If today’s local church needs a model for healthy relationships, growth and leadership, Dr. Dwight McKissic said they need look no further than Acts 13 and the first church. In an afternoon workshop at the 2023 Texas Baptists Family Gathering in McAllen, McKissic shared a brief study on the church that revealed what made them so ideal.
“Billy Graham said once if the Holy Spirit departed from our churches, 90% of them would not notice. Just as the spirit made a difference at Pentecost, he still makes the difference today,” said McKissic, senior pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington. “One of my heroes, Dr. George McCaleb, once said, ‘The church at her birth was the church at her best.’”
McKissic noted the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch, but the term may not have been used positively. Jesus called his followers disciples, but their identity was changed by the citizens of Antioch.
Referencing Acts 13:1, McKissic said the list of the early church’s leadership is worth examining closely. He noted Barnabas, then made note that Simeon, called Niger, was likely “darker than the Mediterranean norm.” Lucius was from Cyrene, also an African nation.
“This very first church was comprised of people that look like the people in this room. What’s wrong is that come Sunday morning we all scatter in our huddles, and we won’t look like this room. Today’s church looks like McDonald’s farm: There’s a clique over here, a clique over there, here a clique, there a clique. But that is not how the church looked at her beginning,” McKissic said.
“If you and I want our churches to reflect the kingdom of God, we need to model ourselves not so much after other churches we study – and there are a lot of great churches in America – but after the first church.”
McKissic said churches should also take note of the size of the early church, but noted “those 120 people turned the world upside-down.” He urged attendees not to focus on numbers for validation of a congregation’s impact.
He also said the early church focused on the fundamental truths in God’s word, resulting in deep growth, which led to multiplication.
“The ultimate test if you are growing and your people are growing is have they received so much word, so much power, so much teaching that they are able to consistently make right decisions,” he said. “Because if you’re an infant, you make decisions based on a lack of knowledge. The church at Antioch was serious about growing and knowing the word of God.”
The first church was also marked by unity, a condition McKissic said is seriously lacking across the nation’s congregations. In fact, he called it the biggest challenge the 21st Century church faces.
“People who read the gospels are looking for something similar to what they read in God’s word. They are looking for love, truth, healing and guidance. They are looking for a church like the book of Acts: One accord, one faith, one baptism, interracial leadership. When they see today’s church divided by race, by class, by doctrine, they say you don’t look like that picture,” he said. “People are looking not just for diversity but asking the question ‘what difference would it make if I invest my life in that church?’ The church at Antioch exponentially grew in part because of the practices they engaged in.”
The early church was attractive because God was present, and McKissic said oneness and worship in spirit and truth is key to that today. That oneness, he said, will typically precede witness and evangelism that will make an impact across a community.
McKissic said the church also modeled spiritual gifts and let members serve in their giftedness. They also modeled missions and evangelism and were generous.
“The church modeled generosity and love. A mature congregation doesn’t have to be begged to give,” McKissic noted. “You give because it’s been given to you and because a mighty God deserves mighty gifts.”