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by Kim Harrington


And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, "which," He said, "you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."

Acts 1:4-5

I had a dream a few days after my recent return from India. The Lord was speaking to me, and the words echoed in my mind as I awoke: "Get back to Jerusalem, you need to get back to Jerusalem." I understood instinctively that I wasn’t to go to the literal city, but rather to return to the spirit of the early Jerusalem church as recorded in Book of Acts. In other words, we need to return to the basics of the Christian faith, go back to the beginning and examine the foundations anew, and determine if the various developments that we’ve embraced over the years have been improvements or have actually made us less effective.

This doesn’t seem to be a real issue to the zealous evangelical or charismatic today. Of course, we’re modeling ourselves after the biblical church—duh?! But a closer examination of the church in modern culture might show that we’ve strayed from the simplicity of Christ, we’ve adopted questionable methodology, and even teachings and practices that have altered the actual character of our Christianity. It’s always a challenge for the church to adapt to the cultural context it finds itself in without changing the message and character of the Gospel and the church that Jesus had in mind when he said, "I will build my church." Unfortunately, we sometimes embrace innovative ideas without a great deal of prayer and thought as to how it might impact the character of our ministry in the long run.

Modern examples might be the televised church (complete with phony smiles, over-acting, and no dead-air time); the mad race for numerical and financial success (the world’s standards, not God’s); and the "seeker-sensitive" church which makes the Gospel message more palatable to the unchurched and does away with potentially offensive practices and teachings like a truly Spirit-filled service or the biblical doctrine of hell. These are not just means of winning the lost; they have changed the character and flavor of the American church, and not necessarily in a good, spiritual way.

If we desire to get back to the biblical pattern, to the character and standards of the early church in Jerusalem, what does this entail? What do we need to get back to? What have we possibly strayed away from?


1. The Jerusalem Church was Jesus-Centered

And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

Acts 5:42

A popular worship chorus says, "It’s all about You, Jesus." Truer words cannot be spoken. The church of Jesus Christ is to be Christ-centered—or maybe I should say "Jesus centered." The Book of Acts refers to "Jesus" twice as many times as it does to "Christ." There’s something more personal—and less religious—at least in contemporary English, in saying Jesus rather than Christ. You can tell if someone is really born again, if someone honestly knows God, by their use of "Jesus" rather than a vague reference to a distant "God." I was saved in the "Jesus Movement," and so were Peter and Paul, for that matter—they kept the focus on Jesus.

The early apostles had been with Jesus just weeks before. He was fresh in the memory, alive in their hearts in a way that is probably difficult for us to imagine. They had faith for healing and miracle-working, because they had been exposed to the supernatural ministry of Jesus for the last three and a half years. They knew how Jesus would react to a given situation, because they were thoroughly and personally acquainted with Him—"WWJD" was not subject to personal interpretation; they knew exactly what He would do because they knew Him intimately.

The authority of the apostles came from this knowledge of Jesus, and their intentional emphasis on being Jesus-centered. They knew how he would respond to Gentile converts, meats offered to idols, the ordination of deacons and elders, and the other steps that circumstances required them to address. To this day, the church looks to the apostles and their writings to determine what is right and wrong—because of their relationship with Jesus Himself. They were the closest to Him, and were/are more able to judge the wisdom of any development or step of progress the church attempts to make. We need to get back to Jerusalem and give heed to the words of those who honestly knew "what would Jesus do?"

They also looked forward to His soon coming. "This same Jesus…will so come in like manner," they’d heard the angel say. They expected Him at any moment, and they worked feverishly to hurry up the great event, hoping to bring the Gospel to every nation, thus fulfilling the condition that Jesus Himself had set upon His return in Matthew 24:14. Little did they dream that their precious Master would tarry for 2000 years or more!


