The Local Church—A Spirit-Empowered Community
The Church tradition I grew up in lacked teaching, and a demonstration of the miraculous, present-day power of God. When I gave my life to Christ as a young adult, I gravitated toward the gospels and the book of Acts.
I wanted to know more about new life in Christ and read about God’s miracles. I longed to be part of a church culture where the life and community of the early church were realized, along with God’s presence and power as normative. I soon came to believe, “God did miracles then, and He still does today for those who believe!” (See my book, Receive Your Miracle Now! A Case for Healing Today for more on the present-day working of healing and miracles.)
Today, I want to examine principles that will aid us in being Spirit-empowered members of a dynamic local church community.
Keep in mind that each of us was uniquely created by God with gifts, purpose, and calling. You are the only you, and you are here for “such a time as this!” Pursue God and pursue your passions and dreams. But understand your giftings and calling are developed through connection to God’s people in the local church.
When we embrace this truth and work together in the local church community we are placed in, we thrive and come alive—destiny is realized! Our passion and purpose grow, we mature, and dreams are fulfilled.
The New Testament assumes participation with other believers in a local congregation. Unfortunately, in today’s world, individualism has created many disconnected believers without accountability or commitment in the body of Christ.
The difference between being a church attender and a church member is commitment. Attenders are spectators from the sidelines; members get involved in the ministry. Attenders are consumers; members are contributors.
Attenders want the benefits of a church without sharing the responsibility. They want relationship without commitment. How can one be part of a family without participation? Healthy families work together, cleaning the house, doing the dishes, etc. It takes “effort” to be connected to a family in a healthy way!
Let’s examine a story in Acts that underscores the importance of belonging and commitment to a local church.
In Acts 6:1-10, we read of how the early church and apostles chose seven men who were full of faith, wisdom, and the Holy Spirit to minister to the needs of the people.
In the early chapters of Acts, we read that since Pentecost, the growing church in Jerusalem needed more servant leaders to minister to the people. Or, as Jesus called them, “laborers for the harvest.”
The Hebraic Jews, native Jewish Christians, primarily spoke Aramaic, a Semitic language. The Hellenistic Jews, Greek-speaking Christians, were probably Jews from other lands who were converted at Pentecost. The Greek-speaking Christians complained that their widows were being unfairly treated.
However, this favoritism was probably not intentional but was more likely caused by the language and cultural barriers. To correct the situation, the apostles put seven respected Greek-speaking men in charge of the food distribution program. Leadership was multiplied, and the apostles were able to keep their focus on prayer, study, and preaching about Jesus.
In this story, did you notice there was an issue that caused division?
Principle #1 in being part of a local church family, even one moving in the power of the Spirit, is to recognize no church is perfect!
When we read descriptions about the early church—the miracles, sharing, generosity, and fellowship—we may wish we could have been part of this “perfect” church. In reality, the early church had problems just as we do today.
No church has ever been or ever will be perfect until Jesus and His followers are united at His second coming. All churches have problems. A pastor, who helped mentor me as a new believer, once said, “Bob, the minute you came into this church, it was not perfect!” Ouch! But I got the point. None of us are perfect, so why do we expect perfection in everyone else and or the Church?
If our church, or any church you are part of distresses you, ask yourself: “Would a perfect church allow me to be a member?” Probably not! Therefore, we should strive to walk closely with Jesus and each other and do what we can to make our church better.
Keep in mind that a church does not have to be perfect (or an individual) to be counted as faithful in the Lord’s eyes.
Principle #2, church growth creates a greater need for each member to use their gifts, talents, and abilities to contribute and minister.
As the early church grew, so did its needs. In this account, the great need was to organize the distribution of food to the poor. The apostles needed to focus on prayer and God’s Word, so they chose others to administer the food program.
Realizing they needed more prayer, rather than increased activity, the apostles chose seven others to serve as servant leaders to care for the needs of the church.
Faithfulness to prayer recurs through Scripture. Paul would later tell the church at Rome, “Be kindly affectionate to one another … continuing steadfastly in prayer.” Rom. 12:10,12 NKJV
As a result, the church grew, and supernatural ministry was occurring!
Each person has a vital part to play in the life of the local church. It is in the local church where we are most effective in discipling newer believers and a younger generation. In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul mentions four levels of discipleship occurring. Paul to Timothy, Timothy to the faithful, and the faithful believers to others who will follow. Our individual calling and assignments in the body of Christ are best realized as we serve and disciple others in local congregations.
