As we read at the beginning of the book of Acts, the early church was devoted to fellowship, koinōnia (sharing things in common; koinon = common): “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. … And all who believed were together and had all things in common” (Acts 2:42). The emphasis on fellowship is interesting, because Acts is a book about mission. So we see that in the early church, community was the foundation for the church’s mission.
Community and the Gospel
Later in the book of Acts, we see that the church’s mission was not conducted on the basis of mere personal initiative. It was the church that sent out missionaries, Barnabas and Paul (Acts 13:1–3).
The early Christians were not satisfied merely to be inward-focused and just to enjoy fellowship. Rather, they had such a strong belief in the resurrected Christ that they were propelled by the gospel to share the good news of salvation in Christ with the world.
At times, it was persecution that broke up a cluster of believers and scattered them (Acts 8:1). In God’s providence, persecution further helped disseminate the gospel to new regions that had yet to be reached.
God’s Family, God’s Household
The church, as the family of God, unites all genuine spiritual brothers and sisters in Christ. As God’s household, the church is led by overseers who manage the household with all its diverse members for God (1 Tim 3:1–7). Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus are full of instructions for overseers to manage God’s household (1 Tim 3:15; see chaps. 2–6).
All of this is part of the centrifugal dynamic of the gospel that radiates outward. Since all authority has been given to Christ, God’s people are to go and disciple the nations (Matt 28:19–20). John 13:34–35 indicates that the world will come to know God by our love for one another. Titus 2 also talks about older and younger men and women relating to each other as spiritual family.
Unity as a Prerequisite for Mission
Shortly before his death, Jesus prayed for the community. He prayed that we would be one as he and the Father were one, so that the world would come to know him (John 17:21, 23). For believers to say they’re committed to mission while not actively working for unity in the church is short-sighted. If we want our mission to succeed and be credible, we must be unified. We must, as Paul puts it, “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3).
Community is an essential prerequisite for mission. Without vibrant gospel community, our mission will likely not be effective. Community, as a network of Christ-honoring relationships, puts his attributes on display before a watching world.
Many of us have been led to Christ, not by an individual, but by a community, as we watched the love, care, and affection of believers for one another. “See how much they love one another!” was the testimony of the world with regard to Christians in the first centuries of the Christian era.
May people today still be able to observe God’s work in our community so that they will come to know the source of that community, the one who saved us and adopted us into his spiritual family, the Lord Jesus Christ.