Home > Blog > Movement and the Early Church [Part 2]

December 19, 2017

Movement and the Early Church [Part 2]

By JR Woodward

If you missed Part 1, check it out here.

 Three Healthy Postures

If we as church planters desire to join God in the renewal of all things, there are three postures we can learn to live into as we reflect on lessons from the early church. For God turned the world upside down through the early followers of Jesus.

Formulas to Faith

First, we need to move from seeking formulas to living by faith. While we are looking for the latest formula for success, the early church sought to be faithful. One of the common themes we see in the early church is that they lived by faith. As they moved into uncharted territory and into the unknown, they learned that they could trust God to build His church. They went about the work of making disciples, of being witnesses of living on mission. Even when they lost all their possessions, were thrown in jail, or crucified as martyrs, they continued to trust God.

They trusted God because, as the message was going out to the Gentiles, God was upending key leaders like Peter. If we look at the conversion of Cornelius, what we see is a dual conversion, of both Cornelius and Peter. Peter hesitated to share the good news with Cornelius, because he was an unclean Gentile. It took three visions of God reminding Peter that not only did Jesus make all foods clean but that the good news was for the whole world, not just the Jews. Peter attempted to justify his actions of not going to Cornelius from the scripture that clearly told him not to eat certain foods because they were unclean. But in this time of liminality, God was flipping their current understanding.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus repeated the phrase, “You have heard it was said … I say to you …” He flipped the current understanding leading them into uncharted territory. Maybe Peter started to recall how Jesus not only ministered in Jewish territory but also Gentile territory. Peter had to learn to leave the old world behind and to adapt to the new world. This required faith. He trusted the voice of God, and the early church affirmed this at their first council in Acts 15.

We too are now in uncharted territory. We are no longer ministering to people who haven’t heard of Jesus. We are ministering to people who no longer like people who call themselves Christians. We live among a people who no longer like the church. We need to have a posture of faith, trusting God to lead us, instead of seeking to take charge. God has to undo us before He can rebuild us.

Hype to Hope

Many church planters today raise a lot of money as they seek to launch an impressive church service. Some even give away iPads to get people to come to a service. We have celebrity pastors, big screens, and stages that rival Las Vegas. This is all foreign to the New Testament. They weren’t into hype; they were into living by hope. They embodied hope.

As they looked to God’s future, they sought to live in the present in light of God’s future. They knew it wasn’t all about them. They knew it was all about Jesus. It wasn’t just a song they sang. It was a life they lived. They had a stubborn hope that because of the life, death, and resurrection, the new creation had arrived; therefore they were willing to give away their stuff to those who were just trying to survive. They embodied the hope that what Jesus started He would finish. They had confidence that God would make all things new. This hope drew people to them.

Luxury to Love

Finally, we need to move from a posture of luxury to love. We think we need impressive buildings, elaborate programs, and a lot of money to plant churches today. We don’t. We need to learn how to love better.

We need to re-learn what it means to live as an interdependent community of faith. We live in a land where independence is a higher value than interdependence and we no longer experientially know what it means to live as a community. Technology has created a whole generation that has learned to be alone together. But they haven’t learned what it means to be an incarnate community, a flesh and blood community. Yet is it is something for which they long.

In our context, the world looks at people who call themselves Christians who are promoting war to protect their lives of luxury. But the early church understood that Caesar made peace by war that conquers enemies of the empire, while Christ makes peace by love that dies for the enemies of God. Average Christians were willing to die as martyrs in the early church. They understood that love of enemies was not an option but was evidence of faith in the resurrection.

Too often we plant churches because of some minor difference of doctrine or because we just don’t get along with someone. What message does this send to those who don’t know Christ? Until we learn to love and build communities of love, we don’t have any good news to offer the world. Until we learn to live in unity, as the new humanity, we have no hope to offer others.

We don’t need more formulas for success or more hype, and we don’t need a lot of possessions to accomplish the mission God has entrusted to us. We need to develop communities with a sustained faith and stubborn hope that know how to sacrificially love one another. As N.T. Wright has said, “Faith, hope and love are the signs that we are already living in New Creation.”[1]

[1] N.T. Wright talk at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, Newport Beach, California, February, 28, 2009.


JR Woodward

JR Woodward (@dreamawakener) is a church planter, activist, missiologist, and author of Creating a Missional Culture. He co-founded Kairos Los Angeles, the Ecclesia Network, the Solis Foundation and Missio Alliance. He currently serves as the National Director for the V3 Church Planting Movement. He serves locally at the District Church in Washington DC and is pursuing a PhD at the University of Manchester (UK). He just turned in the manuscript of his next book The Church as Movement, with co-author Dan White Jr. It is scheduled to be released the summer of 2016. He loves to surf, travel, read, skateboard and meet new people. He enjoys photography and film and tries to attend the Sundance Festival whenever he can.


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