2 Lessons from a Bygone Church

by Rob Tims

A while back, my father handed me a faded and tattered black and white photograph of one man and three of his sons. The man was Washington Irving Tims, and one of the three sons was Lowry Tims, my grandfather. It was fascinating to consider my family’s history, in part by marveling at how my father and his grandfather looked so similar (that’s where I get my nose from).

What we can do with our family ancestry we must do with our spiritual heritage. Our faith is not new. We come from a long line of spiritual generations, and we stand much to gain by considering their wins and losses … what they did well and where they failed … if we are to serve the Lord at least as faithfully as they did.

And this is not merely an individual exercise, but a corporate one. That is, the church that you are a part of may have been planted yesterday, but it’s already tied to a rich history of faith and has much to learn from each and every generation.  

Is there any better place to begin than the book of Acts? Consider Acts 13:1-4, looking for ways in which we might have fallen too far away from the founding of our faith.

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen, a close friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 As they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then after they had fasted, prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them off. 4 So being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus.

I see two things the church today must emulate from the first church … things that we may be ignoring today.

First, we see a church that embraced diversity, and diversity at the leadership level. Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen, and Saul—men of diverse backgrounds, skills, and interests, yet united in Christ as leaders in the congregation. The church and its leadership looked a lot like Heaven already does, but not like many of our churches do currently. Sure, “birds of a feather flock together,” but it can hardly be said that homogeneity is the future of the church. Are you making diversity a priority for your church’s leadership and congregation?

Second, we see a church that gives itself to worship and mission (not one or the other). Verse 2 points out that it was in the midst of worshiping that the Holy Spirit called the church to mission. There is no disconnect between worship and mission. Are you drawn to support a cause but lack a commitment to “just going to worship”? You may be doing your cause a grave disservice by treating worship like it’s separate from the cause. Worship drives Christians to mission, mission drives Christians to worship.

Maybe your church hasn’t drifted in the least. Maybe the highest percentage of people attending worship are also participating in service and mission than ever before. Maybe the staff and lay leaders of your church define “diversity.” Or maybe not. Regardless, it’s worth reading Acts to see if there’s anything from yesterday that can help you for today and tomorrow. I’ll bet you find more than two.

Rob Tims is husband to Holly and father to Trey, Jono, Abby Jane and Luke. He’s the author of Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt, and manages the team behind smallgroup.com at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville. He writes regularly at RobTims.com and blogs every Friday at Forward Progress.

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