The Environment of a Church: The Ships
The word “environ” means “to surround.” Environment has to do with the “sum total of something’s surroundings.” Just as it takes the proper environment to grow a child or a tomato, so there is a proper spiritual environment to grow a believer into Christ-like spiritual maturity.
So when we ask what is the proper biblical environment to produce spiritual growth, we are asking, “what are the biblical surroundings of the church?” In other words, just as a garden requires the right environment–such as the right amount of sunlight for photosynthesis to occur, or the right amount of water to transplant minerals and nutrients, or its soil tilled or cultivated for weeds, or natural fertilizers for growth or natural insecticides or fungicides to protect the plant from insects and disease–in order to produce a bountiful harvest, so what spiritual elements should every church contain, if it is to produce healthy spiritually growth among its members?
To answer that question, there are several passages which will enlighten us as to what these essential ingredients are. The first passage is found in Acts 2:42-47.
Christ has already ascended to heaven. (Acts 1). The Promised Spirit has poured himself out upon the apostles. In the languages of all the peoples present from all around the world for the Jewish Pentecost festival–which was held 50 days (thus the prefix pente or five) after the Jewish Passover, during which their Lord and God’s Son, Jesus, had suffered, died and been resurrected to atone for the sins of the world–they have miraculously shared their incredible story. Peter, now full of the Spirit, has preached a powerful message explaining the miracle that had just taken place namely, that the Apostles were not drunk because it was too early in the day for this rather incredible ability to speak in other known languages was because they were filled with God’s Holy Spirit.
Peter then goes on to explain very articulately to the crowd how Jesus fulfilled the prophecies–that indeed he was the promised Son of David, or Israel’s promised savior, the Messiah or Anointed One. Peter goes on to say that even his death, which you, Israel, had a role in, had been foretold. In fact, you killed your King. But it was a part of God’s plan in order to redeem or spiritually buy you back from the penalty and destructive power of your sin. In other words, the Messiah had come to save the world spiritually first, before he returns to rescue it physically someday.”
In response to this the crowds asked, “What must we do to be saved?”
Peter responded, “Repent (or change the direction of your lives from faithlessness to faithfulness in Christ) and be baptized (or immersed as a public symbol, identifying yourself with Jesus Christ as your Lord and God, as well as, his death and resurrection) for the forgiveness of your sin.”
Miraculously, 3,000 did believe and repent that day.
But now what? We have 3,000 + new believers. What were they to do? How were they to celebrate their new faith? How were they to keep it alive? How were they to keep each other faithful? Were they to go on with life as usual? Was anything to be different? What about the temple sacrifices and the Law? Where these rituals still supposed to be a part of their religious experience?
Acts 2:42-47 describes to us what happens next.
The Passage: Acts 2:42ff
•Look closely at the text. V. 42 list four things that they devoted themselves to. Ask yourself do these seem to be the essential environmental elements of a church? Are they still important today?
Hint: vv. 43-47 almost seems to restate and perhaps elaborate on v. 42’s list.
Acts 2:42 “They devoted themselves
• to the apostles’ teaching and
• to the fellowship,
• to the breaking of bread and
• to prayer.
43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.”
(Note: the apostle’s miracles validate the apostle’s message or teaching.)
44 “All the believers were together and had everything in common.
45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.
46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.”
(What do the previous three verses seem to describe?)
1) They broke bread in their homes and
1)ate together with glad and sincere hearts,
(What’s third on the list?)
3) 47 “praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.”
(Fourth and finally…)
4) “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
1) Note the connection between the Apostles’ teaching (v.42) and the Apostles’ miracles (v.43).
Quite often miracles serve to validate the messenger or Apostle as being from God. His message was therefore authentic and was to be listened to, trusted and obeyed. Very minimally, miracles got the attention of the observers so that they listened to the messenger’s message. Preaching about Christ, Peter had just said, “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” Acts 2:22.
