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Discussion Starters

By Rowland Croucher

These DVDs may be obtained from John Mark Ministries, jmm.aaa.net.au


The church at Antioch will be used as a case-study in these videos: a model church in the first century to help diagnose the health of your church at the end of the 20th century! Read Acts 11:19-30, 13:1-3 before you view the videos. Individually jot down 3 or 4 items from that story which might be relevant to your church. Then list 3 strengths of your church at present; then 3 ‘challenges’ (note, they’re ‘challenges’, not ‘problems’!). Share your thoughts briefly with the group.

TWO: # 1 – 10

1. CULTURE (Acts 11:19)
Any culture contains ‘good’ and ‘bad’ features. What areas of your culture would you critique from a Christian point of view? If it’s easy to be a church-going Christian in your culture, how can we avoid apathy?

2. EVANGELISM (Acts 11:19-20)
‘The greatest sin of the church is that she withholds the gospel from herself and the world’ (Emil Brunner). Agree? If you were to plan a strategy to reach your neighbourhood with the ‘Good News’ what would that strategy look like? In your group, tell one another how you would help a person who said to you “I want to become a Christian’. How can we train our church-members to reach out to others?

3. INNOVATION (Acts 11.20)
Analyse two innovations in your church’s history – one that went wrong and one that succeeded. Why and Why? Anticipate a future innovation (e.g. moving from one to two morning services). What would be a suitable countdown to ensure its successful adoption?

Individually, summarize the Christian ‘Good News’ in less than 50 words. Share with the group and discuss variations in each contribution. (Remember the Gospel is much wider and broader than any person’s conception of it). If you had to put together a ‘minimal creed’ – the very basic affirmations all Christians should agree on – what would it say?

What items or methods in your church’s worship services might mis-communicate the relevance of the church’ message? Discuss factors like pre-20th century hymns, religious clichés, older versions of the Bible, etc.

6. THE LORD’S POWER (Acts 11:21)
The church is growing in many if not most countries among the less well educated (e.g. the tribal people and lower castes in India; working class people reached by Pentecostals in many Western countries etc.) Why? ‘Traditional Western theology is too word-centred; charismatic theology has too much ‘spirit’; we need both word and spirit’. Agree?

7. NOMINALISM (Acts 11:21)
What causes nominalism? How can it be prevented? That is – how are ‘true believers’ produced?

8. PENITENCE (Acts 11:21)
Repentance means moving from a blame-oriented approach to life, to owning one’s sins and failures.’ What does that mean? ‘Some people suffer from scrupulosity – finding sins to repent of that are not there – others are too careless, and impenitent when they should be sorry for their sins.’ Discuss the ‘spiritual psychology’ of that statement.

What real (as distinct from superficial) contact does your church have with others in your district? How does their life in Christ enrich yours? What is the relationship of your church to others in your denomination?

10. COMMITTEES (Acts 11:22)
Do a diagnostic test on your church’s committees: What should be done by one (accountable) person? Are their committees for the right things? Are they the right size? Are people on these committees accountable somehow for their spiritual life and growth? How are decisions really made in your church? (e.g. influence of spouses of board members, over farm-fences etc.)?

THREE: # 11 – 20

11. ENCOURAGEMENT (Acts 11:23)
Is yours a church of encouragers? How do you think you could increase the number of encouragers and encouraged people? Ask the pastor how often he/she is encouraged or discouraged. Why?

If your church were to become divided over some issue of doctrine or method, what might that issue be? Are you able, frankly and honestly, to talk about it? What are your church’s or denomination’s ‘distinctives’? What can you learn from what God has taught other churches?

13. COMMITMENT (Acts 11:23)
‘Enthusiasm is more caught and taught’. How true is this?

14. GOODNESS (Acts 11:24)
How do ‘good’ people/leaders get to be that way?

Pentecostals/charismatics tend to use the term ‘Spirit-filled’ to refer to an experience of the Spirit. Wesleyans and others prefer to use it to describe an obedient relationship with the Spirit. Isn’t it both? In any case, after all our arguing over the term, isn’t it most important to have the Spirit ‘fall afresh on us’ – ‘to break, melt, mould and fill’ us? Why not pray that prayer together?

16. FAITH (Acts 11:24)
‘Lord increase our faith!’ How does that happen?

17. TEAM MINISTRY (Acts 11:25)
‘Every church – of whatever size – should be led by a team. Too many depend too much on one pastor as the resident professional.’ Agree?

