One of Bill Hybel’s favorite mantras is, “the local church is the hope of the world.”
The first time I heard him say that, I coughed. “Not my church,” I mused, wondering what the distinguished Mr. Hybels must have been smoking when he crafted that statement. But I’ve since heard Bill explain himself, and now I’d have to agree.
We’ve all heard pastors and teachers and writers and preachers hearken back to the Acts 2 church, the explosive movement Jesus set into motion by filling his first followers with himself and the fire of God’s vision for the world. As amazing as that era was, it’s now water under the bridge — known universally as the golden age of Christianity, the era before the church became quagmired in its own complications and distractions.
We’ve been trying to get back there ever since. Recapturing the first century church ethos, structure, miracles, and missional momentum has been the pre-occupation of Christ-centered leaders for two thousand years, give or take. Count me in!
Until last week. Last week, I gave up on recapturing the Acts 2 church. I’m now convinced that God doesn’t want us to look back. He wants us to look forward. I’m convinced that when history is wrapped up and we’re sitting around heavenly campfires reminiscing about our time on earth, we won’t be asking, “Remember the early church?” I believe we’ll be asking, “Remember the latter church? Now THAT was amazing.”
Yes, mindbendingly incredible things happened in that virgin church. Yes, we have mammoth lessons to learn from their journey. That’s why the book of Acts is in the Bible. But listen, folks—while we may be pining away for the Acts 2 movement, God isn’t. No way. He’s got bigger fish to fry. Because as wonderful as that was, the early church was a baby church that hadn’t even begun to realize her potential. Aiming at Acts 2 is aiming too low. God’s vision for his church is higher still.
God’s “I have a dream” speech for the church isn’t a mystery. It’s found in Ephesians 4:10-16. I’m going to paraphrase slightly, changing the pronouns to be sure we hear it as the cry of God’s heart:
“It was me, Jesus, who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service… you see, my dream for the church is that my body would be built up until they all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of my fullness.
Ah, on that day, they will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, they will in all things grow up into me, Christ, the Head. From me the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, will grow and build itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
The Acts 2 church was beginning to resemble this picture, but because it was a baby church, it got blown here and there by every wind of teaching. It was pulled off center and lost its miraculous fire. Enter the epistles, where Paul and John and Peter tried to woo the church back to its pulsing core. As anointed as their writings were, they in large part…. failed. Here we are two thousand years later—never having recovered what we lost, never mind attaining the full dream, the divine vision that’s never been realized.
Did you get that? This world has never actually seen what God had in mind. Oh, we’ve caught glimpses here and there, brilliant flashes of reflected glory that point to God’s best. But God’s dream has not come true. We still have 20% of the body doing 80% of the work. Imagine… every single member rising up fully into their calling and role in the church! Imagine every man, woman, and child experiencing Christ’s fullness… together. Imagine every supporting ligament fully functioning. Everyone connected to the head. Everyone growing up in their faith… in every area of life. We’ve never seen such a thing.
Maybe that’s due in part to the fact that we’ve been so intent on going back instead of forward. Maybe that’s because pastors like me have been trying to recapture water under the bridge instead of being captured by fresh vision from under the Head. My prayer is no longer, “Take us back to the Acts 2 church, Lord.” It’s, “Lord, capture me with your dream for the church. Take us where even the Acts 2 church has never been. Manifest the radiant bride the world has never seen. And do what you need to do in me to yank me out of being part of the problem and into being part of the solution.” Because the world has yet to grapple with the reality of a risen Lord expressed fully in his followers. How could they resist?
Even in Acts, the church was growing and multiplying—not so much through evangelism as through magnetism! As Hybels says, “This community of believers, this church, offered unbelievers a vision of life that was so beautiful that it took their breath away. It was so bold, so creative, so dynamic that they couldn’t resist it.” (Courageous Leadership, p. 18).
We simply MUST get our heads around this verse: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power at work within us, to him be glory IN THE CHURCH and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20,21) God’s dream is that every generation would blow the doors off what the generation before it accomplished for the kingdom. Can you see it? Believe it? The Acts 2 church isn’t a blueprint, people—it’s a sneek peek at what kinds of things God can do when his church rises as one to BE the body. And the best is yet to come!
Amen? If this post resonated with you, post it all over the web. Let’s start a revolution here! Let’s celebrate the Acts 2 church but work at becoming the Ephesians 4 church.