There are group-dynamics of size that havent changed one bit over the past 2,000 years. We might be inclined to look back on the way Jesus or the early church made disciples as a quaint relic of the past, but the truth is people today still need that same level of relationship. Being a face in a crowd isnt enough. But many of us have decided that we have to function in a realistic way. Those early believers simply spent too much time together. We admire them, but the part about finding time to be with other believers just doesnt work for us. And frankly, were not sure who wed trust enough to open up to them our hearts. Theres a scary element to this. We could get trapped into something icky, or maybe we have gotten trapped into something icky in the past and promised ourselves wed never let that happen again. So we carry on pretty much alone. We might call for prayer when there is a serious physical illness or some other crisis, but we do the best we can by ourselves.
Yet always in the back of our minds theres the hope that somebody will reach out to us, somewhere theres a place were needed and belong, that someday this lonely walk will end, that someday well labor in Gods harvest field side-by-side with others. As Paul closes this letter he greets two dear friends who are now living in Rome. And this couple is doing there what they always do wherever they live. Theyve gathered believers into their home. Theyre the kind of people we lonely believers are always waiting for. Im sure they must have been hospitable and welcoming by nature, but more than that they obviously understood how disciples are made.
What did Paul say?
Review DBS verses three through five.
Priscilla and Aquila (Ac 18:1-4, 18-28)
When Paul came from Athens to Corinth he met a couple who were believers and had recently moved to the city. Priscilla was Roman, very possibly from a noble family, and Aquila was a believing Jew who had grown up in Pontus which is today in northern Turkey near the Black Sea. They had previously lived in Rome but the emperor Claudius had issued an edict in AD 49 or 50 expelling all Jews from the city. When they moved to Corinth they set up their family business which was tent-making, and since Paul was also a tent maker by trade, this is very likely how they met. Hospitable by nature, they invited him to stay with them in their home. For a year and a half they worked side by side and were so valuable to him he took them with him to help start the church in Ephesus. They stayed much longer than he did, but Paul was in that city for three years (Ac 20:31). And we know that Priscilla and Aquila opened their home there to host a church (1Co 16:19). So now when we discover they are back living in Rome we shouldnt be surprised to hear that once again they have a church in their home. And it may be a rather large church because they may have set up a tent somewhere on their property. By the way, when Neros persecution ravaged Rome, they headed back to Ephesus (2Ti 4:19), and can there be any doubt what they did when they arrived?
1) Where do you suppose they learned how to do this (Ac 2:9)?
If not Aquila, then whoever brought the gospel to Pontus simply reproduced the Christianity they had been converted into (Ac 2:41-47). From the moment they believed they had gathered in large public gatherings to hear the apostles teaching and then had gone to believers homes where they ate and prayed together. Learning, giving, eating and praying had been the only way they knew how to have church, so they did the same thing in Pontus
where Aquila lived.
2) How do you suppose Aquila and Priscilla met? Why would a noble Roman lady marry a Jewish tent-maker? My guess is that they met in church in Rome, a place where there was no longer any Jew or Gentile, and God brought them together. And what a great team they made!
House churches (Ac 2:41-47)
What did the early church do? How did they make such strong disciples?
1) They all gathered for teaching.
2) They took an offering (koinonia) for the poor.
3) They ate together in homes.
4) They prayed together.
They persevered in these things. They were unified in purpose. They were constantly in awe of the signs and wonders taking place. Their meals were marked by gladness and honest conversations, and expressions of praise for answered prayer. And new people always kept coming in the door and they were glad to have them.
House churches are:
Inexpensive: No mortgages
Mobile: Wherever people are
Relational: Small span of care, eat together, pray together
Connected: Large gatherings where all come together for teaching
Participating: (see 1Co 14:26)
Multicultural: Look at the names (Ro 16:5-13); listen to Paul in this letter
Simplicity: Honest, sincere conversation
Here are some of the obstacles we face in our culture:
Painful family histories (dysfunction, divorce...).
Failed leadership in family, society and church has produced a lack of trust.
Missing relational skills such as forgiving, speaking the truth in love, listening to others, cooperation...
Devaluation of the individual: people are reduced to a number, seen as a consumer (someone with money).
Low self-esteem: people wont like me
Busy schedules: multiple jobs, long commutes, irregular work schedules, children...
People unwilling to lead: aware of their own imperfections, afraid of getting into things they cant handle.
A fresh emphasis at NWC
In spite of these obstacles theres no obstacle so large we cant creatively overcome it with Gods help. We simply need to be able to find the time during the week to gather in a home or a coffee shop, or around a table at the church so others can get to know you, pray for you, encourage you, exhort you, listen to you, share their heart with you... just like the early church did. And some of us, like Priscilla and Aquila, are called to be gatherers who lead and show hospitality, to provide an environment where believers can care for one another and heal and grow. The truth is all of us need to:
Learn to talk about our faith
Learn to listen to one another
Learn to agree in prayer
Learn to love broken people
Learn to reconcile differences
Learn to minister in the Spirit
Learn to trust imperfect but sincere people
Right now our staff is praying and having very earnest conversations about how to simplify our church schedule, how to help more small groups get started, how to make it possible for busy people who drive a long distance to develop strong, lasting friendships with other believers. Were thinking about how to communicate, how to invite, how to train... and how to support the Priscillas and Aquilas in our midst so they can do what Gods called them to do.
1) Have you ever been a part of a small group, whether it was in a church or not, where you built lasting relationships (workplace, sports team, military, missions...)? What knit you together?
2) Do you know someone like Priscilla or Aquila? How do they make people feel welcome?