Day by day, as they spend much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home, and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the good will of all the people. And day by day, the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
I often reference the verses above to highlight what the church looks like at her very best. Following Pentecost, the first believers of the primitive church are described in the Book of Acts as worshiping, gathering, and eating together daily, serving one another sacrificially, and modeling Christ before others winsomely. They had “the good will of all the people.” That is a comment that has always intrigued me. Why were people outside the fellowship of the early church admiring of the people, practices, and proclamation of those within it?
A key theme I stress in these reflections is that the simplest Christian mission is usually the most local: commitment to living out our faith in the presence of family, friends, and neighbors as we read about with the first believers in Jerusalem. Yes, of course the church is called to love the stranger, far and near, as an embodied expression of God’s concern for the welfare of all people. And, yes, sometimes the church is called to ambitious transformative enterprises that leverage our corporate resources to bless many in effecting significant and just social change. Thanks be to God for the church’s role throughout history in the creation of hospitals, schools, social service organizations, and movements that have helped and improved the lives of millions and millions of people. We want to be about this kind of mission at St. John the Divine and we are.
However, it is a diminishment of Christian mission to think of it merely in terms of generous church support of worthy social service organizations. Similarly, our notion of what a missionary is should not be limited to vocational specialists called to ministry in challenged parts of culture or evangelism to distant lands. Rather, our self-understanding of mission is rooted in baptism! Every baptized member of the church is a missionary because they have been incorporated into the life of Christ, whose mission continues through the life of his church to this day. And God gives us the Holy Spirit to activate witness to Jesus in every dimension of our living. “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Thus, I want to help foster a culture wherein every single member of the parish understands himself or herself as a Christ-sent missionary in all areas of ordinary life. How might we help one another become more self-conscious and better equipped to represent Jesus in our personal, social, and professional relationships? What would it be like if we had the “good will of all the people” living around us who, by their simple observation of our Christian character and way of life, became interested to learn the source of the hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15)?
I am thankful that in the ongoing development of a renewed vision for St. John the Divine (“SJD 2030”), parish leaders have articulated a goal of equipping our members to understand common encounters with others as the primary arena of Christian mission. We are also developing goals to help SJD deepen an invitational culture.
To that end, I am encouraging every member of the congregation to model being a church with a deep invitational culture by inviting a friend or neighbor to a “taste and see” service at the church this coming Sunday, March 26th, at 5 pm. Our Friends and Neighbors Service will offer simple, reverent, and warm-spirited worship introducing the gospel and a life in Christ to people we know and who may be open to both. Would you please consider praying over inviting one or more of the people you encounter in your daily life to join you at this very special service? By God’s grace, it is possible that you will be the agent by whom a friend or neighbor develops a life-changing relationship with Christ and his church. What greater calling could one have than that?
A perennial question asked by those curious about early church history is: “how did it happen?” How did a tiny band of Jewish Christ-followers living in Jerusalem two thousand years ago grow a movement that became the major religion of the Roman Empire within a few centuries? What grand Strategic Plan did they develop? How did they execute so amazingly? The simple reason the church expanded inexorably may be most overlooked: the early church grew organically because ordinary Christians witnessed to their extraordinary Lord in everyday life before friends and neighbors. The church grew one friend and neighbor at a time. And it still does.
"Part of Christian realism is to understand that great social changes are the fruit of small courageous daily choices." —Pope John Paul II
“American Christianity is Due for a Revival” by Tim Keller in the February 5, 2023, issue of The Atlantic
For our last meeting, I invited the vestry to read and discuss this piece by well-known contemporary pastor and author Tim Keller. Keller is the founder of the influential Redeemer Church in New York City and is highly regarded for his wisdom and writings on Christian witness in our post-Christendom society. The piece has been the subject of much comment and sharing among church leaders, and you will find it an encouragement as we pray for revival at St. John the Divine.