Back to The Basics – Reimagining Church Beyond Buildings

Back to The Basics

By Pr. Emmanuel Akatukunda

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained (2 Timothy 2:8 – 9).

Of late I have been reflecting on an uncomfortable question. What if Church buildings were to remain closed for a little longer? How will ministry look like? I have listened from my fellow pastors, and many of us are waiting for time to come when we will return to “normal.” This is a fair and understandable desire. Personally, I would rather that church buildings and gatherings were allowed to open and we go back to the good old days.

But supposing this were not to happen, at least any time soon? Supposing God wants us to reset how we understand and do church? Could it be possible that we have become too comfortable by associating church with buildings. Could God be saying something to us but we are busy waiting to have our own way. Have we become so accustomed to building our empires that we fear to lose them? These are very uncomfortable questions—even for me.

As we pray and wait to go back to the good old days, we need to remember that there are millions of Christians who live in contexts where church buildings are not normal. They live in places where Christianity is a minority. There are Christians whom the house church is the only church they know. People who study the current church growth patterns say that China has perhaps the largest number of Christians in the world. Most of these Christians do not meet in designated church buildings. They are an underground movement. There are reports of vibrant churches even in so-called “creative access” countries. This is a fancy word for countries like North Korea where the preaching of the gospel is restricted. All I am trying to say is that God is at work even in places where Church buildings are not the norm. For us who are blessed to be in countries where we are free to preach the gospel and gather in public spaces, we should be grateful for such a privilege. I know that things are very difficult in many ways. We have never faced anything like this before—not even during when our country was at war. But must also acknowledge that this situation did not take God by surprise. He allowed it for a purpose.

Going Back to the Basics

But we should also be aware that these privileges can blind us from the real meaning of church and ministry. If there is one thing that the Lord would want us to learn during this time, it is to realign our priorities. We need to return to the basics. Apostle Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 2:8 – 9 are very important for the times that we live in: “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained.”

Paul was, so to speak, quarantined. His freedoms were highly restricted. He was facing an impeding execution. It was not because he was criminal but because of the Gospel. Despite the physical and emotional constraints, Paul was confident that the Gospel was not quarantined. God’s Word is not chained. Hallelujah! This is great news! The Gospel thrives even in the worst of contexts. If Paul could preach the Gospel in one of the worst Roman prisons. If our brothers and sisters in China, North Korea and other parts of the world where the preaching of the gospel is restricted can still preach the Gospel, we too have no slightest reason to complain.

We need to go back to the basics. Paul’s charge to Timothy is a reminder to all of us of the basic nature of the Gospel. “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel (2 Timothy 2:8). Whatever we have made of the Gospel, the Word of God is clear. The Gospel is about Jesus Christ—raised from the dead. This is where is all begins. Last week I shared about two basic things about the church. The church is not a building but rather a people of God. Two, the church is essential because God works through her to advance His Kingdom.

The early New Testament church can provide for us a blueprint for what the church looks like. Now, I should add that the early church was not an ideal church. Each local church was unique and had its unique characteristics and challenges. But there are things that were common with them.

Be flexible

They did not have elaborate church buildings but rather met in homes. Very often Apostle Paul sent greetings to churches that met in people’s houses. Remember church is about people. Romans 16:3-5 he sends greetings to “Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house.” In Philemon verses 1 and 2 Paul sends greetings to “Philemon…and to the church that meets in your home.” Remember that the earliest Christians were formerly followers of Judaism but when they became Christians, they were eventually stopped from meeting in the temple and Jewish synagogues. The believers had no choice but to reinvent how they could gather and have meaningful fellowships. Meeting in homes was a practical way of solving a challenge they faced. The point here is not that we should sell our church builds and resort to homes; no. We rather need to be flexible in the way we do church and have meaningful fellowship. 

Remain Connected

The early believers were connected with other believers. They shared resources. The church in Colossae was in touch with the church in Laodicea. In Colossians 4:15-16, believers are instructed to “Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.” The churches in Macedonia and Corinth supported the church in Jerusalem when they had a need. They were living out the true nature of being the body of Christ.

