Renewal and Navigating the Stir

Many renewal-focused congregations are caught in the stir.  The stir, as I label it, includes deeply felt convictions related to human sexuality, women’s leadership, various political persuasions, justice and mercy issues, even practices that maintain public health.  The stir is sucking up a ton of ministry oxygen and threatening to sever historic bonds between believers.  The upside of this stir is that it is helping churches wrestle through core convictions and energizing them around fresh Gospel practices. The greater downside is the way it distracts from core mission, narrows capacity to connect with a rapidly changing world, fosters arrogance, nurtures divisiveness and reduces denominational bandwidth.

The newly birthed New Testament church also experienced a stir when ministry intersected with mission.  That stir focused on deeply felt convictions about whether Gentiles must become Jews (“be circumcised”) when they became Christians.  The Council of Jerusalem (see Acts 15:1-35) resolved the issue with a definitive “no” while continuing to affirm core convictions related to unique Christian practices.   Examining the first stir provides helpful handrails to guide present conversations.

Here Are Lessons From Acts 15 For Navigating The Stir

Lesson 1:  Celebrate More Than Criticize

Paul and Barnabas were villains in the 1st century stir as they baptized uncircumcised Gentiles.  They defended this practice by telling stories of the Holy Spirit’s regenerating work (15:3) which led to celebration.  Celebrating God’s good work in unexpected places should precede criticism.

Lesson 2:  Re-Examine More Than Retrench

Believers, connected with the Pharisees, were entrenched in an Old Testament understanding of what was lawful (15:5). The Apostles, however, reimagined God’s expectations for their current cultural reality (15:15-18).   Re-examining Scripture with the Spirit and community often softens sharp edges.

Lesson 3:  Listen More Than Speak

Acts 15:12 says, “The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul.”  The discipline of deep and compassionate listening is essential for navigating the stir.  Listening nurtures empathy which, in turn, nurtures creative and compassionate resolutions.

Lesson 4:  Love More Than Judge

The Council’s lean was acceptance over rejection, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements…” (15:28). Welcoming took precedence over rule-making and rule-making was limited to essentials of Christian living.

Lesson 5:  Clarify More Than Lecture

The Jerusalem Council clarified their perspective without lecturing or demanding (15:22-29).  Pharisees are not lectured for being too rigid or Paul and Barnabas lectured for being too accepting.  Instead, the Apostles clarified without diminishing anyone at the table.

Lesson 6:  Disciple More Than Gate Keep

Some churches have high bars for entry but low bars for discipleship.  In contrast, the early church made entry easy but discipleship hard.  James clarified that life in Christ demanded: freedom from idolatry, daily practices of Jesus following and pursuit of sexual purity (15:29).

Lesson 7:  Unite More Than Divide

The big stir in the early church was big enough to divide the community into warring parties.  Instead, the church expanded their bandwidth and allowed each perspective to balance out all perspectives.  The result was a church “glad for the encouraging message” (15:30).

The old first church of Jerusalem and the newly birthed church plant of Antioch were equally committed to the faithful interpretation of Scripture but they lived in radically different worlds which led to divergent ministry practices.  The Council of Jerusalem resolved this by examining Scripture through the lens of current missional realities.  Instead of highlighting passages demanding circumcision of “foreigners in our midst” (see Ezekiel 44:9) they highlighted a prophetic celebration of Gentiles being included in God’s redemptive work (Amos 9:11-12). Renewal-focused churches should be Scripture-focused churches with one eye on the Bible and the other on the neighborhood.

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