Called Together | Part I
The word the Bible uses for church, ekklesia, means “called out ones.” The church consists of people who have been called out from every nation in the world. However, the church isn’t only ‘called out’, we are also ‘called together’.
“All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” [Acts 2:44-47]
There are a number of key words in this passage which I’d like to draw our attention to, beginning with the word ‘together.’
The Importance of Coming Together
Faith is developed and lived out through a shared commitment to follow Christ. In many parts of the world the church is weak because we’ve forgotten that we are not just called out, we are called together. Our culture promotes individualism and independence. We sing, “It’s all about you, Jesus” but we find it so easy to live as though it’s all about us. Of all the miracles in Acts, perhaps the miracle of Acts 2 and 4 togetherness is the greatest miracle of them all.
The vision of Central is to “Amplify the Hope and Life of Jesus to All” The success or failure of this vision is not determined by what happens on a Sunday morning, rather by our willingness to come together in meaningful ways outside of the all-together of a Sunday morning. I’m certain that it is in the small together that relationships deepen, and transformation begins.
Sadly, many relationships never get below the surface. They are quite trivial. How often do we share what’s on our hearts? How often do we talk about our concerns and fears and stop and listen to others as they share theirs? How often do we talk about issues we aren’t sure we can deal with and don’t know what to do with? What would the reaction of those around you be if you did? Would they be there for you?
Bruce Larson tells of the time he was a student pastor at a little church up on the Hudson River. One weekend he found out that a teenage girl in the congregation had left town to go to her older brother’s home. She was pregnant. Larson asked if he could go and visit the girl. The woman’s response? “You’re the last person she wants to know what’s happened.”
Larson writes, “That’s what’s wrong with the church... It’s the place you go when you put on your best clothes; you sit in Sunday School; you worship; you have potluck ... together – but you don’t bring your life! You leave behind all your pain, your brokenness, your hope, even your joys.”
Perhaps the greatest miracle in Acts is the most overlooked: different people from different places being called out of the world and coming together. God created us to know the power of Biblical community. To know the joy of coming together.
Those of you who witnessed the baptisms on Sunday evening at Lake Michigan would have heard more than a few people willing to get real about their life and their faith. I’m sensing a deeper work happening at Central that goes way beyond the thousands of people who worship ‘all together’ on Sunday mornings. I’m sensing a deeper work of the Spirit as people are willing to ‘come together.’ In this coming together, people encounter God and experience Him freeing them from life-controlling hurts, habits and hang-ups.
Out and In
In the opening chapters of Acts the Spirit works in the hearts of believers in three tangible ways:
- He moves them from fear to freedom (Acts 2).
- He moves them from the worshipping ‘in here’ to the ministering ‘out there’ (Acts 3-4).
- He moves them from prioritizing ‘me’ to protecting ‘us’ (Acts 5-6).
In some ways, this is a pattern of the Spirit’s work in our hearts today. By setting us free from sin and fear, the Spirit of God simultaneously moves us ‘out’ into the world and ‘in’ towards one another. This coming together requires that we entrust ourselves to a part of His family. Acts 2:44-47 bears witness to a church that was both called out, sent out, and called together. The church in Acts was alive not because she was perfect but because she had accepted both her being called out and her being called together.
The Called Together Challenge
Facilitating the ‘called together’ movement is one of the biggest challenges facing churches in the Western world. We need more than an hour a week on a Sunday for the power of ‘together’ to do its work. Unfortunately, the number of people in a ‘small group’ is significantly less than the number of people attending worship. There are many reasons for that, some of which address the way the church tends to ‘package’ small groups. Chris Surratt, in an article entitled, ‘Small Groups are Weird,’ shares four perceptions that come with signing up for a small group in a church:
- Carve out two hours a week from your already impossible schedule.
- Spend those two to three hours with strangers in someone’s home.
- Be prepared to confess all of your internal struggles to those strangers.
- Don’t forget to stop by the store every week to pick up a cheese-and-fruit tray for the group.
Surrat shares how his journey into the power of ‘called together’ eventually moved him beyond Sunday worship to live the raw truth of life with people as messed up as he was. Surratt says that when he decided to become vulnerable with a group of people he trusted, he realized that he was not the only one who questioned if God was real, who struggled to read his Bible and pray, who dropped the ball with his family and found himself starting Sundays with a smile and ending them with a frown.
Sound familiar? Like Surratt, I too know the power of coming together with others. Precisely because we believe in the power of ‘together’, and precisely because we know that ‘togetherness’ is more often found than forced.
That is why Central has what we call, ‘C6 Groups.’
C6 Groups are small groups of people who commit to come together for 6 weeks during a specific series. C6 Groups provide an easy on/easy off ramp for those who’ve never tried a Community Group before, or those looking to re-engage in Community group life.
Over the next few weeks our Central family is going to be challenged to take the step of not only accepting Jesus’ challenge to be called out but embrace the challenge of being called to come together.
Coming together does not come without struggle though. Come back next week Tuesday for Part II of ‘Called Together.’