Some countries are known as hotbeds for churning out the world’s best Olympic athletes. Brazil consistently produces great soccer players. Kenya, distance runners. Switzerland, skiers.
Living in Brazil, I’ve observed that it’s usually specific towns and particular minor league teams within the country that pump out elite soccer players at an astounding clip. This observation caused me to wonder how missionaries can nurture churches to be consistent hotbeds of discipleship—churning out disciple-makers who impact the world for Christ.
IMB exists to partner with churches to empower limitless missionary teams that are evangelizing, discipling, planting, and multiplying healthy churches, and training leaders among unreached peoples and places for the glory of God. But we know that discipleship does not happen by chance.
God uses people who intentionally think like disciple-makers and orient their lives around discipleship. They seek to nurture environments that promote growth. The church in Jerusalem had an environment that contributed to the development of Barnabas—one of the greatest disciple-makers of all time. A brief look at this church can be highly instructional for us.
Six Aspects of an Exemplary Church That Was a Hotbed of Discipleship
Now the large group of those who believed were of one heart and mind, and no one said that any of his possessions was his own, but instead they held everything in common. And the apostles were giving testimony with great power to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on all of them. For there was not a needy person among them, because all those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet. This was then distributed for each person’s basic needs (Acts 4:32–35, HCSB).
The church in Jerusalem was a community of people who trusted in Jesus, plain and simple. In the same way, the churches we plant must be carefully instructed to place their trust in Jesus alone—not in missionaries, not in subsidies from more prosperous churches, and not in economic and political reform. We have failed the church if we do anything other than embed into their DNA that Jesus is the solution to their every problem.
The church in Jerusalem were unified. There was no divisiveness within the church. There was no one who was more popular, no cliques, no closed groups. Jesus told his followers that our unity would be a great testimony to the lost world (John 13:35). When divisions are tolerated, it teaches young disciples to elevate ideas and people instead of seeing the church as a unified body. Christ’s kingdom promotes and displays unity through our churches and, thus, minimizes the things that would divide us.
The members of the Jerusalem church shared provisionally in all things. This can still happen in the modern church, as well. I distinctly remember the lesson one of our house churches learned when an extended family member of one of our members didn’t have food for his family. Directed by scripture, the group decided that everyone should chip in to buy food for that family, which was a considerable financial sacrifice for the group. That act of love resulted in a Bible study that began in the home of the needy family, and the entire family came to faith in Christ. Their radical transformation was a strong testimony to their neighbors.
The church in Jerusalem testified about Jesus with great power. They kept the focus on what was most important: Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross. The gospel is the only message that’s able to transform lives for eternity. The development of a disciple must be founded on that clear conviction.
The church in Jerusalem was a supernatural environment. Acts 4:30 says they were full of the Holy Spirit and that they had an expectation of seeing God work. This is the type of environment where disciples are encouraged and equipped to grow in their giftedness. They expect to see God do the impossible.
Finally, this text says that “great grace was upon the whole church.” They had favor with God and with people, even in an environment of persecution. Theirs is a great model for our churches as we teach them to ask God for grace and favor in order to make disciples of the nations.
By God’s grace, our church plants can be hotbeds of disciple-making activity as we work to embody these six characteristics of the Jerusalem church. May we be intentional disciple-makers who multiply churches among unreached peoples and places for the glory of God.
Jeff Dunson has served in the Americas with IMB for sixteen years as an evangelist, discipler, church planter, and leadership trainer. He is married to Cam and they have two sons. Jeff and Cam currently serve as the stateside liaisons for IMB missionaries in the Americas.