Authentic Community

“Authentic Community”
Acts 2:42-47
Sunday, September 23, 2012
#1 of 5 – 30 Day Church Challenge
Week One: Doing Life Together—Cultivating Authentic Community

Welcome to the 30-Day Church Challenge!

Find a Bible and open to Acts 2.

While you’re turning there…I recently heard about a little guy who was playing out in his yard one day.  A man came down the street looking frustrated. He said to the boy, “Son, I’m lost. Can you tell me how to get to the post office?”  The boy said, “Sure, just go to the stop sign and turn left. It’s right around the corner.”  The man thanked him and said, “By the way, I’m the new pastor in town. If you’ll come to my church on Sunday, I’ll tell you how to get to heaven.”  The little boy thought for a minute and said, “No thanks. You don’t even know how to get to the post office.”

Now, I actually DO know how to get to the post office and over the next thirty days, I want to help all of us get to a place we’ve never been before…I want to help us and our church reach our God-given potential.  Today we’re starting an adventure called, “The 30-Day Church Challenge.”

The dictionary defines a challenge as, “a call to take part in a contest or competition.”  For the next thirty days, you and I are entering a contest designed to deepen our relationship with God and each other, and discover what the church was really meant to be.  We’re going to do what the church once did to become the church God wants us to be and to experience spiritual life at a deeper level.

The Power of a Challenge:
In 1907, British General Robert Baden-Powell founded the Scouting movement in England…In 1910, the Boy Scouts of America was incorporated based on Baden-Powell’s organization…The purpose of the group is stated as: “to teach [boys] patriotism, courage, self-reliance, and kindred values.”  Scouting believes that character development is as important as academic achievement, and that when people are put in challenging, adventurous situations, they gain confidence, redefine their perceptions of their personal capabilities, demonstrate compassion for others, and develop a spirit of camaraderie with their peers.

Personal growth accelerates in challenging situations.
I was a scout and a scoutmaster; one of the things I realized is that wilderness challenges are effective at building self-confidence and learning to work together in a community.  For over one hundred years thousands of young people have spent time hiking challenging trails, canoeing down river rapids and rappelling off wicked cliffs.  Today, hundreds of America’s leaders point to their time in Scouting as being influential in shaping their lives…From presidents to astronauts to business leaders, the Scouting program has helped young people grow in character through the power of challenges that stretched them in ways they wouldn’t normally stretch themselves.  Programs like scouting have taught us that people grow better when we do it together.  Put a single guy out in the wilderness, and unless he’s Bear Grylls, he’s probably going to flounder and die.  But put a group of people out there, and the power of community bonds them together and enables them to do things they would never have attempted on their own.  By our very nature, we grow better when we decide to tackle challenges together.

In your bulletin this morning you were all given a Challenge Bookmark.  I’m asking you to keep this in your bible and bring it with you each week.  Let it be a reminder that we’re taking this 30-Day Challenge.  Every Sunday during this series, we will encounter a Scripture verse to think about…Use your Challenge Bookmark to hold a place for that verse…Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, will be to study that verse every day during the week and think about how that passage can help you meet the challenge from Sunday’s sermon…Today: Acts 2:42-47.  Then, all you need to do is step up to the challenge and really change your relationship with God and God’s church.  By this time next month, you’ll have discovered how our church can help you reach your God-given potential, strengthen your own relationship with God, and how we can become a church that transforms our community and our world!  Our objective is that at the end of this five-week 30-Day Church Challenge we won’t just come to church, we will become the church: a community of faith—powerful, inspirational, and transformational—touching our community and the world with the power of the Gospel!

Every one of our challenges will be related to one of the five purposes of the church we read about in Acts 2:

  1. Cultivate authentic community.
  2. Experience worship as part of your daily lifestyle.
  3. Take successive steps of spiritual growth.
  4. Practice personal stewardship.
  5. Reach out to the world around us.

So those are the challenges we’ll be mastering over the next five weeks, and the first is cultivating authentic community.  The Acts 2 church excelled at that; they devoted themselves to the church and to each other.  Last week we learned that one of the things that made the first church so special was that the people in that church made time for relationships.  Acts 2:42 says, “They devoted themselves to the fellowship.”  Verse 44 says, “They held everything in common.”  Verse 46 says, “They broke bread together in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.”

They cultivated authentic community.
One of the things you discover when you get involved in a really good church is that the church isn’t a building you go to, it’s a family you belong to. And usually, the center of family life is a small group that meets together regularly so that people can study spiritual truth together, and in the process, come to a place where they can know and be known, love and be loved, serve and be served, celebrate and be celebrated.  So, how do you experience that?

1. You make time for it. You commit to an intentional group of people on a weekly basis. You sign up for a group, and you make it such a priority that you show up every week.  Our first week’s challenge in the 30-Day Church Challenge is to commit to joining a small group, Sunday school class, or ministry team so that you can experience the power of authentic community.

2. You contribute to it. It’s one thing to show up for a small group, anyone can do that. A good group bonds when the members of the group make a conscious effort to contribute to the group.  Everyone pays attention and adds a comment or two so that a really good discussion happens.  The bottom line is that you learn to do life together, speak the truth in love to one another, and make each other’s lives better as a result of it.

3. You take a genuine interest in the lives of others.  If you are really interested in what’s going on in the life of the other people in your group, then, in your prayer time, you’ll take a minute to sincerely pray for God’s hand on each of the members of your group each day.

So, if authentic community is so precious, why aren’t we all experiencing it?  Answer: Because many of us are too busy looking for the good life elsewhere. We’re involved in our kids’ Little League and we’re involved in a career – both good things. Then there are family chores, exercise, paying bills, watching TV, taking vacations, and so many other things that are at our fingertips that it’s easy to miss one of the most important things.

So, I wonder…Do you want the joy and unity that community brings?  Do you want the spirit of celebration that doing life together with others brings?  Do you want to bring life and refreshment to your family, your friends, and your acquaintances?  Are you willing to invest some time in order to do that?

Your first weekly challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to join, attend, and contribute to a small group.  You’ll get the most out of this 30-Day Church Challenge by doing three things:

1) Attend Sunday service so you’re up on the subject for the week;
2) Meditate on the weekly Scripture every day; and last but not least,
3) Be part of a small group where you can do life together with others and learn truth together.

For some of you, this week’s challenge isn’t much of a challenge because you’re already meeting with a group weekly and doing some sort of daily reading.  So, here’s a deeper challenge for you: If you are a veteran of small groups and never led one before, I want you to get together with your small-group leader and have them teach you whatever you need to become a small-group leader.  Your challenge is to say to your small-group leader, “Apprentice me.”  If you are currently leading a small group, your challenge during these next five weeks is to prepare at least one member of your group to lead their own small group.  If you’ve never been in a group, your challenge is to show up, contribute by doing your reading, and take a genuine interest in others.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…Amen

[Thanks to Hal Seed, Pastor of New Song Community Church, Oceanside, CA]