God gives us individual assignments and ministries. He gives us abilities, talents, and gifts by the Holy Spirit. You thrive and come alive as you learn to operate in the spiritual, motivational, and ministry gifts God has given you. “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all.” 1 Cor. 12:7 NKJV
If you are a leader and find you are overwhelmed by responsibilities, determine your God-given abilities and priorities and then reach out to others for help (Acts 6:4). Invite, don’t coerce! If you are not in leadership, you have gifts and abilities that can be used by God in various areas of the church’s ministry. Offer these gifts in service to the Lord!
Principle #3, future leaders need a good reputation, to be full of the Spirit, and to have wisdom.
Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.” Acts 6:3 NKJV
The administrative task of distributing food was not taken lightly. Having a good reputation, both in the church and outside, means to live a life of Godly character reflecting Jesus and Kingdom values. For example, being full of God’s love, gentleness, kindness, humility, and having the ability to work with others. The basis of what we do should be a heart of love for others.
Jesus said, “… whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.” Matt. 20:26 NKJV
Don’t aspire to be great, rather aspire to be a great person—begin with loving and serving others!
Notice that Stephen, Philip, and the others were submitted to the authority of the apostles and the church. We don’t need “Lone Ranger” Christians! We need to be mutually accountable. Peter commands us to be humble, submissive, and accountable to each other:
Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” 1 Pet. 5:5 NKJV
We need older and younger working together in harmony to mentor a new generation of believers to carry on the mission of Christ and expand His kingdom. The local church is a family on a mission together!
To be full of the Spirit is to be led by and empowered by the Spirit. The most important prerequisite for any kind of Christian service is to be filled with faith and the power of the Holy Spirit. By the Spirit’s power, Stephen was a wise servant (Acts 6:3), and evangelist (Acts 6:10). By yielding to the Holy Spirit and relying on His power, you can operate in the gifts of the Spirit and abilities He has given you.
Principle #4, Leaders, and all believers, should expect to move in the supernatural
Acts 6:8, Stephen, “full of faith (grace) and power, did great wonders and signs…” Stephen was close to Jesus and learned how to commune with Him and the Holy Spirit.
Intimacy with God is the simple means by which we access living in the miraculous. Spending time in God’s presence is the discipline we must develop to access all that God has for us. The cumulative effect is a greater anointing to function in healing or the supernatural. Abiding in Christ is the key,
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5 NIV
God releases power through us as we dwell in intimacy with Him. The natural outworking of His Presence is Godly character, wisdom, and His gifts.
Stephen and Philip represent a forerunner anointing. Once again God is raising up an apostolic company in the 21st century. Not age-restricted, but hunger-dependent! God is doing amazing things in our day. We need to be ready for and expect His power and supernatural visitation. Faith is required, remember Stephen and the others were “full of faith…”
Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.” Mark 11:24 NKJV
Jesus first told the disciples in Mark 11:22 “Have faith in God.” Faith is from the Greek pistis and means persuasion, conviction, assurance, belief, trust.
He tells them in verse 24 to believe they already have it. In other words, have an expectation and anticipation. Believe is from the Greek pisteuo and means to have faith in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing, credit, to entrust, trust. Again, we are to believe, have an expectation! Oral Roberts once said of faith and expectancy:
Expectancy opens your life to God and puts you in a position to receive salvation, joy, health, financial supply, or peace of mind – everything good your heart longs for, and more!” Oral Roberts
Get ready! There are things about to happen in the church that “eye has not seen, and ear has not heard” and you and I can be a part of it.
Kathryn Kuhlman prophesied there would be a day when the church would say, “I am not sick!” and that in some meetings every single person would be healed. John Lake prophesied a great healing revival in the last days.
And the inhabitant of the land shall not say, I am sick.” Isa. 33:24 NKJV
Principle #5, the Church should expect growth! Make provisions and prepare leaders.
Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.” Acts 6:7 NKJV
After the congregation selected the seven and the apostles laid hands on them (vs. 6) and prayed over them, the good news of Jesus and the Kingdom spread, people converted to Christianity, and the church in Jerusalem multiplied greatly. So much so that even Jewish priests were coming to faith in Christ!
I’ll pick up next week on this important subject. We need local churches in the 21st century functioning like the 1st-century church!
For a deeper look at this topic, watch the Passion Church message “The Local Church: A Spirit-Empowered Community”