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Therefore, the urgent call of the church in our time is to make disciples. Discipleship formation requires that we are following Jesus along his way. As we are forming one another in discipleship, we are nurturing and equipping people for apostleship. We are equipping people to join God’s mission of justice, liberation and hope. In other words, we gather to scatter. As we scatter, we engage God’s work of dismantling racism and eradicating poverty. Also, we share along the way the hope we have in Christ (1 Peter 3:15–16).
The church is a Holy Spirit movement. According to The Acts of the Apostles, the early disciples were instructed by the risen Lord to wait in Jerusalem. Power would come upon them and fill them for the purpose of bearing witness to this life-changing way of life. The context of the Holy Spirit’s activity that day was the temple in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, when a diverse group of people from around the known world were gathered together for worship (Acts 1–2).
The Holy Spirit worked through the disciples and this diverse group of people so that those gathered for the Pentecost celebration would hear in their own languages the life-giving work of God in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is the power by which the church bears witness to the kingdom of God. And because of this unique witness, people were curious about how they were hearing this beautiful message in their own languages. Peter boldly presents the life, death and resurrection of Jesus within God’s salvific activity and mission in and through Israel. Upon hearing the explanation and seeing the transformation of human life, their hearts break. They repent and turn to God.
The result of the power of the Holy Spirit in the breaking and opening of human hearts is the embodiment of the gospel in formation practices. The early church identified the following four essential practices that by the power of the Holy Spirit transform us into the very life of Christ: they devoted themselves to the apostles teachings, the church is a diverse fellowship, the church engages in breaking bread and the church prays. Through these practices, disciples are shaped and sent to join in God’s mission of justice and hope.
The purpose of these practices is to make us a peculiar people. We become what we practice. Practices shape and change our lives. God is using our changing lives for the transformation of the world. When people catch a glimpse of generosity, they want to know more. When they encounter a fellowship that is diverse and welcoming, they desire to be included. When worship and prayer are engaged in life-changing ways, people take notice.
Because of the power of the Holy Spirit working through these practices, people encountering the community of faith of the early church liked what they heard and saw, and the church enjoyed the favor of the people around them (Acts 2:47). People desired to know more about the healing, justice and hope emanating from this distinctive community. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:47).
My closing thought is a prayer for you and the church:
So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus would be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus attractive to all, getting everyone in on the glory and praise of God.
(Philippians 1:9–11, The Message)
1. Michael Gorman, Becoming the Gospel (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2015), p. 317.