Go On Back!

Bible Book: Acts  2
Subject: Church; Homecoming

Go On Back!

Dr. J. Mike Minnix, Editor, www.pastorlife.com

Acts 2

A mountain preacher was holding forth one Sunday on the preexistence of Jesus. He stated, "Before Isaiah was, Jesus was!" A woman in the congregation shouted, "Go on back, preacher, go on back!" So, the wound-up preacher exclaimed, "Before Abraham was, Jesus was!" The woman shouted again, "God on back, preacher, go on back!" The preacher, ever louder in voice, said, "Before Adam was, Jesus was!" The woman in the congregation yelled even more forcefully, "Go on back, preacher, go on back!" The preacher, all full of vim and vigor, shouted, "Before God, Jesus was!" The lady said, "Come back up, preacher, come back up!"

As we celebrate homecoming, we are looking back. We are remembering the vision and sacrifice of those who came before us. We are, it can be said, standing on the shoulders of those who came before us.

I fear, however, that many churches are not going back far enough. We are closing churches in America at an alarming rate. Southern Baptists, comprising the largest protestant denomination in our country, are declining in the number of churches for the first time in their history. Pray tell, what is the problem? Some surmise that we are living in a secular generation, facing increasing defiance from radical groups, being bombarded by court rulings and dealing with an education system that teaches every child that there is no Creator. To a degree, all of that is true; however, we must realize that each generation in the history of the Church has faced their own perils and problems.

Let's go back today and look at the very first church. After all, they surely faced the most difficult circumstances that any church can possibly face. They were hated by the religious establishment of their day. They were hunted down, imprisoned, beaten and often put to death for their faith. The Roman government was sworn to remove them for the face of the earth. Their exclusive message went against the Greeks and Romans who accepted multiple gods as a way of life. The first church had no buildings, no money, no advertising, no New Testament texts - at least not at the very first - and no formal way of organizing. Yet, they turned the world upside down - or right-side up, as some say.

How did they do that? What did they possess that we don't possess today? How did they succeed where so many are failing in our generation? These questions drive us back to the Day of Pentecost after Jesus had ascended back to heaven, and to the days immediately following it. Here we can discover the founding principles of an effective congregation of Christian believers. What did they have and what did they do that made them so effective?

I. A Sincere Prayer

Look at Acts 1:14. Now, let's read Acts 2:24. Look again at Acts 4:31.

In every case you read about the prayer life of the early church. These people prayed with earnest sincerity. They met together and prayed! Note that after Jesus ascended to heaven, they met together in the upper room and prayed for ten days. The text states that they prayed "continually." Someone was praying there, it appears, around the clock.

I want to ask you a question. How often do you meet as a church and do nothing but pray? Do you have a prayer partner or prayer partners that you pray with each week? I'm not talking about the prayers we pray at specific points in the worship service. There is often a prayer in the beginning of a worship service, a prayer before the offering is received, a pastor's prayer and a prayer before the invitation in most services. I don't want to make light of those prayers, but that is not the same thing that the first church was doing. They were meeting specifically to do nothing but pray. I submit to you that we have lost that ministry in many of our churches and it may well be one reason we are weak and failing in this generation.

Larry Wynn is a member of the staff at the Georgia Baptist Convention in Atlanta, Georgia. Of many years he pastored Hebron Baptist Church in suburban Atlanta. He began there with about sixty people. They grew quickly to a number that was exciting - if I recall correctly, they grew to about 300 to 400 people in attendance. Larry tells how they came to what felt like a brick wall in terms of growth. They just could not grow beyond that point. Weeks or months with by without any forward progress. Larry became discouraged and wondered if he had done all he could do in that fellowship. One Sunday God spoke to pastor Larry and urged Him to go talk to a layman in his church. Larry sent his wife and children home after the service and headed straight to the man's house. When Larry went in he told the man God had sent him. To Larry's surprise the man said, "I've been expecting you. God told me what is troubling you but also told me not to talk to you until you came to me." Then the man told Larry that the reason the church was not growing was simply because the people were not praying. Larry went away and called some men and ask them to meet him early in the morning for prayer the following week. The very next week several people were saved in the worship service. The church kept praying together and the attendance exploded. At one point, before Larry left the church to become Vice President at the Georgia Baptist Convention, Hebron Church had attendance on many Sundays of over 4,000 people - and at times more than 5,000 people.

Listen, God does not mean for every church to be a mega-church - averaging over 2,000 per week. Most churches are not in communities where that can ever happen. But, I promise you that you will never reach your potential in ministry, attendance in your church, or the winning and baptizing of converts that is possible without having a praying people at the altar of God.

One Sunday School teacher was training the children in the matter of reverence in worship. She asked, "Now, why must we be quiet in the worship service?" One little girl raised her hand and when recognized answered, "We must be quiet because people are sleeping."

