42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds[a]to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home[b] and ate their food with glad and generous[c] hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Who likes new things?
A new car with all the bells and whistles?
New clothes for school?
The new iphone 11 with a fancy camera?
Fancy air conditioning units in the chapel?

We typically like fresh and modern things, but not so much in the life of the church? But if we carefully read scripture, we see God is always doing a new thing: always trying to grow the body of Christ. We have been invited to do a new thing within the Presbyterian Church USA – West Jersey Presbytery and this congregation. This new process of seeking to be the church is called VITAL CONGREGATIONS INITIATIVE: The purpose of the Vital Congregations Initiative is to work alongside presbytery, and leaders of existing congregations, in a process that seeks to help assess, discern and live into transformative actions that increase vitality.

Through intentional spiritual practices and relational connections, this two-year process takes us deeper into following Jesus Christ, making disciples and being the vital community of Christ throughout particular communities and the world.

Seven Marks of Church Vitality

  • Intentional Authentic Evangelism
  • Outward Incarnational Focus
  • Empower Servant Leadership
  • Spirit-Inspired Worship
  • Caring Relationships
  • Ecclesial Health
  • Lifelong Discipleship Formation

Lifelong Discipleship Formation is about daily life.
It’s about how we claim and proclaim our identity as followers of Christ;

  • how we practice our faith;
  • how we grow in faith, cherish faith, and share faith in the world.
  • Beyond mere words, how do people know we are disciples of Jesus Christ?

Lifelong Discipleship Formation is NOT:
complacent “Christian” piety;
simply teaching good morals;
offering the latest programs

Again it is about intentional spiritual practice and relational connections

It is about being the church similar to Acts 2: By the time we get to Acts 2:42, Peter has finished his Pentecost sermon. Nevertheless, the work of the Holy Spirit and the manifestation of the Easter message persist beyond that scene. The snapshot of communal life in 2:42-47 does not occur separately from the Spirit’s prophetic work, for it exists as a essential piece of the Spirit’s witness concerning the resurrected Jesus. God calls people to salvation through the Spirit; God also creates a community comprising those who are called.

The idea of community simultaneously attracts and repels most of us. We long for the life-affirming benefits that community can bestow, but we resist the demands that community makes. No wonder that we find it difficult to know what to do with passages such as this one. In an early chapter of her book Of Widows and Meals: Communal Meals in the Book of Acts biblical scholar Rita Halteman Finger surveys a range of interpretive approaches that have concluded that Christians should not take the communal ethic described here and in Acts 4:32-37 as normative. Interpreters since the Reformation have proposed that Acts offers a symbolically idealized portrait of communal life, that these verses describe practices that were necessarily short-lived and limited in scope, or that such practices are simply unworkable in a modern context. Finger’s point is that a lot of us instinctively chafe against these descriptions because we recognize that we have a lot to lose in such a situation. So much tempts us to dismiss these verses as quaint, even as we claim to yearn for such conditions as a sign of God’s reign among us.

And yet this was a time when the church was growing and vital. We will be considering how to best be the body of Christ and how we claim and proclaim our identity as followers of Christ. This is not an easy matter and it doesn’t happen in three easy steps. The call of Christ is to follow him all of our days. The question becomes how do people know we are disciples of Jesus Christ? Former Duke University Chaplain William H. Willimon asks us to consider this community:

“As one views modern congregations, many with their hectic round of activities — yoga, ceramics, daycare — one suspects that socialization is being substituted for the gospel, warm-hearted busyness is being offered in lieu of Spirit-empowered community. One wonders if the church needs to reflect again that when all is said and done ‘one thing is needful’, namely to embody, in the church’s unique way, the peculiarity of the call to devote ourselves ‘to the apostles’ teaching’ and fellowship, to breaking of the bread and the prayers.”

Lifelong Discipleship Formation

Commentary provided by Scott Schauff, Matt Skinner, and Laura Truman