Be Accountable

The early church was an accountable church. The churches acknowledged the apostolic leadership of Paul, Peter, Timothy, Titus and others. The Apostles gave spiritual oversight, doctrinal guidance, and leadership oversight. In Titus 1:5 we learn that Paul left Titus in Crete that he “might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.” Clearly, Titus was under Paul’s leadership. The leaders in Crete were also accountable to Titus. The believers also gave financial support to their leaders. This enabled the leaders to focus on the ministry of the Word and prayer. Where and when necessary some leaders worked with their own hands to provide for their living.

This time is particularly challenging for Christian leaders. We need a spirit of discernment. It is not easy. Does the Lord want you to rethink how you have been doing ministry? Do you need to find something more to do to supplement your income? Does the Lord want you to press on despite the challenges?

But this is also a time of great testing for all believers. The Lord knows those who are His. Some who were thought to be believers will fall away. Some who are weak may stumble. We need to reach out to them. Those who are strong in the Lord will grow stronger. We need to encourage them to keep the faith. Let us be our sisters’ and brothers’ keepers.

The church buildings may be closed but the gospel is not. There are vast opportunities to share the gospel. There are many ways to remain connected. We need to remain accountable to the leadership God has given us. As I close, I pray that the words of Paul that we read will be an encouragement to us. Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained (2 Timothy 2:8 – 9).

Generosity in Adversity

By Pastor Emmanuel Akatukunda

2 Corinthians 8:1-8

This season of the COVID-19 and the lockdown is perhaps the toughest many of us have ever gone through. It has also exposed the best and worst in us. Trials are like a burning furnace; they reveal what is in the inside of us. If our hearts are filled with greed – a desire to have more and more for ourselves but disregarding the needs of others – they will be exposed. If we are filled with generosity – a desire and willingness to share whatever we have with those who are in need – it will also be revealed. I have been personally encouraged by the generosity of many of you. Some of you have gone out of your way to share with and support God’s people who are in need.

Today, I would like to share with you how you can be generous even in times such as these. I will be sharing from 2 Corinthians 8:1-8. This passage relates to our situation. Jerusalem was experiencing intense famine and Paul writes to the Church in Corinth requesting them to support the churches in Jerusalem. As believers we have an obligation to act generously towards all those who are in need, especially fellow believers. Let’s turn to the Word of God:

And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. 5 And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. 2 Corinthians 8:1-5

The believers in Macedonia were Paul’s model church when it came to the grace of giving. It is not because they were rich. No. In fact they were extremely poor. But they were outflowing with joy. They were a joyful community. They were a church that was totally committed to – surrendered to – God and His will. They were also a people who gave sacrificially. They gave beyond what was comfortable and convenient.  There are at least five lessons that we can learn from the Macedonian believers when it comes to being generous. 

  • Generosity is the matter of the heart

In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity (2 Corinthians 8:2).

We do not give because we are rich. Generosity is an attitude. It is from the heart but it is expressed in tangible ways. Generous people give. They forgive those who offend them; They share helpful information with those who need to benefit from it. Generous people are networkers. As you can see, generosity goes beyond giving. Generous people are always looking for ways of making other people better. They are not afraid to share whatever they have for the good of others. They want others to shine. The needs around us can be an opportunity for us to express our generous spirit.

  • Generosity reveals our sufficiency in God

In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity (2 Corinthians 8:2).

As Christians our generosity is based on our sufficiency in Christ and not the abundance of material things. You can be rich and generous. You can also be deprived of material things but generous. We can be generous despite our circumstances. Generous people are joyful people. Generosity and joy go hand in hand because generous people are contented people. A generous person does not give because they must but rather because they want to. It is their joy to give. They delight in giving; in making other people better. And the Bible tells us that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7).

  • Generosity is sacrificial

3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. 2 Corinthians 8:3-4. Generous people give beyond what is convenient or comfortable. The Bible also reminds us that Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 2 Corinthians 9:6

Generous people are not thinking about the cost; they are thinking about how to serve others.

