On Sundays (and some Saturday nights) in churches across the country, people are gathering again. If your church is a more contemporary church, there may be flashing lights and smoke – almost as if a concert experience is about to begin. Usually, the high energy of the opening leads to a fast-paced song that gets people up, involved and excited about the service. After the praise and worship set there may be some announcements and then we hear a word from the pastor, there is a prayer and afterward people leave and go home to face their week.
All of this happens in about ninety minutes. Now this may not be your church experience and I am not saying every church operates in this fashion. However, when I think about the goal of church and compare that to what we are doing today, I wonder if we are “doing church” the right way.
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5 Critical Elements That Should Be Part of Church
It is important to point out as we often say, church is not the building, it’s the people. My question is this: have we put a premium on gathering in the building over growing the people? There are five critical elements that the church should be providing, and most of those cannot happen on Sunday. Let me begin with the two we do well.
One of the reasons we gather is to worship God. In my opinion, there is no greater sound than hearing people come together to pour out their affection on Jesus in heartfelt worship. I can remember times being in church – and I used to go to one of the biggest churches in the Northeast – and when the people would worship you would hear literally fifteen hundred people lifting spontaneous praise and worship to God. It was absolutely amazing.
It reminded me of the passage in Revelation 14 where John describes the sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and loud thunder. Now, your worship experience may be a little different and that is okay, I am not trying to make a comparison. What I am saying is that gathering together for worship is something we should do, and we actually do this well.
No service is complete in our church model without the preaching or teaching of God’s Word. This is a necessary part and is often one of the highlights of the service. For some people, this is the only part of the service they care about. They will even skip the worship just to hear the word. By the way those people miss the whole point of worship anyway (that’s a conversation for another article).
Most churches do a good job of providing instruction from the pulpit. Chances are you are going to get a good word that will be instructional, encouraging, challenging, and hopefully sometimes correcting.
These first two things we do pretty well in our church model, and they can be accomplished within the ninety-minute service. The challenge comes with the things we don’t do so well. As a lead-in to understand those, let’s look at this verse in Acts 2:42:
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
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One of the main drivers of the early church was discipleship; they were devoted to this. One of the things we struggle with in churches today is making disciples. We are good at encouraging people to come to church, but we are not so good at teaching people how to feed themselves outside of church. We have placed a high value on evangelism and making converts, but somehow we have missed that Jesus said go and make disciples.
True discipleship cannot be accomplished in a Sunday morning service because it requires a lot more time than that. Discipleship is the growing pains you must go through to help someone go from a baby in Christ to mature. As with any baby, as they grow up there is going to be a lot of spilled milk and messy diapers, but this is the work that is required if we are going to produce mature believers. My fear is that we have lulled people into thinking all they need to do is show up at church and they am good. This is not discipleship, and this will not help people grow.
If we are going to be the church God really desires and make the impact he wants, then discipleship has to be a part of this. Without it we will produce a church full of immature Christians who can only drink milk.
The other thing that cannot happen on Sunday morning is fellowship. Saying good morning to someone and asking how they are doing is not fellowship. By the way when you ask, you are probably going to get the standard answer, “I’m doing well” or for some churches “I’m blessed and highly favored.” This is not fellowship; this is a casual greeting.
In the early church their fellowship happened around food – they broke bread together. My point is that fellowship, like discipleship, takes time. You don’t get to know people because you sit next to them in church. You get to know them when you sit next to them outside of church and engage in real conversation with each sharing parts of who they are. This cannot happen in a church service. Fellowship is all about getting to know someone for the purpose of encouragement, connection, community, and unity. This cannot happen on Sunday morning, but if you are going to build a healthy church this must be a part of it.
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The last element to talk about is prayer. This should be the engine of the church, but often it is treated as the caboose. Instead of it leading the way, it is often an afterthought, almost ritualistic. We often treat prayer like we treat saying grace over a meal, it is expected so we do it.
The prayer that I am talking about is intentional corporate prayer where the church comes together as one body for the sole purpose of praying. Most often these services either don’t exist or they are the least attended services because people don’t understand or see the true value in them. True corporate prayer cannot be accomplished on a Sunday morning, because that is the time for instruction. If you are going to do this correctly, there must be time set aside for this purpose. It cannot be an afterthought and it must make its way from the thing that is at the rear to the thing that is at the forefront.
For too long we have let worship or preaching be the drivers of the church. While I love worship and good preaching, what will make the difference in the world we live in is prayer. It shaped the church in Acts and we need it to shape the church today.
Look at the Result
When you return to the book of Acts, I want you to focus on the result of their commitment to fellowship, discipleship, and 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 favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:43-47).
The impact the church needs to make is not going to happen because we have more exciting services. Our services now are pretty exciting and you can see where that has gotten us. We will make a real impact when we commit to discipleship which will bring maturity, fellowship which will bring community, and prayer which will bring unity and the power of the Holy Spirit. When we do that, then we are doing church the right way. And when that happens, get ready because we will position ourselves to see all that God can do.
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Originally published Monday, 19 July 2021.