I haven’t been in every church in America, but I’ve been to enough to see that there are vast differences between them. I’ve seen the awesome, and I’ve seen the very ugly.
While churches can — and, in a way, should — be different, the core of it should always be the same.
1) It starts with the Holy Spirit (v. 1-13)
The whole purpose of church is to glorify God. Why should people be preeminent in how it should be done? The Word is clear that church didn’t start with someone’s good idea, but with God’s presence.
Also, recognize Peter’s controlled discourse — he is not acting bizarre or reckless because of the Spirit’s influence. If someone is “filled with the Spirit”, it doesn’t necessarily evoke weird emotions or eccentric behavior. Peter clearly dictates his message after the opening scene, compelled by God to do so.
2) There must be an urgent call to Jesus (v. 14-21)
Peter’s message isn’t diluted with an allegory or a few opening jokes to put the audience at ease. He says, “Hear these words,” and then quotes the book of Joel regarding the final days on earth, followed by clarifying that the time to believe that Jesus is Lord is right now. If the message from the pulpit is completely devoid of Jesus, then the church is wasting time and resources.
3) The message should address the present audience (v. 25-36)
Peter is aware that he is talking to Jews. Therefore, he preaches accordingly, citing their patriarch David and explaining his relationship to the message of Jesus.
David understands where his audience stands; he doesn’t resort to condescension or lofty speech. He uses examples they would be familiar with.
This does not give license to preachers who insist on using easy doctrine to fluff up the pillows. The difference between being seeker-friendly and knowing the audience is need: I think demographics, including education and culture, should always be considered. We must be familiar with who we are talking to before opening our mouths. But the message should never, ever be altered or compromised to tickle some ears.
4) The church should prompt change (v. 37-39)
I hate wasting time. If I’m going to church, I expect God to change me in some way. I don’t think that’s a far-fetched proposition. Likewise, the person delivering the message should be encouraging change in people’s lives, not evoking an overly placid response: “Cool story, bro.” While God does not change, His presence and His words should cut us to the core, every time.
5) Teaching, gathering, sharing, prayer (v. 42-47)
Read the verses for yourself. If church is any more or less than this, quite honestly, it’s being done wrong.
People would say the current church model is a flawed system, and I would have to agree. People do not want to get out of bed early on the weekend, hurry to get everything together, and drive to a building filled with — what appears to be — white-washed people, only smiling and talking to you with some agenda, to endure repetitive praise chorus played by sub-par musicians, and and listen to the ramblings of a guy on stage reading from an archaic book.
This perspective, I hope you perceive, is sharply cynical, but this is how many “outsiders” look upon church. Why? Because some of those elements as shown in this passage are likely absent. It has been substituted for the routine and the expected.
Churches have attempted to remedy this idea that church is boring and static by turning up the music and adding lights, coffee, and an app. I like all of that, just like anyone else, but when it’s substituted for teaching, gathering, sharing, or prayer, it’s all bad. I don’t care how big the church is.
6) God controls the results (v. 46-47)
With effective advertising campaigns, talented musicians, and emphatic teachings addressing socially relevant topics, you can get one very large church going. Unfortunately, many will come, but few might actually be saved.
I’ve learned through personal experience that many people, with a full account of the gospel presented, still may not respond immediately or even turn away permanently. Surely, our job is to continue to love, but it is not our job to save. God is wholly responsible for the results. Man is employed to be His vessel, but when people decide to jump the boat and swim out to sea, blatantly ignoring the life raft set out for them, it becomes out of my hands.
Remember that man should never be the head of the church. Church starts with the Spirit, is centered on Jesus, and ends with God. What we do in between is just extra.