|LESSON 11||*June 9 - 15|
|Let the Church Know|
Read for This Week's Study:
|Acts 4:1–31, 21:19–25, 1 Cor. 9:19–23, Num. 13:17–33, Acts 11:1–18.|
“Then the apostles gathered to Jesus and told Him all things, both what they had done and what they had taught” (Mark 6:30, NKJV).
|As a report of the early church’s missionary endeavors, the book of Acts is filled with lessons for us today.|
The incredible growth of the early church has caused many to study the book of Acts. Consequently, many areas of church life have been examined in the light of the book—areas such as church growth, foreign missions, church administration, and evangelism. Though much has been gleaned from Acts on these topics, there are other areas, such as reporting, that have not received the attention they deserve.
Reporting in the book of Acts builds upon the reporting in the Gospels and shows that this important activity of church life has a significant impact upon the success of witnessing and evangelism. Quite simply, we need to know what is going on, what works, and what doesn’t.
This week we will examine how the early evangelists reported to their leaders and to the church as a whole. The aim is to understand the importance of reporting and to see where it can positively enhance the witnessing and evangelism strategies of a local church.
*Study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, June 16.
A Biblical Principle
As soon as someone mentions reports, you may imagine reams of paper filled with facts and statistics that will probably do little more than gather dust. However, reporting is not a modern invention designed to frustrate those involved in witnessing and evangelism. It is a biblical principle. As our memory text for this week reveals, when the disciples returned from a missionary tour, they reported all that they had done and taught to Jesus. This seems to be a central part of the work of the gospel.
While we cannot point to one specific Bible text that says, “You must report because,” there is ample evidence that reporting was important in both the Old and New Testaments. Reporting is an activity in a chain of events. That is, someone prepares a report, someone receives the report, the report is evaluated, and then decisions are made and actions are planned in response to what was reported.
Examine Acts 4:1–31. What did Peter and John report back to their companions, and what did this report prompt the church to do? What lessons are there for us today?
Consider that without newspapers, radios, or satellite television, word of mouth was the primary way of spreading the good news about Jesus. If these early believers gave in to the threats made against them, then their influence for God would have been severely curtailed. So, they gathered together, listened to the reports, and then decided upon a strategy that would enable them to be true to their evangelistic calling.
Central to it all, of course, was their praying and their reading of Scripture. If we take nothing else from this story, we can see how important prayer and reliance on the Word of God was to them. It shouldn’t be any different for us today.
Although we don’t have details of what they might have planned, verse 29 shows that in spite of the threats made against them they were going to continue to speak about Jesus.
|John and Peter quoted Scripture before both the leaders in Israel and the other Jewish believers, showing how crucial it was to their faith and their witness. How central and crucial is Scripture in your own life? (Hint: you can know the answer by asking yourself how much time you spend with it).|
“What God Had Done”
We are continually reminded that in most areas of life, effective communication is the key to understanding and harmony. As we consider the church family we see that the reporting of activities and their results is a vital part of internal communication. In many churches there is much activity, but only those involved in each ministry know what is happening there. Because of this, there is a corresponding feeling among those who lead ministries that there is not much interest in what they are doing. These feelings are not surprising if leaders never share their goals and strategies with the church and never report their activities and results.
Read Acts 21:19–25. How was the church affected when they heard the missionary reports of the apostle Paul? At the same time, even amid the good reports, there were indications of division among the believers. What were those problems, how did Paul respond, and what lessons are there for us today? See also 1 Cor. 9:19–23.
Returning to Jerusalem from a missionary journey, Paul reported to James and all the elders of how God had blessed his ministry among the Gentiles. As Paul related one by one the many gospel advances, the church leaders responded with spontaneous and genuine praise to God.
At the same time, however, evidence of division and confusion existed, even amid the good news of Paul’s witnessing.
“Many of the Jews who had accepted the gospel still cherished a regard for the ceremonial law and were only too willing to make unwise concessions, hoping thus to gain the confidence of their countrymen, to remove their prejudice, and to win them to faith in Christ as the world’s Redeemer. Paul realized that so long as many of the leading members of the church at Jerusalem should continue to cherish prejudice against him, they would work constantly to counteract his influence. He felt that if by any reasonable concession he could win them to the truth he would remove a great obstacle to the success of the gospel in other places. But he was not authorized of God to concede as much as they asked.”—Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 405.
|Today we also struggle with division among us as to how to best reach souls. What are some of the struggles particular to the church in your part of the world, and how can you help bring about resolution?|
The Importance of Reporting
The importance of reporting evangelism and witnessing activities and their results has not always been seen and consequently not always undertaken. In all areas of our modern busy lives, importance is placed upon things in proportion to their perceived value. Things that are seen as a waste of time and effort generally don’t receive a lot of our time and attention. Therefore, the importance of reporting needs to be demonstrated. That is, the church members need to see what any evaluation of reports is achieving.