Well, there are many people sleeping, especially when it comes to prayer. In our private and personal time we God, we must pray for each other, the lost and the church as a whole. We also must have regular times when the church family kneels together and prays. Acts 4:31 reminds us that the place was shaken after the people prayed. Many churches are not shaking and moving because they are not praying!

II. A Steadfast Partnership

Acts 2:1; Acts 2:46

We note that all the people in this first church were in "one accord." Some wise guy said, "Wow, the first church experienced a real miracle occur. They got 3,000 in one Honda - an Accord." Actually, to get 3,000 in accord - in unity - is a miracle. It is a miracle of God's love working inside each and every member. It takes God to keep people in love with one another and to keep each one from seeking his or her own desire in the fellowship of believers.

The first church was in steadfast partnership. They did not allow little issues to disrupt the unity of the church. Someone wrote a poem that reads:

"To dwell above with those we love,

That will be glory;

But, to live below with those we know,

Now that's another story."

There is no substitute for unity in a church. A house divided against itself cannot stand, as Jesus clearly said. Sadly, many churches in are constant conflict because of differences of opinion of non-essential matters. They are not divided because of doctrine but usually because of some programming issue. Sometimes they disagree on budget items, carpet color, music styles, and a hundred other issues. These non-essential matters cause friction, rumors, divisiveness, bitterness, and drive away members. The wrongful attitude of the church hangs in the air like rotten smog. Visitors can feel it when they come in the door. No one has to say anything to them - they simply know that something is not right in the church.

Jesus prayed in John 17 that we be one, as He is One with the Father. How sad that we are so far from that in many of our churches! If you can't get along with each other, you will never get along in growth and successful ministry. You can't win souls with a hateful attitude toward a brother or sister in your own church.

Unity requires putting God's work above your preferences. "I did it my way," is not a church hymn! We must put aside our predilections and trust our leaders. We must pray for those who make decisions to do the right thing. In fact, wanting our way on issues in the church is often a side of pride, arrogance and superiority toward others. God will never bless that in a church fellowship.

III. Supernatural Power

Not only was the New Testament church filled with praying and united people, but they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Too often today we are trusting in some program or plan to grow our church. The Holy Spirit is God' presence in His people. When we are filled with His presence, we are empowered to do things we cannot do otherwise.

I pastored First Baptist Church, Lilburn (Atlanta Suburb), Georgia for twelve years. God did amazing things in our fellowship. We had a united and praying people in that church. One Sunday the Single's Minister in our church came to me during the invitation and said that a woman had asked for the entire church to pray for her. I saw her sitting behind him in a wheelchair with two or three of the singles standing alongside. I agreed, of course, and after other decisions had been made during the invitation, I invited him to bring her forward. I told the congregation about her cancer and how the singles had been ministering to her so faithfully. The young lady had a son and the singles of our church had been taking care of him. They had been cleaning the lady's house and helping her with groceries and many other chores. I looked down at her in that wheelchair and a strange message came to my mind. This is what I heard the Lord say: "She is not sick." My heart rate increased and my hands began to sweat. I went forward with a prayer for her and for her healing, but after the service I pulled the single's minister aside and told him what the Lord had spoken to my heart. He protested that she had medical bottles on her bedside table and that he and others had been taking her to the doctor. I asked that we proceed by talking with her doctor. To make a long story a bit shorter, we eventually got a lawyer to help us talk with her doctor. I can't tell you the shock that the single's minister had on his face when the doctor told us that she had no life threatening disease and certainly nothing like cancer. He said that he could not tell us her illness but that it is a common thing and she had no business in a wheelchair or being laid up in bed. We eventually found her parents living out west and they came and got her and flew her home. Before leaving, however, they stood before our church and apologized for what their daughter had done.

Now think about this for a moment. The singles were wearing themselves out, spending money, taking up valuable ministry time to help someone who needed no help at all. God knew the truth and told me the truth. I sincerely believe the Lord did that because of the faithful unity and prayerful lives of our people. I can tell you this, it takes supernatural power to lead you to have a successful church. There are really no successful pastors, there are only churches filled with members who have yielded to God's Holy Spirit to lead and empower them.

Let me ask you something today, are you filled with the Holy Spirit? Is His amazing power at work in your heart, mind, words and deeds? If not, you may now be in the last generation this church will ever experience. There will not be many homecomings left for a church that disregards the Holy Spirit of God.

IV. Surrendered Purse

Acts 2:4

Note that the people in the first church had "all things" in common. This was not communism, for Communism is a government forcing people to share - and most of the sharing goes to the government leaders who live like kings while the common people starve. The Church at Jerusalem opened the purse, the pocketbook, the checkbook, the bank account and the billfold so that God could use whatever He needed in order to get the gospel to the world. Today, however, we are seeing a decline in giving in our churches.

