Fishbowl Fellowship ~ June 03, 2018 ~ Acts 2:42-47
Did you know – some of you might – that the city of Hartford comprises only eighteen square miles? That is really small when it comes to cities. Half of that area is taken up by parks, so we only have, literally, nine square miles of land upon which to build all of our businesses, all of our government buildings, all of our schools, all of our homes; and within those nine square miles sits over 200 churches.
You see, that may not surprise us, because we grew up in a country where there’s a church on every corner. In many cases – especially in New England – the church was the central building in town. It was the center of town. It was usually connected to the town green, because the town grew from the church. It was the center of activity.
Times have changed.
It may be hard to imagine, but did you know that at one time, there was just one church in all the world? Just one. Now, I’m talking about ecclesia. Ecclesia is a Greek word, which they translate in the Scriptures, often, as “church;” but what it really means is “a community of members; an assembly of people; a congregation.” That’s what ecclesia means. Originally the ecclesia met in people’s homes. There weren’t separate buildings. There are some churches who still do that. My friend Pastor Matt has City Church Hartford, and they meet at the Front Street movie theatre. My friend Pastor Phil Beatty planted a church a few years ago, Hartford City Church, at the Learning Corridor across from Trinity College. South Congregational Church exists at 277 Main Street only when you are here, because you are here. We could meet in a movie theatre too, and we would still be South Congregational Church (much more comfortable seating). This, though it is beautiful, though it is historic, though I do love it, is just a building. That’s why Congregationalists were very intentional when they called their buildings the “meeting house” – because it’s the place where the ecclesia of the church meets – no different than meeting at a movie theatre or at a community center. When you did join South Congregational Church, you joined this ecclesia, this community of believers, this imperfect Christian community. You didn’t join the building.
My family lives at 326 Nott Street in Wethersfield. We are not 326 Nott Street in Wethersfield, we live at 326 Nott Street in Wethersfield. You are not 277 Main Street in Hartford, you are the church – the ecclesia – that meets at 277 Main Street in Hartford.
As I said, there was a time when there was just one ecclesia in all the world. It happened in Jerusalem, it began in Jerusalem at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came down as tons of fire just as Jesus had promised would happen.
Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, steps out and preaches to the crowd that had gathered at Jerusalem. In verse 41 it tells us:
Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day – about 3,000 in all.
So the very first community of believers, the very first ecclesia, the very first church was a megachurch – 3,000 members added to the church that day. So here, you have the first and only church in all the world at this point. So what does the first and only church in all the world do? Surely it starts a men’s group, and a ladies’ group, and starts a Vacation Bible School, and opens up a Christian school, right? No.
Acts, chapter 2, verse 42:
All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.
Apostles’ preaching, or teaching, or Bible study. Bible study was important to them. Bible study, fellowship, sharing meals, prayer – these new believers understood how important it was to grow in their faith. That didn’t last all that long, sadly. In his letter to the Hebrews, we hear how frustrated Paul is with the second generation of Jewish Christians. Their parents were devoted, dedicated themselves to Bible study. It was important to them, but it was already fading, and it showed. The letter to the Hebrews was written to the second generation of Christians, the sons and daughters of the 3,000 who gathered on that first day. Peter writes in chapter 5, verse 11:
There is much more we would like to say about this…
(whatever he was talking about)
… but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen. You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.
I don’t know what it is, it just seems as though every generation thinks they have all the answers, right? Let’s not get too smug, we did too, if we were honest with ourselves. Back in Junior High School – see if this sounds familiar at all – that special person breaks up with you, and you are devastated, so you’re crying and moping around the house for weeks on end. Finally, mom (usually it’s mom) has had a enough of that and says, “Get over here! Look, you’re thirteen years old. This is not the love forever after. You will meet someone else, God has someone in mind for you. It will be wonderful and beautiful, so knock it off.” And we actually turn to mom, this woman who had been married for 17 years and had three other children, and we said, “You just don’t know what it’s like to really be in love!” And we said it with a straight face! Some things don’t change. Every new generation believes – based on their ten years of adult life experience – that they have all the answers! They know everything there possibly could be to know! And if we just did everything their way, the world would be an absolute literal utopia. It’s been that way for thousands of years.
Bible study. Who needs to study the Bible? Who needs to read the Bible? We already know what God thinks or what God is going to say about things. I don’t need to read it, or study it. I just know. Bible study?