A difference exists between the simple reporting of cold hard facts and the sharing of how the activities that these facts represent are a successful part of the church’s endeavors to reach people for Christ. It is the responsibility of those reporting to make sure that they convey the excitement and joy of success that comes from being involved in the reported ministry.
If we removed all reports of evangelistic activity from the book of Acts, what exciting and encouraging information would we miss that is provided in the following verses? Acts 5:14; 8:4, 12; 11:21; 14:21.
The amazing church growth that is reported in the book of Acts did not simply happen. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, and remembering Jesus’ promise of success, the believers engaged in activities that brought about these results. They were focused on what they wanted to achieve and on how best to achieve it. It is reported that through the preaching of the gospel, multitudes of men and women turned to the Lord and were baptized as part of their discipleship process. This again underscores the importance of reporting the results and the activities in as much detail as you can. In fact, the Bible records the results of the witnessing and evangelism activities more than the details of the activities themselves.
Those very early missionaries went everywhere they possibly could, preaching about Jesus and His kingdom. Because of the reported and recorded results, we assume that they also issued powerful invitations to their hearers. This continual preaching and appealing caused the dramatic results in church growth recorded in the book of Acts.
|It is, of course, encouraging when we hear stories of successful evangelistic efforts. How do we respond, however, when things don’t go so well, when our plans seem to fail, when our efforts appear to do no good at all? What should our response be? Discuss your answer in class on Sabbath.|
Reporting and Motivation
When we speak of motivation, we are referring to the deep-seated reasons for why we believe or do things. This is also true of reporting. When we report, we do so for a reason or for reasons. Our reasons could simply be an attempt to convince a committee to continue funding. Or we could report in a way that will convince people to discontinue a program or change leadership personnel. If selected information is reported or emphasized, then perhaps decisions made on the evaluation of such reporting may not be the best. Hence, our reporting needs to be honest and fair.
Read Numbers 13:17–33. All twelve spies saw the same things; what caused only two of the twelve to respond as they did? What lesson should we take from this incident for ourselves, today?
God had promised that the children of Israel could certainly take the land. Joshua and Caleb gave a good report of the land and suggested that they go at once to posses it (vs. 30). Others who were with them when they spied out the land gave a bad report, emphasizing the obstacles to possessing it and suggesting that they return to Egypt.
As we formulate reports, we must do so with thought to the revealed will of God and in the light of His blessings. We will not just report on how well we are doing but how well we are doing the will of God (see Matt. 7:21). There is always the potential to get caught up in the latest models of evangelistic ministry and measure our successes by how well we are implementing the principles in comparison with other churches. As we report on our apparent successes, we may be more interested in appearing successful than in seeking God’s will for our church and pursuing that by His grace.
This is a challenge to our churches today as we seem to be bombarded by never-ending “better” ways of outreach. In the report of the spies, Joshua and Caleb surely also saw the obstacles to taking the land, but they also knew God’s will. Therefore, an important part of their report assured the people that possessing the land was surely possible. On the other hand, those spies whose thinking did not include reflections on God’s will brought back a completely negative report calculated to convince the people that returning to Egypt was a better option.
|How do we strike the balance between living by faith, claiming God’s promises, and acting on them—as opposed to living by presumption and doing things that might not be the wisest but utilizing dubious claims of God’s “leading” in order to justify them? How can we do the first and avoid the latter?|
Giving Him the Glory
Some people are hesitant to turn in successful reports because they wonder if it is a form of boasting in human achievement. In reality, however, by faithful reporting God is glorified, and His church is strengthened in the faith and resolve to continue working for Him. While it is true that occasionally someone may report with less than honorable motivation, this should not stop humble believers from sharing what mighty things God has wrought through them as He has empowered them to be witnesses and evangelists for Him. If done with humility, enthusiasm, and a love for souls, reporting can greatly encourage other church members also to get involved in the work of evangelism and soul-winning.
Read Acts 11:1–18. How did the leaders and members of the Jerusalem church respond to Peter’s report of the work among the Gentiles? How could the principles revealed there prove important for us today?
There had been criticism of Peter and the others who had ventured to witness and evangelize outside of Jewish circles; then, however, as a result of Peter’s report to the Jerusalem church, the criticism ceased and the other Jewish believers glorified God.