2. The Jerusalem Church was Holy Spirit Powered

And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, "which," He said, "you have heard from Me; 5 for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now… you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

Acts 1:4-5,8

We should get back to Jerusalem and wait until we are endued with power from on high (Luke 24:49). The early church was Spirit-powered, Spirit-baptized, and Spirit-filled—that was the secret of their success, the reason they impacted the people around them so profoundly and were even accused of "turning the world upside-down." (Acts 17:6). Multitudes were added daily to the church, not because everyone had memorized two diagnostic questions and a five-step presentation of the Gospel, not because the church had geared its services to be more user-friendly, but because God was working with them with signs following! (Mark 16:20).

Many churches today are struggling to recover from bitter divisions, plagued by squabbling over the color of the carpet, torn by people with carnal ambition fighting over who gets to do what, and when. The church at Jerusalem was too busy doing the stuff, winning people to Jesus and growing by leaps and bounds, to have the time to engage in petty rivalry and other ungodly foolishness that characterizes so many churches today.

If we were truly Spirit-filled and Spirit-powered the world would sit up and take notice. If the lame were made to walk and blind eyes opened, the church wouldn’t have to invest a penny in advertising or promotion; the problem would be how to accommodate the crowds that seemingly came out of nowhere. If biblical power was being manifested in our services, the concept of becoming "seeker-sensitive" would be outrageous—who’d want to settle for half the package?! Who’d opt to be a second-class citizen in the kingdom of God when they could be the recipients of supernatural blessing and divine favor?!

Many pay lip service to the Holy Spirit today, but few have taken the time and made the effort to really invite Him to be in control, to really be God in our midst, with all that that implies. We need to get back to Jerusalem and wait on God until we are truly Spirit-powered.


3. The Jerusalem Church was People-Driven

Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.

Acts 8:4

Spirit-powered and people-driven: that was the secret of the early church. By people-driven, I mean that the people did the lion's share of the the ministry. The church grew without ambitious programs and strategies to win the lost, without expensive mass campaigns, without any official missionaries or emissaries actually being sent out until Paul and Barnabus were commissioned by the church in Antioch. The people were motivated, empowered, and apparently blessed and sanctioned by the leadership to go out and bear fruit—and they did, by the bushel!

In some ministries today, the program is more important than the people that run it, the "ministry" is more important than the individuals being ministered to; people are expendable but the show must go on. Pastors, evangelists and other leaders spend much of their time thinking up new programs and new outreaches that might or might not be effective, when statistics have shown, without change over the past thirty years and more, that over 80% of all real church growth is accomplished by Christians sharing the Gospel with their friends and relatives. Billions of dollars are spent on evangelistic crusades and evangelistic television and radio, yet only one percent of American believers claim to have been led to the Lord by an evangelist. Pastors are responsible for some six percent, and occasionally someone just drops into a strange church, but the real credit has to go to individuals reaching individuals for Jesus.

The church of Acts was also characterized by a servant spirit among the people. Stephen and Philip didn’t care if anyone knew what they were doing, or if the offerings were sufficient for their needs—they couldn’t keep the good news of Jesus inside; it just tumbled out and they effectively led hundreds to the Lord. They didn’t strive to get in the pulpit, to get a microphone in their hand, to have a "ministry"—they just ministered. The people went everywhere, and everywhere they went they spread the word, and they did it without worrying about human recognition. Someone has said that we could accomplish a great deal together if we didn’t care who got the credit—and that is just how the church in Jerusalem operated. It was people-driven, and servant-driven at that.

Sometimes those of us with relatively smaller ministries are made to feel inadequate, as failures, when we look at the impressive machinery of the mega-church or the nationally-acclaimed ministry. The truth of the matter is that God doesn’t judge success the way we do; and for that matter, smaller churches are sixteen times more effective at winning the lost, and also much more successful in discipling members than large churches.*

It’s not my intention for this article to be, "what’s wrong with the church today," but rather, what could be right with the church if we got back to basics, returned to the simplicity and straightforwardness of the early church, and sought to emulate the church at Jerusalem, which was…

Jesus-Centered, Spirit-Powered, and People-Driven.



*Christian Schwarz, "Natural Church Development and Paradigm Shift in the Church," published by ChurchSmart Resources, 1997


Copyright © 2005,  Kim Harrington, Masterbuilder Ministries. All rights reserved

Scripture quotations from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted


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