2) Also note the use of the definite article “the” before “fellowship.” We often use “fellowship” in a general way, such as, “we had a nice time of fellowship.” Seldom do we use the phrase: “the fellowship.” It’s as if something specific is meant by this term, such as: “a special relationship between fellow believers.” And indeed there was! See how strong the bond was in v. 44-45. The biblical term “fellowship” is close to our idea of “family” or a “legal partnership.” It is indeed, powerful–not anything like the church quite often uses the term today.
3) Finally, does the phrase “breaking bread” refer to simply prayer before meals, when the bread was broken and distributed to each person at the table, or does it refer to the Lord’s Supper, specifically? Some suggest that before every meal we are to be mindful of Christ’s sacrifice? Also, is this more of act or worship or fellowship or both? Why? See 1 Cor. 10:14-22 and 11:17-34.
Another significant passage that sheds some light on the early church’s spiritual environment is Col. 1:9-14. In this passage Paul tells the Colossian community of believers that he is praying that God will fill them with the knowledge of His will and that they may please God in every way. He then goes on to list four “-ing” words or participles (words that are hybrids of both nouns [naming words] and verbs [doing words]. They both describe and do.).
9 “For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we (Paul) have not stopped praying for you (Colossae) and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10 And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord”
(Sound like Eph. 4:1ff? “and may please him in every way”
How? Watch for the “-ing” words.)
•bearing fruit in every good work,
•growing in the knowledge of God,
• 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might
so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully
•12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you
to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Comparing the Two Passages…
Now let’s compare our two lists from Acts 2:42-47 and Col. 1:9-14.
• Apostles’ teaching (Acts 2)
• growing in the knowledge of God (Col. 1)
• the fellowship (Acts 2)
• bearing fruit in every good work (Col. 1)
• prayer (Acts 2)
• giving thanks to the Father (Col. 1)
• the breaking of bread (Acts 2)
• being strengthened with all power to endure (Col. 1)
1) Notice how three elements from each list seem to match up. While these may not be direct correlations, a pattern does seem to emerge. a) Worship: including prayer, praise, and thanksgiving; b) Discipleship: to cause someone to learn or teach someone about God and his truth; c) Fellowship and Stewardship: using my God-given gifts, resources and abilities to build up or care for my spiritual family or others that God might lead me to minister or serve.
2) The two that are left over from each list are: “the breaking of bread” and “being strengthened with all power to patiently endure.” With respect to “the breaking of bread,” again this seems to be both an act of worship and fellowship or “communion.” And as far as “as being strengthened to patiently endure,” we can not over emphasize its importance enough, especially in a day when all to often many seem easily discouraged and fall away from their commitments, be it: marriage and family, friendship, country, community, work, or the body of Christ. Without commitment, there is no endurance, no success and no reward.
The Four Ships
1) Fellowship has established several essential elements of a healthy growing church or individual member. This by no mean implies there are not more crucial elements that go into making a healthy thriving environment for a church body. These four along with “patient endurance” just serve as the essential starting foundation. They are: Worship, Discipleship, Fellowship and Stewardship. Together they make up the Four Ships of Fellowship. As Columbus’ three ships safely carried him through rough ocean waters to a new world, we believe these four ships will carry, not only our Body to his New World, but each individual passenger on those ships as well. At least those who decide not to jump ship! Patient endurance!
2) Following is a more detailed breakdown of what is included within each of these categories. Notice when one considers all the various facets of each essential, there is plenty of room for growth and maturity. On the other hand, please don’t miss the simplicity of each essential either. Anyone can start wherever they are and grow. The key is not to ignore any one category. Growth is a long-term project or process. One cannot entirely focus on Worship to the neglect of Discipleship, Fellowship or Stewardship. By the same token one cannot focus entirely on Discipleship without being sensitive to Worship or Fellowship. All are needed for balanced, healthy Christ-like growth.
Praise, Petition, Thanksgiving
Bible Overview, Basics, Study, Application
Relationships, Commitment, Love, Purpose, Gifts, Talents, Resources