From our perspective today, it’s not easy to understand the issues at stake then. Of course, the gospel is to go to everyone, Jew and Gentile—even if to “the Jew first” (Rom. 1:16). Everyone knows that. Yet, in the context of the book of Acts, the idea of the covenant promises extending to the Gentiles would require a major shift in Jewish thinking. However, because of the reports of God’s activity and blessing, the church members gained a new understanding of God’s desire to save all people everywhere, even though from the start it had always been God’s plan to save everyone who would be saved (Eph. 1:1–4, Isa. 53:6, Heb. 2:9).
For the average reader, it will probably take under two minutes to read Peter’s report in Acts 11:1–18. We can safely assume that His report, and the ensuing questions and further report responses, would have taken considerably longer. Furthermore, although Peter refers to himself throughout the report, and although some members would surely have said, “well done, Peter,” all the glory was given to God, and the church leaders were encouraged as they understood better that the gospel commission to the entire world could become a reality.
Reporting Your Ministry
As we have seen this week, others need to know what you are doing. Specific reports such as attendance figures and financial statements are certainly necessary. It is also important that you present reports at church evangelism councils and church boards. While a verbal report may touch briefly on the main points, a written report that contains as much detail as possible should be handed in.
Not only will this information keep people interested in your ministry and make it easier to encourage involvement, it will directly enhance evaluation and future planning and direction.
Make sure that your reports are given with reference to the overall evangelism plans of the church. Explain how your ministry is part of a strategy that is contributing to the achievement of church goals.
| Go back to the last
question on Tuesday. How do we report “bad news”? It’s only natural
that we talk about the successes we experience. People do that even in
the mundane things of life. But what about in the work of evangelism?
What do we do if a church program isn’t working? How should it be
discussed and reviewed in ways that will bring about needed changes?
Also, discuss this question: If we attribute success in evangelism to
the Lord, whom do we blame if things aren’t going so well?
Think about the issue looked at on Thursday regarding the change in attitude that the Jewish believers needed in regard to the work among the Gentiles. Look around at your own church, culture, and society. However much we might dogmatically assert our belief that the gospel is for all the world, in what ways might our own cultural and social prejudices need the same kind of shift experienced by these early Jewish believers?
Although this week’s context was about reporting evangelistic activities, think about the whole concept of giving any kind of report in any kind of situation. How can we make sure that we are always honest and truthful and not dishonestly slanting information in ways that will give us what we want, regardless of how skewed our words are? Why is that so easy to do, and why is it so easy to fool ourselves as we do it?
|I N S I D E Story|
Stephanie lives in Denmark, a largely secular country. When Stephanie experienced bullying in her middle school, she transferred to an Adventist school. Although at first she thought it was strange to have so many religion classes in school, Stephanie appreciated the accepting attitude of the teachers and students. She quickly made friends in the school, and several of them invited her to attend church. “I was curious about what Adventists believe,” Stephanie says, “so I went.” She noticed that her friends’ families seemed so happy. Her own family wasn’t. “I decided the reason for their happy families must be the church, so I gave it a chance and went.” Before long Stephanie gave her life to Christ.
“At first my parents didn’t mind that I went to church,” she says. “My dad would even take me. But when I asked to be baptized, my parents weren’t happy at all. But I was determined.”
She completed middle school and enrolled in the Adventist boarding academy so she could stay with her friends. Stephanie found the stability she needed in a family of teachers and students who really cared for one another.
“I continued asking my mother to let me be baptized,” Stephanie says. “But Mom resisted. Finally she let me become an Adventist when I was 17. It’s the best decision I’ve made.
Stephanie graduated from the Adventist academy and now shares her faith through a café church in a city near the university where she studies.
“The café church attracts about 30 young people every Sabbath afternoon,” Stephanie says. “We have midweek prayer services, small group meetings to study the Bible and share what’s important to us.
“In Denmark most churches struggle to maintain a small membership, but we’re growing, and our growth is among young people! We have a semi-secular social time when we invite anyone in the community who wishes to come.”
Stephanie leads the music team for several of the services and is a member of the outreach team that seeks to raise awareness of Adventists in this town through fun and attractive methods. “During festivals we make waffles and have a bouncing castle,” she says.
Denmark is a difficult place to attract people to church. Stephanie is a product of Adventist education, and she and her friends are now bringing Christ into the lives of people who didn’t know they needed Him. Your mission offerings help fund experimental worship services designed to draw in those who are seeking to fill the spiritual hole in their hearts. Thank you for supporting such work with your mission offerings.
Stephanie Behrendt, 20, lives in Jutland, Denmark.
by the General Conference Office of Adventist Mission.
email: firstname.lastname@example.org website: www.adventistmission.org
Copyright © 2012 by the Office of the Adult Bible Study Guide, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventist. All Rights Reserved. For questions and concerns about the Study Guide, please contact the editor of the Bible Study Guide, Clifford Goldstein.