By Ven. Dr. Barnabas C. Emenogu
Communities spend a lot of time and money to erect a place of worship, a church. However, when Apostle Stephen was addressing the Sanhedrin he said, Acts 7:48-49, “the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says: ‘Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool. What kind of house will you build for Me, says the Lord, or where will My place of repose be?” and he was probably echoing King Solomon himself who after building a temple in Jerusalem acknowledged in his dedication prayer, 2 Chronicles 6: 18 and asked, “But will God indeed dwell with man on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built!”
There is more to building up a church than erecting a building! Erecting or locating a place of worship is very important and a good starting point but building up a church involves much more than that. How did the early Christians do it? Acts 2:42-47 (ESV) gives us a clue;
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
The early church devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Verse 44 says “and all who believed were together and had all things in common” while verse 46 says “and day by day, the attended the temple together and breaking bread in their homes,”. I want to draw attention to, togetherness, fellowship and attending. The early church took their fellowship seriously, they attended, they worshipped, they broke bread, they prayed and devoted themselves to the apostles teaching as a community “in one accord” (Acts 1:14), and as a result, “awe came upon every soul, and many wonders were being done through” them, and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. There is power in corporate worship and fellowship, no wonder then that Hebrews 10:24-25 explicitly instructed that the way “to stir one another to love and good works” is “not neglecting to meet together.” If therefore you care about building up your church, you must attend church services, Bible Studies, prayer meetings, events and outreaches regularly. Work schedules can be on the way some of the time, but we must make every effort not to neglect these opportunities to come together. We need one another and as a church community, we must be in formation with those of the same mind and purpose such as our brethren in other parishes and dioceses and other churches.
When the early believers came together, what did they do? They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teachings, to prayer, fellowship, breaking of bread, sharing their possession to meet the needs of one another, and in praising God. A church that is to grow must have these components; effective Bible study, regular and good worship life, caring for one another and the people outside the church, sound teaching of the gospel and doctrines. They must be true to the full gospel and members must commit themselves to follow these teachings. A church that wants to grow must give room for the work of the Holy Spirit. As written in 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” That is how awe will come upon every soul in the community and many wonders and signs will be done.
So, to build up the church, it seems to me that members must do the following;
- Attend church, Bible Study, prayer meetings and other programs regularly and when you come, open yourselves up to participate willingly and allow the Holy Spirit to lead you. Pray without ceasing and read your Bible daily, 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18 and Joshua 1:8.
- Come as you are. Each will come as he or she is and be comfortable to be themselves and to serve in their own capacity. Do not feel like you cannot play a part. Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 that people have different gifts for the building up of the church and one another.
- Approach with humbleness of heart. No one should feel more important than another as Paul wrote in Philippians 2:3-4 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty pride, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others”, for none can do without the other, Romans 12:3-8.
- Love unconditionally. Love one another and others unconditionally and forgive without counting cost. Jesus himself admonishes us to do just that in Luke 6:32-36. In fact, it is the love, care and charitable work of the early church that drew people to them. This also requires us to correct each other with love to build one another up and not to judge and shame. 2 Timothy 2:24-25.
- Love God with all your heart, and with all your strength and with all your mind, Matthew 22:37 and focus on Jesus Christ, not on your pastor or any other worker. Hebrew 12:2 enjoins us to look only “to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith”
- Invite others to church. Make it a habit to invite others to church so that they can hear the gospel and to be Christ’s witness to others. Be serious about mission and evangelism. This is very important to our Lord Jesus as we can see in Matthew 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8.
- Get active in Charitable work. Help those in need with your time and possessions. As we have seen, the early believers even sold their possessions, distributing the proceeds to all as they have need. Jesus told the young rich man that came to him to go and sell his possessions and give them to the poor and then come to follow him. To build up your church, you must support its witnessing and charity work
- Give liberally and cheerfully. Church work costs money and time, therefore, support your church by giving your money, time and service. Giving comes with a lot of blessings and to receive the blessings you must give liberally and cheerfully. Deuteronomy 15:10, 2 Corinthians 9:7 and Luke 6:38.
- Cooperate with your leaders. God wants you to listen to the prophets that he raises from among you, Deuteronomy 18:15-20 so long as those prophets proclaim the truth of the word of God. And Hebrews 13:7-18 enjoins you to imitate the faith of your leaders, obey, support and pray for them so that they can do their work with joy and not with groaning. To build up the church, clergy and elders must be treated with respect and dignity but those who set bad examples or propagate wrong teachings should be reprimanded without hesitation. 1 Timothy 5:17-25.
- Let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your father in heaven. Matthew 5:16. It is by your good deeds outside the church that people will be attracted to you and be willing to come to church with you. Make sure that you live an exemplary life in your neighbourhood, work place, community, on the bus or train and while you are driving. By so doing you will be the gospel of Jesus Christ “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Corinthians 3:3).
Simply, to build up the church, we’ve got to LOVE JESUS, IMITATE JESUS, WITNESS FOR JESUS. May the Almighty God our Father grant us the grace and empower us with His Holy Spirit so that we will always strive to excel in building up His church, (1 Corinthians 14:12) through His Son, Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.