18. LEADERSHIP (Acts 11:25-26)
What is the best ‘leadership style’ for your kind of people? Are leaders ‘born’ or ‘made’? What leadership training opportunities exist in your church? What new ideas might you consider? Study the leadership qualities in 1Timothy 3: what do these mean in our culture?

19. TEACHING (Acts 11:26)
React to these: ‘Sermonettes are for Christianettes.’ ‘Sermons often answer questions people aren’t asking.’ ‘The best place to learn about faith is not in church but in a small group.’ ‘Mature literate Christians probably should be reading 2-3 books a month about their faith. They’re not reading because (a) they’re not encouraged from the pulpit, and a readily available book-table; and (b) They aren’t given opportunities to teach.’

What for each of us is the most significant part of a worship service? Why is the ‘order of service’ in your church set out in the way it is? What changes would you suggest and why? Christians are separated by their creeds and rituals but are united by their prayers and hymns: how true is this? ‘We come to worship to give rather than to get’. Do we? Can we? How? ‘If the queen should enter our worship-place, we would all stand. If Jesus Christ entered, we would fall on our knees.’ Would we? Does ‘worship’ only – or best – happen ‘in church’.

FOUR: # 21 – 34

21: LISTEN TO THE PROPHETS (Acts 11: 27-28)
Why are ‘prophets’ unpopular? How would your church cope with a couple? ‘As churches become institutionalized, prophets are left off the agenda (we don’t actually crucify them anymore). Comment.

Who are ‘hurting’ in some way in your neighbourhood? What community resources or groups are meeting their needs? What unmet needs exist where your church could organize some help? What is the extent of your church’s involvement with overseas aid and development?

‘You don’t have to preach about financial giving to the committed: they regard it as a privilege.’ Too idealistic? Look at 2 Corinthians 8: 1-15. What lessons for us are there on this subject? Talk about lifestyle issues: How then should we live in a world of poverty and great need?

24. ELDERS AND AUTHORITY (Acts 11:30, 13:1)
Get someone to research your denomination’s history in the area of ‘church government’. To what extent has your church inherited a model which is no longer appropriate? What changes would you suggest? Discuss the issue of ‘power’ in your church? Who or what group wields power, with what outcomes? A pastor was told by the church board: You must get our approval before you conduct any weddings or funerals!’ Any comments?

25. SPIRITUAL GIFTS (Acts 13:1)
The church at Antioch knew who their ‘prophets and teachers’ were. Does your church? If a survey were done among your regular Sunday attenders asking ‘What spiritual gifts does the Lord exercise through your life?’ How might most respond? Get Robert Hillman’s 27 Spiritual Gifts (Melbourne: JBCE, 1986) and try some of the bible studies on pp. 134 ff.

Who is ‘different’ in your church or community? Is your church fellowship open to people of differing socio-economic, theological, or ethnic backgrounds?

27. SOCIAL JUSTICE (Acts 13:1)
A survey among conservative Australian churches has shown that most of them have never heard a sermon in favour of involvement in social justice issues. Why is that? Why was justice important for Jesus (see eg. Matthew 23:23,Luke 11:42) but not for some of us? Share your reactions to this statement: ‘The Bible was written by the poor for the poor; so the rich, then and now, are severely handicapped in really understanding its central message’.

(1) John Wesley wrote a line in one of his hymns about being ‘lost in wonder/love and praise’. Most Western worshippers don’t regularly have that sort of experience. Isaiah did (6:1-9); the Psalmists did (e.g. 8:3-9). What’s the difference between much of our worship and theirs? (2) Look at Isaiah 1:10-17, Amos 5:21-24, and Micah 6:6-8. What do these scriptures indicate about God’s displeasure with worship divorced from justice?

29. FASTING (Acts 13:2)
Talk about the disciplines of fasting from food, words, TV. etc. What value might they have for us?

‘At our 10 a.m. worship service, the Lord spoke to us, and this is what he said.. ‘ Do your secretary’s records ever have a minute like that? Why/Why not? How do you think the Lord spoke to this church? How does he speak to your church? Institutionalism prevents our hearing the voice of the Spirit: what can we do about that?

Saul and Barnabas accomplished the astonishing feat of preparing a young church in just one year to operate without them. Why doesn’t this sort of thing happen today?

32. PRAYER (Acts 13:3)
How many in your church are regularly praying with others? For how many would praying together be a natural outcome of a meaningful conversation? What programs does your church have in place to teach people to pray – privately, and with others? Where will you start?

‘Everyone who is in ministry – i.e. every Christian – should be commissioned by the church for their God-ordained calling’. True? How?