Understand this, there has never been a time of prosperity like that of today. I remember when a single bedroom closet held all the clothes a family wore. Today we have walk-in closets (some have two in one bedroom) storage places and still don't have enough room for the clothes and shoes we wear. When I started driving in 1960, my father and mother still only had one car - and they were thankful for it. I finally found an old car that somebody wanted a naive person to take off their hands, and I was that person. When I went around a curve, the drivers door would often fly open. It bounced up and down worse than riding a horse. The steering wheel looked like a semi-trailer tire. Some of  you remember those days. But, look at most of us today. We have so much - so much more than those before us. Yet, we give less percentage of our income than those before us.

Years ago I pastored a church that needed a new educational building. We had children's Sunday School classes meeting on the stairways, with the teacher standing on the landings to teach. If the fire chief had seen us, somebody might have been arrested. The Properties Committee got a proposal together and presented to the church to build a new educational wing on our growing church. The night it was discussed, a member stood up and opposed it. He was a young man, one of the deacons, and from a prominent family in the church. He pointed out that interest rates were very high at that time and the economy was not good. He thought the church should wait. I thanked him and asked if someone wished to speak for the motion. An elderly lady, with white hair, stood up and pointed out that the building we were worshiping in at that very moment had been built during the depression. She mentioned the beauty of the building (is was indeed a marvelous building) and reminded everyone that she and others like her had given up little pleasures - like drinking a daily soft drink - in order to give to the building fund back in those days. She also remarked that most of them did not have a car when the church was being built and actually walked to work each day. They had put off buying a car so they could give to build the church. Then she got personal in her remarks. She mentioned that now people drove to church in new cars (the young deacon against the building had a brand new car at the time), and even had a swimming pool in the backyard (the young deacon was the only one I knew who had a swimming pool at the time), and that the church had no excuses for postponing the building of the educational building for the children's program. She went on to say, "If you can't erect a building now, you will never be able to do it." The vote passed and building was completed.

A church that is tightfisted, that does not have a significant number of tithers, and has people who are materialistic will never be a successful church. We must be willing to give faithfully to the God who has given us everything we have. He gave His Son that we might be saved, and He finds it offensive when we will not be faithful in tithing, or giving to other missions and evangelism causes. Why should He bless a church that will not honor Him in faithful giving?

V. Soul-Winning Purpose

Acts 2:47

The Lord was adding daily to this church those that were being saved, and you can be sure that this was largely true due to the faithful witness of the members. After all, faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. These church members were excited about their faith and they were not silent about it. A church must have a soul-winning purpose! Let me ask you, how long has it been since you grieved, even wept, over someone you desired to come to Christ. Paul said that he could wish himself accursed (that means lost without salvation) if only his fellow Jews could all be saved. No wonder everywhere Paul went he left a growing church behind.

We must remember, especially at a Homecoming or Anniversary Service, that we are always one generation from extinction. Since I moved back to North Carolina in my retirement, I have been asked to speak in many churches. It has troubled me to see that many of the churches that once had great congregations are in such disarray. I know times have changed and the employment that once made it possible for people to congregate in large numbers within communities has changed; however, look around you, there are just as many people living around us and there were back then. Why are we not reaching them? A lot of the blame rests with our unwillingness to go forth and share a witness for Christ.

In Acts 1:8, Jesus clearly told believers that the Holy Spirit would make them witnesses to Him. Everyone of us is a witness - we are either good ones or bad ones. We are either doing the good work of sharing our faith or we are silently allowing people to pass us by. Some claim that people don't want to hear about Jesus. I can tell you without equivocation that people have never wanted to hear about Jesus. Read the latter part of Hebrews 11 and see how those Christians were treated. It doesn't matter if it is popular, we are to be faithful to our Lord.

VI. Scriptural Preaching and Bible Study

Acts 2:13-42

Note that the church members in Jerusalem were faithful to be in the Word of God. When Peter preached the first sermon, recorded in Acts 2, he quoted scripture from the Old Testament throughout the message. Of course, he didn't have a New Testament - not one word of it had been written at that moment. He used the Word of God because there is power in the Word. The Bible is a living book.

VII. Soulful Worship

Acts 2:47

They praised God - they worshiped joyfully. Even in all the troubles and trials they faced, they gladly came togeghter to worship. Even when threatened by authorities with arrest and death, they worshiped the Lord openly, freely, and happily.

Well, I'm out of time - but, listen carefully, the churches or our day are running out of time. God will not long bless those of us who are not fulfilling His will within the His Church. God will move His blessing to another nation - another people - to other churches! Today, at this Homecoming, let us renew our commitment to New Testament church life. At the final homecoming - our eternal homegoing - we can hear Him say, "Well done, good and faithful servant!"