I realize I may be demonstrating little more than a firm grasp of the obvious when I tell you the contemporary church is looking more and more like a large corporation. Even church leaders are bearing a closer resemblance to CEOs and corporate executives than to humble, tender shepherds. Sadly, the good news -that a sinner can find forgiveness for sins before a holy God by placing his trust in and committing his whole life to Jesus Christ -is eclipsed by "success"-oriented programs and an interest in the bottom line. As a result, many churches have become nothing more than entertainment centers, employing devices that effectively draw people into the church, but are inept to truly minister to them once they come.

God never intended the church to be like that. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus says, "I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it." Notice the Lord's one condition to that great promise: "I will build My church" (emphasis added). Christ's guarantee is valid only when He builds the church His way. When you follow His blueprint, you can be sure that He is doing the work through you and that nothing, not even the gates of hell, can stop Him.

So, what's the blueprint? A logical place to start is at the beginning with the first church-the church at Jerusalem. It began on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit filled 120 believers who had gathered for a prayer meeting. The Lord added 3,000 souls later that same day (Acts 2:41). Those fledgling believers didn't know anything about building a church. They had no precedent; they didn't have a book on the church; they didn't even have the New Testament. Yet it was built Jesus' way, and as such it's the model for the church today.

Back to the Blueprint: Bible Study, Fellowship, and Prayer

Acts 2:42 gives the blueprint they followed: "They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." Those are the vital elements that make up the actual function and life of the church -and all of that in just one verse!

Here's an obvious starting point: A church built to the Master's plan will begin with the right raw material -a saved congregation. Verse 41 identifies the church as being made up of "those who had received [Peter's] word," and "were continually devoting themselves." The church at Jerusalem was filled with true Christians -those who continually adhered to apostolic teaching.

If the church is to be built Christ's way, it will be redeemed and therefore empowered by the Holy Spirit. An unsaved membership, devoid of the Holy Spirit, has no capacity to overcome self will, personal agendas, and the love of sin. Only believers have divine power to put those things off and so manifest the Spirit of God.

While the early church didn't have a New Testament, they had God's Word in the form of the "apostles' teaching." The church at Jerusalem was committed to receiving that Word. Doctrine is the basis of the church-you can't live out what you don't know or understand. That's why Paul instructed Timothy to "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine" (2 Tim. 4:2-3). That time has come. If your church isn't teaching the truth straight from the Bible, how will you recognize error when it comes? How will you grow? Don't ever allow anyone to stand in the pulpit who isn't committed to leading the congregation through a deep, penetrating study of God's Word.

The central focus of the early church's fellowship was the breaking of bread-the Lord's Table. It was the most fitting symbol of their fellowship since it reminded them of the basis for their unity-salvation in Christ and adherence to apostolic doctrine. If you share those things as common ground with other believers, then the Lord's table-communion-is the most appropriate symbol of your fellowship too.