It happens in nearly every new generation of young Christians. As young believers grow in their study of the Word and their commitment to follow Jesus, they inevitably compare the church described in Acts with the contemporary church. And, of course, they find the contemporary church wanting. We tend to get bogged down on the details, but it is the radical nature, the passionate commitment, of this early church that deserves our attention. A Misfit Ministry wants to emulate the passionate commitment of the early church.
Consider what we know about the early church in the book of Acts. For starters, they met daily (Acts 2:46). Church was not an event they attended once a week, it was a regular gathering. They were committed to one another; in fact the text says that they met daily “in one accord,” that is with all unity. They were “devoted” to “fellowship” (2:42), and they ate together often – breaking bread in their homes (v. 46). For many of us today, church is just an event and it’s mostly optional. If I don’t have something better to do then I’ll go. There is very little commitment to one another today, but the early church was united and consistent in their gathering.
In fact, more than just a commitment to be together, they had an earnest commitment to care for one another. The early church “had all things in common,” that is they shared what they owned for the well-being of one another. And, when one had a need that could not be met, they sold “their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (2:45). They recognized and accepted that they needed one another. They weren’t just committed to an organization, they were committed to each other. They invested, cared, and sacrificed for one another. This is a level of passion and commitment that we simply don’t recognize today. Often we don’t recognize it because we live so independently of others as to believe that we don’t need them, and they don’t need us. A misfit ministry wants to deepen our connections as a church body, it wants to cultivate mutual need, care, and support. It wants to impress the conviction of interdependence, not independence.
In addition the early church was “devoted to the apostle’s teaching” (v. 42). There was a strong emphasis on the Word of God, and on what it meant to live out the gospel of Christ in the world. They studied the words of Scripture, poured over them, and emphasized them as vital part of their gathering. And what happened to these Bible-focused groups? “The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (v. 47). Today we don’t believe that the Word should hold that much focus in our gatherings. After all, people won’t tolerate the Bible and Bible study, some argue. So, we emphasize music, and gimmickry, and celebrity guests, and all sorts of other stuff. Devotion to the Word is absent or minimal at best. But a misfit ministry, like the early church, is passionate about the Word and its power to change lives. A misfit ministry is devoted to serious study of the Word of God. A devotion like this is not simply about preaching. Long sermons aren’t the requirement for this commitment. Rather, it’s a devotion to teach people to study the Word and to do so regularly within the community of the believers.
The key idea behind all that I am writing here is a passionate commitment. Where much of the contemporary church scene is focused on events and shenanigans, a misfit ministry wants to follow more directly in the footsteps of that first church. We do this by emphasizing the principles of the early church not necessarily the details. That is to say, we don’t need to meet every single day, and only meet in homes, and break bread every time we gather, etc. Rather, we want to emphasize their passionate devotion to the Word and to one another.
I’ve called this the Principle of Passion for a reason. Christianity so dramatically altered the lives of the first century believers that they couldn’t go back to life the way they had. It so dramatically changed them that they were willing to give up everything, they were so out of step with the culture that they knew they would need each other. Christians today, however, often lack that same level of passion. We see that our Christian faith can fit so neatly and perfectly within the world. We don’t have to give up anything, we don’t really have to change our whole world, and we still don’t really need each other, because, after all, we aren’t that out of step with the culture around us. Passion, however, would reveal just how dramatic the difference is. People don’t mind Jesus, they don’t mind church or religion, what they mind are people who actually passionately believe in those things. Don’t be a “Jesus freak” and you’ll fit in just fine with the world around you. A misfit, however, is passionately devoted to God, to God’s Word, and to God’s people.
Misfit Song of the Week: “You Gotta Serve Somebody” by Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan’s troubadour style of musicianship has been a staple in American culture for more than five decades. He has been hailed as a modern-day prophet, a poet, and an activist. He has more than 100 million records and is known as one of the best-selling artists of all time. “You Gotta Serve Somebody” is a hit song from his 1979 album Slow Train Coming. The whole album was the start of Dylan’s gospel years, and every song on the album reflects his burgeoning Christian faith.
The song itself is a sermon, decrying the emptiness of life apart from God. So, he points to all sorts of different professions, symbols of status, and skills that we culturally celebrate:
You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls
Likewise, you might be a “rock n’ roll star,” a doctor, or even the head of a big TV network. You might live in a mansion, own the bank, or even be a preacher. But none of that matters because in the end you are not your own master, you always serve somebody. The question that we must each wrestle with, according to Dylan, is whom we serve. So the chorus sings out:
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes you are
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
The chorus is a play on Matthew 6:24, which reads:
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
As such it is a truly Evangelical message. The song’s content turned many fans off, but it won Dylan the Grammy for best rock vocal performance by a male. It’s not a New Testament commentary by Thomas Schreiner, but it’s good misfit theology.
I want to live in community like Acts teaches. I long for this – in a way that I think will be realized in heaven. On a side note, my kids’ dad came to saving faith in part from listening to Dylan’s Christan albums. I’m really enjoying this series – thank you.
Very well put brother – adding to your assessment mid-way down; could it be that the Acts believers HAD to live tightly as the Body because their faith COST them? Unlike most of us, they paid a dear price to first decide to repent and follow Jesus, then they paid a dear price to continue following Jesus, many to prison, torture, and death or at least an ostracizing from society. They HAD to support each other – we don’t because there’s no cost we need support on. Could it be that the ‘gospel’ today that most proclaim and live (in our culture) has no cost to it thereby validating itself as false? (See Matt. 16:25) My encouragement to the folks including me on strings like this one would be; don’t keep longing for valid Christian community compared to Acts etc. Rather, via the power of the Word and Spirit, just BE it – and start right now. The community that will surface will be a direct result of the cost being paid. There’s nothing stopping you but chronic chatter (see James 2).