The first generation, however, the first church devoted themselves to reading the Bible, the apostles’ teaching, to Bible study. It was important to them. Bible study, fellowship, sharing in meals, prayer. Today, I’m just too busy! I’m a busy man! I work five, sometimes six days a week. I don’t have time to come to a Mother’s Day breakfast or a hotdog lunch. I don’t have time to go to a men’s group or a women’s group and pray. As I said, I’m a busy man. I don’t have time to bring home the insert that’s in my bulletin and pray for these names on our prayer list. I’m a busy guy. Besides, I do pray, Pastor! I really do! I pray when I’m driving, there’s no distractions there! I’m driving, I’m texting, I’m answering email, I’m eating my quarter pounder with cheese, I’m dipping my fries in my sweet and sour sauce – God has my full, undivided attention! I pray when I’m driving.
Well, the first ecclesia devoted itself to Bible study, to learning, to fellowship, to sharing in meals, to prayer, and what happened? Verse 43:
A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity – all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people.
And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
So in the first church there was great joy, and each day the Lord added to their fellowship – the ecclesia, the community of members, the assembly of people, the congregation – those who were being saved.
Isn’t it interesting – I find it so – that the church grew not because of a gimmick, not because of a slick ad campaign, not because of a musical concert or some sort of special event. They grew because they were an Acts 2:42 church. They were devoted to Bible study, fellowship, sharing of all types, and prayer, and that worked. Let me tell you: it still does.
You see, in every church you will often find – especially among older members – a pining for the “good old days.” Often it is a reaction to change. There are those that do not want their church to change whatsoever, period, at all. However, change is inevitable, and it isn’t always bad. I’m guessing nobody really complained when they installed heat in here, or air conditioning down in the chapel. I’m guessing the change of installing an audio system was a good thing, so you can hear me when I speak instead of having to have me yell. We now have CDs – you can get a CD of this message, if there’s something in this message that really hit home for you and you want to hear it again, or you fell asleep and missed it – all you have to do is call the church office and Lauren will get a CD out to you. Or if you know somebody who you think this message would bless, call. She’ll get a CD out to you, you can pass it on to someone else. That’s a change, we’ve never had that before! Music styles do change, and that is a source of contention in a lot of churches. We have the One Call Now system – for those of you who know, every once in a while you’ll get a robo-call from me. If I need to let you know that something’s going on, there’s a message from South Congregational Church. We have a website, we have a Facebook page – you can check out all kinds of information on our website, or on our Facebook page.
Lauren is our Director of Communications, she’s working on a program that we’ll be able to text you and email blast you, so we can more immediately let you know, “Hey, guess what? Sunday’s almost here and every Sunday we like to accept donations to our Sparrow Ministry, so just reminding you, if you’re able to pick something up, they would be blessed” – boom, send you a text, send you an email. We have Pushpay. The days of writing a check or having to put some cash in an envelope – which still works – but all you have to do is download this app, put in your information, two or three clicks, boom, you’re good to go. You can give to South Church and its ministries. And Lauren and I are looking at getting a prayer app. I’ve told her to talk to you, Audrey. I just love the idea for whoever wanted to download this app – it would just be for South Church members – and then somebody needs prayer, you know, something serious like my husband had a heart attack and he’s going to the hospital, or my daughter’s going for her driving test, or whatever it is. You could punch it in and then “bling bling bling bling,” all these notifications would come up on those who had the app, and before you know it BANG! We could have 100 people in prayer right at that moment.
Change isn’t always bad. It isn’t always good either, though. A common lament of long-time members often goes like this: “Back in the day, the church was a family, and we knew everybody! We shared each other’s joys and sorrows and needs and blessings.” That’s true. Some of this is our own fault, however. The average size of a church in America today is between 75 and 80 including children, so we are slightly above average. But that’s not a lot of people. So, if there is someone in this congregation that I do not know, and I make no effort to change that by introducing myself, that’s my fault on some level. I cannot say “back in the day we knew each other” and at the same time do nothing about it when I have the chance to.
I get it. I really do. We’re all so busy now. “I don’t have time for reading my Bible or coming to Bible study.” “I don’t have time for fellowship or sharing in meals or prayer.” I suppose that’s why 90% of churches in America have a membership of less than 350. Not 3,000, but 350 or less, and most of them are 75-80 because we’re all too busy.