How many persons from your congregation serve in cross-cultural missionary situations? How can you begin to implement in your church a program of wholistic, biblical mission? For example, is each group in the church encouraged to have an evangelistic, mercy and justice objective?

FIVE: # 35 – 50

35. LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE (Romans 15:7, 1 John 4:7,8)
Does your church have any social, theological or sacramental barriers prohibiting the full acceptance of others who also claim Jesus as Lord? For example, if your mode of baptism rejects from membership some whose theology is different, but whom God has accepted, how can you justify this?

36. STRENGTHEN FAMILIES (Proverbs 22:6, 1 Timothy 5:8,
2 Timothy 3: 15-17)
What is happening to family life in your country/community? What is your church doing to strengthen families? How many inter-generational, as distinct from peer-group activities exist in your church’s program? Talk about this: ‘It’s difficult in a free society, but no couple should ever marry or be parents without some training for these complex tasks.’

37. SMALL GROUPS (Mark 1:16-20)
Consider: ‘Every healthy spiritual movement, from Jesus and his disciples through Wesley until the present, has been formed in small groups rather than formal gatherings of people.’ What percentage of your regular Sunday attenders attend a small group for spiritual growth? What might be done to increase this number?

38. DISCIPLING YOUTH (1 Timothy 1:2,2 Timothy 3:10, Titus 2: 6-8)
Evaluate your youth programs. One committed parent complained: ‘Our church youth group is simply an older version of a baby-sitting arrangement, keeping kids happy and off the streets. They have no idea how these kids can become committed to Christ.’ How can that change?

39. MINISTRY TO MEN (Ephesians 5:21,25,6:4)
A veteran missionary in Asia said ‘Win the men – in any culture – and you’re more likely to get the family. It generally doesn’t work, in any culture, the other way.’ True? Why are men attracted to service organizations, but less to the church? What can be done about that?

40: WOMEN’S MINISTRIES (Acts 18:26, 1 Timothy 5:3 ff.)
The senior pastor of the world’s largest-ever church, Paul Yonggi Cho of the Full Gospel Central Church, Seoul, Korea, has often said ‘Women are more teachable, available, willing and committed than men. That’s why 80% of our home groups are led by women.’ Is that true of your church? Why are there more women than men in our churches? And – a controversial issue in some churches – discuss this considered opinion: ‘The arguments against women leading and teaching in modern churches are less biblical than cultural and psychological.’

41. PURSUE EXCELLENCE (Ephesians 6:8,Philippians 1:9-11)
Comment on this quote from a top Christian businessman: ‘In my job as a managing director I am accountable to produce the very best I can. But when I come to church I’m expected to leave that pursuit of excellence behind. So much that happens is so poorly prepared and sloppily done.’

42. PREACHING (2 Timothy 4:2)
Ask your pastor about his/her philosophy and theology of preaching. Who should preach? If people other than the pastor, what kind of training should be provided? Answer this question: ‘I could/could not bring a neighbour to any church service because.’ Be constructive!

43. ADMINISTRY (Acts 6:1-7)
All surveys among pastors show they generally believe administration to be low on their order of priorities, but high on their list of frustrations. Why would that be? What can be done about it? How can pastors learn better management skills? Is that their job anyway?

44. CLOSE THE BACK DOOR (Luke 15:4-7)

How many people come once to a church service and then do/do not come again? Why? What’s in place to incorporate new Christians or new attenders into the community of your church?

45. BUILDINGS (2 Chronicles 7:11 ff.)
‘Buildings preach’. What do your buildings and grounds preach?

46. MUSIC (Psalm 150)
Calculate the date of composition, country of origin and imagery used in all the hymns/songs sung in your church services over the last month. What might you learn from that exercise? How do we cross generational and other gaps in choosing appropriate music?

How well is your church known in your neighbourhood? For what is it known? How do you know?

What struggles are your people facing that could be the subject of a class? Surveys in the U.S. show that young mothers with their first baby are a high-response group to a class on mothering .What else, in your neighbourhood?

49. SET GOALS (Romans 15:24,28)
After all this discussion, write down the five goals you would suggest for your church, or group. Put one each under the headings worship, community, formation, mission, plus one other. Make them specific, measurable, attainable. Compare with others, pray together, and come to four or five agreed goals for the coming year.

50. LIVE IN HOPE (Romans 5:3-5)
Encourage one another, and pray with one another, about the great possibilities for your church!

Shalom! Rowland Croucher



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