Ever wondered about the purpose of the Book of Acts?
Its full title is, “The Acts of the Apostles” which is accurate, at least at one level. As we begin to read Acts chapter 1, page after page describe the things those early apostles did and what they experienced. It makes a great story as the narrative quickly progresses from miracle to persecution to salvation and back to miracles.
But while it is a book outlining the Acts of the Apostles, at another level, it is not really about them at all.
During His lifetime, Jesus uttered these words “I will build my Church!” (Matthew 16:18) and this Book of Acts describes Him doing just that.
Therefore, at a level far more real and true, the Book of Acts could best be called “The Acts of Jesus” or the “The Acts of the Holy Spirit”, as throughout the book we see Christ beginning to build His Church by His Holy Spirit.
This gives us another quite different way of reading the Book of Acts. Instead of seeing it as a narrative in which the Apostles take centre stage as the main actors, we can read it as a book that shows us how Jesus works to build His Church through the Holy Spirit.
At times we lament that Acts gives us little practical guidance on how to build a church or how to run a successful ministry. History is interesting, but “How to” is more useful!
However, when we understand that the book of Acts describes the work of the Spirit of Jesus during a specific time, place and culture, and when John’s gospel reminds us that “The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8), we catch a glimpse into what the Book of Acts is really all about.
It shows us that when the Spirit is at work, He doesn’t provide a step-by-step guide to help us understand what He has done or what He is about to do. The Spirit of Jesus simply says, as Jesus Himself often did in person to those first disciples, “Follow me”.
All this has huge relevance for those of us today in leadership. There is a tendency when it comes to what is happening, or what we would like to see happen, in our churches and ministries, to think in terms of “The Acts of X Church”, or (even worse) “The Acts of X Church’s leaders”, or (even worse again!) “The Acts of ME!”.
The understanding that Christ is the Head of the Church (and by implication, Head of all its ministries) is a well-attested theological truth you have no doubt heard and believed. Furthermore, a second truth, namely that we need the power of the Holy Spirit to do ministry, is similarly widely known and believed.
But despite these important insights, there is a tendency in all of us – me included – to pay lip service to them and to continue on with our plans and programmes, occasionally stopping to offer a request for blessing and help.
For those of us who love to feel in control (which let’s be honest, is most of us), doing our own “Acts” and asking for God’s blessing, seems easier and more straightforward, than the hard work of knowing Jesus and following Him as He performs His Acts.
Yet as we learn His ways and listen to His voice, we discover that ministry becomes easier and much more exciting and fulfilling. As leaders, we get to have a front-row seat in watching Jesus build His church through a group of weak and imperfect people – and yes, that includes you and me!
With all that said, I would like to invite you to read through the Book of Acts with me, but to read it, not as the Acts of the Apostles, but as the Acts of the Spirit of Jesus.
Together we will pause and learn to discern the ways of the Spirit who built the early church and is at work in and through you to build His church today.