Well, at South Church, we’re trying to change that. We have a number of ways to fellowship here. We have South Church Women – they meet on Wednesdays. We have the Spurgeon Society, which is coming up Tuesday night! We have Men at Work, we have Iron Men. We have Sewing Smiles, we have Cooking With Christ, we have Holy Scrap!
We have the Sparrow Ministry. We have the Tree of Life Ministry. We have Ladies 2:52. For the youth we have Cultivate, we have Lost & Found, we have The Hartford Project.
We have The Garden downstairs for the kids, we have Kids Klub Afterschool.
The details on all of these things are on our website, so if you are not involved in fellowship here at South Church – it’s a choice not to be. There are plenty of opportunities.
Why does fellowship work? Because people want to be part of a family. Anyone can join a club. I hear tell of these clubs, they’re called fitness clubs and people go there and sweat and work out and stuff – I’m not exactly sure of the concept, but I hear they exist. We’re not a club. When you join a church you don’t join a club, you become part of a family, and a family grows naturally. That’s what you discover when you pay for Ancestry.com! Your family has been going on for a long time, you have all kinds of ancestors now.
So, to that end, I’m going to challenge everyone here today. I’m going to challenge us to make an effort to get to know someone you do not know. I’m going to start off with something called “Fishbowl Fellowship.” I don’t know if you realize it, but your bulletin is designed with a tear-off on the end, and what I did is I wrote my name, my email, and my telephone number – that’s all you need – on this piece of paper, and I folded it in half and dropped it in the fishbowl. It’s all voluntary, no one’s forcing you to. For the month of June, for the rest of this month, this fishbowl is going to be right there. You can drop your slip of paper in it if you like. Then our first Sunday in July, we’re going to reach in and pull one out, and you’re going to make a commitment to contact this person and say, “Hey, let’s go to Dunkin Donuts and get an iced coffee,” or what’s that place in Glastonbury – “Let’s go to Sweet Frog!” Or, I hear there’s a bakery in Middletown that just has a new owner! It’s called Fusion right now, but “let’s go over to Fusion and have a delicious pastry!” Whatever! You can meet at a neutral place, a public place, and just get to know this person.
Now, look, I understand the mechanics are you put one in, somebody else puts one in, you pull one out and someone else pulls one out – I pull Grace’s name and then Veronica pulls my name so now I’m committed to two. GASP! What do I do? Well, there’s two things I can do: I can meet with each of them during the month, that’s up to me, or I can say, “Grace, I already set something up with Veronica this month, why don’t we set something up for next month.” No pressure, okay? So, for the month of June, if you’re interested… and then in July we’ll pull one out and see how it goes. And then don’t put your number back in here until you’ve met with the person. It’s just one person a month, that’s it, just to get to know each other, because it’s such a blessing when I can pray for you specifically because I’ve gotten to know you and you’ve gotten to know me. I know, because of my position as pastor, a lot about many of you, but I can’t share it, because it’s confidential. And I will not share it. But who knows, when you’re sitting across from a brother or sister from South Congregational Church, you might share with them some challenge in your life, and now you’ve got a Twizzler on your team. You’re creating a triple-braided cord. My prayer is that just like the very first church in all the world, South Church would be an ecclesia, devoted to the apostles’ teaching, to Bible study, to fellowship, to sharing, and to prayer. That we would be an Acts 2:42 church. Let’s start with just simply getting to know each other. I hope you will join me in some Fishbowl Fellowship. That way the ecclesia – this imperfect Christian community – will be added to regularly, as the Lord will bring others here to get them saved each and every day. Would you stand and pray with me?
Father, we are so grateful for this opportunity that you’ve given us to be members of this family. We take seriously our call to be a family. I know that some people don’t come from healthy families, and they push back at calling a church a family, but let’s be the family that they’ve always needed or always wanted. Let’s be that brother or sister that is there for you, that encourages you, that walks through the difficult times beside you. Lord, help us to be an Acts 2:42 church, a church that is devoted to growing in our faith, to reading our Scriptures, to studying the Bible, to fellowship, to sharing with one another, and to prayer; because when we do, Lord, we know that you will add to our ecclesia, every single day, numbers of people who are being saved. It still works. In Jesus’ name, Amen.