Renewal in your church
New Testament scholar Dr. Kavin Rowe, along with Dr. L. Gregory Jones, recently released a small book entitled Thriving Communities: The Pattern of Church Life Then and Now.1 Utilizing his scholarly knowledge of Acts, Rowe offers some remarkable and convicting observations about the life of the early church, particularly in light of the tension between the church and the larger culture. He says that Luke’s story is that God “aims at nothing less than the construction of an alternative total way of life – a comprehensive pattern of being – one that runs counter to the life-patterns of the Greco-Roman world.”
What might Rowe’s observations mean for us as Christian leaders today? Let’s take a look at seven big themes in Acts:
- The early church constantly built and nurtured networks of disciples and communities.
- The early church did not remain hidden but made sure there was public witness to the gospel – whether at the temple in Jerusalem or in the pagan temples in places such as Ephesus and Athens.
- The early church cared for persons at the margins; the Grecian widows in Acts serve as an example.
- The early church taught and articulated faith as a living reality that gives life.
- The early church understood conflict as simply a way of identifying what was really important.
- The early church recognized that suffering is part of the journey.
- The early church engaged in prayer as a fundamental practice.
These identifying markers of the early church as observed in Acts might be worth consideration for leaders and congregations today by asking these questions:
- Are we actively forming and nurturing groups of disciples through Sunday school or small-group ministry?
- Does our church find ways of making the gospel message public in our community?
- In what ways are we caring for persons at the margins?
- Does our church teach the core fundamentals of the faith in a way that gives life and meaning to our congregation?
- Are we willing to explore conflict as a path to our future (or do we avoid it)?
- Are we prepared to suffer or to relinquish strongly held ideas, possessions, or status for the sake of God’s will?
- How well do we practice prayer as a way of life in our church?
I will be the first to admit that these are hard questions. But I also think they reflect well the witness of the early church as seen in the book of Acts. Maybe asking such questions and engaging in a close reading of Acts might well be a useful exercise for leaders in your congregation.
Renewal begins with God’s work. And in many cases, God is simply waiting for a church and her leaders to get serious about seeking a new and vibrant day. I can’t think of a better thing to do than to let the witness of the early church guide us.
Blessings on your work of leadership!
 C. Kavin Rowe and L. Gregory Jones, Thriving Communities: The Pattern of Church Life Then and Now, ed. Alissa Wilkinson (Durham, NC: Duke Divinity School, 2014), Electronic Format.