  • Generosity is an act of worship

And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. 2 Corinthians 8:5.

The Bible tells us of a story of a woman called Mary who saved up whatever she could to buy a very expensive perfume and then poured it on the feet of Jesus. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume (John 12:3). For people who did not know her – those who could not see what was in her heart – they thought that it was a waste of money. But for Jesus, Mary’s act was prophetic worship. She was preparing Him for the impending death.

True generosity is a result of our inner surrender (self-giving) to God. It is an act of worship. It is an expression of our faith in God as our source of provision—as the one who sustains us.  We give in obedience to God’s Word. We first commit ourselves to God and then to those whom we serve.

  • Generosity is a discipline

But since you excel in everything —in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving (2 Corinthians 8:7). We can learn and grow in generosity as an outflow of our love for God and others.

In my experience, I have encountered generous people who, like the Macedonians, do not necessarily have much but are incredibly generous. They go out of their way to support God’s work and His people. Sometimes their giving makes me feel uncomfortable. I feel like telling them, “stop!” because I know what they are going through. They have very little to live on.

One of such generous people is a widow named Anne. Anne is one of the best cooks I know. She does not have much but she delights in serving God’s people. On many occasions she would plead with me (and a few others) to visit her. On every visit we would be surprised by how much delicious food she had prepared. I must confess that I could not help to think about how much it must have cost her; let alone the time she took to prepare. But her delight was to see us enjoy the meal she had prepared; and indeed, we enjoyed!

But Anne is not just a good cook and a wonderful host.  Her heart of generosity is deeper than that. One morning she had gone to the market to shop for groceries. She then saw a group of people gathered in a certain corner of the market. When she went to see what was going on, she discovered that some one had abandoned a child on a garbage heap. The child was barely a week old. Anne then asked the market authorities if she could take the child and take care of him. After seeking help from police and local community authorities, she was allowed to keep the child. Many people discouraged her from taking the baby home. How could this old woman take care of the child? What if the child was HIV positive? Where would she get the money to look after the child? What if the actual parents came years later and demanded for their child? But Anne did not let any of those discouraging remarks deter her. She took up the boy. She gave him a new lease of life.

As you see, every day there are opportunities for us to act generously to the people around us. Generosity begins from the heart. Ask the Lord to open your heart to the needs around you. Ask Him to give you wisdom about how you can respond. Act in faith, trusting that God will use what you have to bless the person in need. Ask God to help you grow in the grace of giving. I pray that you will be the person whom God uses to make others better.

Secure in God’s Love

If God is for us, who can

One of the gifts that the lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic has given me is time to pray and reflect. I also, occasionally read or watch stuff from social media platforms. I am always intrigued at the different views Christians have about this pandemic in particular and pain in general.

So, what does suffering, adversity and pain teach us, especially about our relationship with God?

There are Christians who have a transactional view of God. They believe that God deals with them according to their performance. When things are going well with them, they think that God must be happy with them. When the going is tough, they conclude that God must be angry with them. This is of course a faulty view of who God is and how He deals with us. The truth is that God loves you unconditionally, and there is nothing you do or don’t do that will ever make Him love you less. When things are going well with you, God loves you. When it is seems like everything is falling apart; when life doesn’t seem to make sense, God still loves you. His love for you does not depend on your performance. It is unconditional.

In the Book of Romans, we see how God has called and saved us not on the basis of our own righteous acts; not on the basis of what we have done right, but because of His grace. The Bible tells us that no one is righteous. We could not save ourselves. That is why we need the grace of God. God has not only saved us but He also sustains us by the same grace—conforming us into the likeness of Christ. The Bible calls the process of being conformed to the likeness of Christ, sanctification. God uses all things, including suffering, to conform us to Christ. That is why having a right attitude to pain and suffering is important for every Christian. In fact, our attitude towards suffering somehow reveals our view of God.

Today we will be sharing from Romans 8:31- 39. In this passage the Word of God assures us that we are secure in God’s love regardless of what happens to us or around us. Let us turn to the Word of God.

