)
This group of men and women loved sharing any abundance with those with less. They felt each other’s needs as their own. They were carrying each other’s burdens — at least physically, but much more likely physically, spiritually, emotionally, and otherwise. The beautiful thread in this theme is that God was gifting some to provide for the needs of others, and vice versa. Needs were being met because God had covered them through others.
God deliberately gives you what you need, and he gives us what others need. It’s one way he gets more glory, by tying his children together in their dependence on him. He gifts us to fill what is lacking in one another. So in our Activate groups, we need to know each other well enough to know the needs, and we need to be aware what God has given us to spill over in sacrifice and generosity to others.
The Big God in Your Hearts
Everyone was filled with awe. . . (Acts 2:43)
The rhythms of the early church were a desire to meet God in his word (the apostles’ teaching), a desperation in prayer, a dependence on one another in need, and a regularity and intentionality in each other’s everyday lives. And what happened? “Everyone was filled with awe. . .” (Acts 2:43). As they lived, ate, and worshiped together, God inspired more awe in their hearts. He revealed more of himself — his love, his power, his glory — and so he awakened greater affections for himself.
The disciples were drawn more and more to God through ministry to one another. This joy in God was growing and spreading in the fertile ground of real, consistent, and sacrificial fellowship. God will capture more of our hearts through one another.
The Big God in Your World
And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:47)
This church was not just God’s way of caring for Christians. It was his appointed, dramatic way of multiplying them. It was his means of making more and more people his own, drawing them into the kinds of communities that live and love like this. As they gave themselves faithfully to one another, he added to their number.
What did this addition look like? Was God just dropping people at the front door ready to receive the gospel and join the church? Probably not. People are added through the preaching of the gospel, the faithful testifying to Jesus as our greatest treasure. As we commit to one another in these Christ-exalting churches and small groups, we should expect God to make those communities attractive, even irresistible to others. God will make our love, joy, and worship contagious in the world.
As you sign up to an Activate group, have a high expectation that the big God might do something remarkable in your small group.
Eager to see what God might do with us in 2016,
Rev. Steve Jeffrey