Last month I was lucky enough to attend a Wednesday service at Willow Creek Community Church in Barrington, IL. I was on a business trip to receive training in the same town and decided to check it out, as it is the model for a lot of what my church is in the process of doing. It was an incredible service and it was amazing to see the size and scope of what was being done there. They have a membership of 25,000, and their campus boasts 2 auditoriums (one lakeside), a book store, a cafeteria, and even a worship trail around the lake on the campus.
On the airplane ride to Illinois I was listening to a podcast of a weekend message delivered by Bill Hybels, the senior and founding pastor of Willow Creek, and was floored by a video clip that was played during the service. Here’s a link to the podcast, Leadership Matters. The part I’m talking about is about 3/4 of the way on the progress bar. The clip is from the Leadership Summit in 2009, which is put on by the Willow Creek Association. The speaker is addressing “do-nothing churches.” There’s a lot to take from this clip, but here is a quick summary of it if you can’t listen to it:
The speaker starts with a scenario where you are really excited to go to a game. Imagine it’s your home team and it’s the playoffs, you spent a whole bunch of money to get into the game and you’re jacked up for it to begin. The game starts, and your team starts to huddle. They huddle for 5 minutes, then it turns into 15 minutes, now it’s 45 minutes…then the game’s over. He goes on to say that if I paid that high of a price, somebody is about to play something! Then comes the point: God gave his one and only son, the highest of prices, so that we would go out into the world and spread His Word. But all he sees are huddles! We huddle on Sunday at 8:00, then at 11:00, then we come in for a mid-week huddle, but God never sees us play the game!!! He goes on to say that it is time for us to start being the church that God called us to be and to stop making excuses as to why we can’t do something.
This is an amazing motivator for evangelism, yes, but I look at it as a specific call towards rebuilding the Acts 2 church. An Acts 2 church is one that mirrors the way the church operated in, not surprisingly, Acts 2. This is when Peter and the other disciples started spreading the gospel from Jerusalem to the rest of Rome at break neck speeds. They were baptizing people by the thousands, sold all their possessions, and God looked upon them favorably and added to their number each day.
This is far from new. It is what Bill Hybels has said he set out to do when he started Willow Creek, and a simple Google search on the topic yields many churches that have Acts 2 in the name or it is part of their mission. Mr. Hybels has been known to talk about a professor of his that really introduced this topic to him and helped to put him on the path to building the ministry in Illinois. He was a business student at the time, not really interested in pursuing minitry, because he believed that to be something “for the clergy.” He said that he was sitting in his class listening to the professor ask “why can’t an Acts 2 church exist today?” when he said it started to hit him. He went out to his car and buried his face in his hands. Why? Because he realized that just because he was not in ministry that he was not off the hook. This is an incredibly important truth, and it had never been something I had ever really let sink in. I have felt called to do something more at times, but like Mr. Hybels, I have taken myself off the hook.
You see the answer to the professor’s question of “why can’t an Acts 2 church exist today?” is that people won’t make themselves accountable to the Truth. That question was delivered to a room full of student’s pursuing ministry, and it was the business man who stood up and decided to lead that vision. When we realize that we all have to stand in front of the same God, and that we will be judged in the same way as a priest, the pope, or Mother Teresa, it is much easier to see that we cannot afford to be passive in our faith. Huddling isn’t enough. We have to play the game. You will be asked what you did to advance the kingdom the same as everyone else. You don’t want to have to give the answer “well I thought that was for the pastor to do, but I lived a good, moral life.”
How can we pursue an Acts 2 church lifestyle? How do you make sure you have an answer before God? Look to Acts 1 for the answer. In this chapter the apostles are accounting to their question to Jesus of when the kingdom of Israel was going to be restored. Jesus didn’t give them a time. “You don’t get to know the time. Timing is the Father’s business. What you’ll get is the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world (The Message, Acts Ch. 1).” So, how do we pursue the lifestyle and have the right answers before God: call on the power of the Holy Spirit.
That’s the other reason you don’t want to stand at the gates and not be able to tell Him how you furthered His kingdom. It’s like when you don’t do something at work because you didn’t know how, and you still get in trouble. You’re in trouble because you didn’t ask how or what to do. All you had to do was ask. If you tell God “well, I didn’t know how to go and make followers of your people. It’s not my thing, and I don’t have the skills,” He will tell you “maybe you didn’t have the skills, but you did have one thing on your side you forgot about – little thing called the Holy Spirit.”
When you have a big event in your life that you are not prepared for and you think you are doomed to failure, remember that you are not alone. Maybe you don’t have the right skills or the experience, but you can call on the power of God himself. When Jesus was resurrected and ascended to heaven, the power of the Father – the Holy Spirit – was transferred to us, but only if we are righteous and ask God for it.
-For more information on Bill Hybel’s story of how he came to his vision of the Acts 2 church, watch this service called God Unboxed: Part 3