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31). This is a very important question:

If God is for us, who can be against us?

God has put Himself on our side. He is our ally. He is our friend. He fights on our behalf. But how do we know that God is for us? We find the answer in the next verse:

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32).

God, the Father, did not spare his own Son, but gave Him up for us all. God did not only make empty promises but He made them good by sending His One and Only Son to die for us. And through Christ we have all things. We have all that we need for life and godliness. He has not only promised but has also acted through Jesus Christ. God is for us. That means that whoever or whatever contends with us has to contend with God. So, if God is for us, who can be against us? The answer is plain and simple: NO ONE. All of our adversaries are powerless before God. Does that include the challenges you and me are going through? Yes. Does that include suffering, hunger, sickness or even death? Yes.

The following three questions and answers in the passage are meant to reaffirm our security in God’s love. Let us take a look at those questions:

Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies (Romans 8:33). Again, the answer to the question is simple: NO ONE. Why? Because God justified you. God declared you not guilty. You have been saved by his grace. Satan will always try to accuse believers before God. That is his job. In fact, the name “Satan” means “accuser.” Sadly, many Christians tend to erroneously think that bad things happen to them because God is angry at them. Truth is that if God was to deal with us on the basis of our actions, no one would ever deserve anything good from Him. But God is merciful and gracious. He has graciously justified us through Jesus Christ.

Then, comes the next question: Who then is the one who condemns? (Romans 8:34).

There may be many who may stand to accuse you: Satan, your own conscience, religion, your culture, etc. But who will stand as judge to condemn you—who has believed in Jesus Christ?  The Bible gives us the answer: No one. Christ Jesus who died —more than that, who was raised to life —is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us (Romans 8:34). Christ is the only judge and He is on your side. He will not condemn you. In fact, He is now exalted in Heaven and is interceding for us.

The last question summarizes the point we have been trying to make:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered” (Romans 8:35-36).

Yes, even we as believers are not insulated from these challenges. We fall sick, we go hungry, we face death, we lose loved ones. Pain is real. Suffering is real. Losing a loved one is very painful. The Word of God is not teaching us that we deny the painful realities of life or pretend to be fine when we are struggling. No.

So, what difference does it make when we suffer as Christians? It is only when we look at what God has done for us in Jesus Christ that suffering makes sense. God sacrificially gave up His only Son for us. Jesus died for us. He took our sins. In His suffering, He identified with us in our suffering. But he was raised to life. He overcame sin, pain and death. We, too, share in His victory. He is exalted in Heaven. He is Lord over all things; over all circumstances. Also, He intercedes for us. He pleads for us before the Father in heaven. Since He is familiar with our human experiences, He is perfectly qualified to plead with the Father on our behalf—for more grace to endure, and for help in times when we need it. He is our ally. That is why nothing will separate us from God’s love. That is why we are secure in God’s love. We can, therefore, together with Paul, exclaim:

37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:37-39).

God’s Word gives us an assurance that there is nothing that will ever snatch us from God’s love. We are secure in God’s love, even though we go through hardships and adversity. Any teaching that tells you that believers are shielded from trials and hardships is false. Christians, like anyone else, go through suffering. But human suffering is not inconsistent with God’s love for us. When we go through suffering, it does not mean that God loves us less, or has withdrawn His love for us. God does use those experiences to conform us to the likeness of Jesus Christ.

Nothing and no one can ever separate us from the love of God. No devil, no adversity; not even death can separate us from God’s love for us.

So, how should our response to suffering, pain, hunger, sickness, and adversity be?

We respond with confidence that we are more that conquerors – we are gloriously victorious – in Christ Jesus. Christ’s victory is our victory.

Suffering is an opportunity to experience God’s love and comfort.

I pray that you will indeed experience God’s love and comfort during these very trying times. I pray that the Holy Spirit will reassure you of God’s unchanging and unceasing love for you. That you will be assured of your victory in Christ—even amidst pain and death—because God is for you. He is on your side. You are secure in His love.