Zeal is essential for church renewal. Without Zeal, ministry becomes duty without joy. In Christ’s letter to the Ephesians (Rev. 2:1-7) we discover a congregation that lost her zeal while retaining diligence. Christ commends the Ephesians for hard work, unending perseverance and uncompromising orthodoxy but condemns their loss of “first love.” They remained distinctly Christian but lacked the Christ-love that birthed them. They needed a renewed heart. In Revelation 2:4-5a Jesus says, “…I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.”
Here are some characteristics of first love congregations:
Characteristic 1: They Are Focused On The Gospel
First fruit congregations are all about the Gospel. They love to tell and retell the story of Jesus’ finished work on the cross, the power of his resurrection and the life of grateful service that flows from this lavish gift.
Characteristic 2: They Are Joy-Filled In Duty
First fruit congregations “whistle while they work” because the work they do is done from a heart of love for the one they serve.
Characteristic 3: They Abide In Christ Daily
First fruit congregations fellowship with the resurrected Jesus daily. Through Scripture and prayer, they remain in the perpetual presence of the living Christ.
Characteristic 4: They Live As Christ’s Light In The World
First love congregations are the incarnational presence of Jesus in the world. They live by the motto, “be the church!” They see themselves as “sent” knowing the Father sent the Son who sent the Spirit who now sends the church.
Characteristic 5: They Have A Deep Passion To Disciple The Next Generation
First love congregations have an overwhelming desire to pass faith to the next generation. They live Deuteronomy 6:1-9 by integrating faith into every part of life “so your children and their children after them may fear the Lord.”
Characteristic 6: They Desire To Connect People To God
First love congregations have discovered what Jesus meant when he said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10 NIV) They want others to experience the full life that a God-centered and Jesus connected life brings.
Characteristic 7: They Remain Other-Focused
First love congregations join Jesus in living the servant life. Their passion is to find a need and fill it. Daily they identify those who are at risk in a self-centered society loving the marginalized and helping the neglected.
Characteristic 8: They Are Always Hope-Filled
First love congregations never lose hope despite the challenges. They persistently believe the best is still before them and that God will work out His providential plan for their lives.
Characteristic 9: They Are Singular In Purpose And Devotion
First fruit congregations are uniquely focused. They remain focused on their “why” and keep in mind a God-preferred future that is at the beating heart of ministry.
Characteristic 10: They Are Winsome
First fruit congregations are like St. Francis of Assisi who made goodness attractive. They live such good and gracious lives that others become attracted to their Christ-centered community.
What would you add to this list? It’s interesting that the Ephesian church was in need of renewal. They were born out of a great Gospel passion (see Acts 19) and were pastored by some of the greatest church leaders of all time including Paul, Timothy and John. Church history even suggests that Mary, Jesus’ mother, was a member of the Ephesian church. All this highlights the simple truth that either a congregation is on a constant path of renewal or on a sure path of decline.