"A biblical community for the spiritually curious."
AN ACTS 2:42 "GATHERING"
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)
MANNA! Life Groups are a biblical “ekklesia”—a gathering of “called out” people—for discipleship, worship and fellowship (Acts 2:42). Our simple desire is to reflect the biblical gatherings for home “ekklesias” as revealed in the book of Acts and the epistles. In other words, we gather for four reasons: to learn biblical truth, experience Christian community, engage in prayer and practice the ancient “breaking of bread” tradition known as the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist (Acts 2:42).
We strive to balance all four components in every gathering, just as the early church did, but occasionally a group might choose to focus upon a particular component.
BIBLICAL STUDY: "THE APOSTLES' TEACHING"
The ancient Christians and early church gathered to be discipled in Christ through what they called the "apostles' doctrine." This "doctrine" was critical and essential. The early Christians studied the Scriptures diligently for encouragement, hope, wisdom and salvation.
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:11)
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)
This "doctrine" was taught by mature leaders (pastor-teachers) who knew the Scriptures (a.k.a. Word of God) and were set apart to teach it.
Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. (1 Timothy 4:12-13)
Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:15-16)
Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. (2 Timothy 4:2-4)
He (the pastor/elder) must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. (Titus 1:9)
This "apostles' doctrine" was also known as the "Word of God" and the early church gatherings (ekklesias) were powerfully rich in biblical study of God's Word and it spread quickly:
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. (Acts 4:31)
So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:7)
So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God. (Acts 18:11)
So what constituted the "apostle's doctrine?" What primary theological topics were studied. It's hard to know for sure, although the earliest creedal statement is in Ephesians 4:4-6:
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Could this be the reputed "apostles' doctrine?" Possibly. It's a good starting point for discipleship, covering basic Christian study: ecclesiology (church), pneumatology (Holy Spirit), soteriology (salvation), Christology (Jesus) and theology (God).
MANNA! Life Groups incorporate a four-year cyclical curriculum that reflects Ephesians 4:4-6. While anyone of any Christian understanding and maturity can participate at any time, there is a natural "building" to the curriculum.
- YEAR ONE: "The Story" video series (A biblical overview of Genesis to Revelation)
- YEAR TWO: "Believe" video series (A study of basic Bible doctrines and spiritual practices)
- YEARS THREE AND FOUR: "The Truth Project" video series, "The Rock, the Road and the Rabbi" video series, plus various special topics in Christian apologetics, world views and comparative religions.
The use of video series allow for easily reproducible study experiences for the "Word of God to spread quickly."
CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY: FELLOWSHIP
The early church was a "community" gathering (ekklesia). Because of their small "home-fitted" size, they knew each others' needs, stories and lifestyles. No was "unknown" or could "hide" at the gathering. It was an interactive, collaborative communal experience.
All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts... (Acts 2:44-46)
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. (1 Corinthians 14:26)
The early church wasn’t just a connected fellowship (friends and family), they were also a collaborative community. They shared their resources (time, talents, treasures) with each other. If a person was part of a “gathering” (ekklesia), he or she were part of a shared experience. This was the model that Jesus revealed and the instituted DNA of the early church.
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had (Acts 4:32).
Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality (Romans 12:13).
Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need (Ephesians 4:28).
Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share (1 Timothy 6:18).
As a home gathering (“ekklesia”), MANNA! Life Groups are first and foremost a biblical community. We exist to share our resources, collaborate ideas, communicate needs and hold one another accountable.
We are intentional in our desire to be relationally “sticky” (attraction and retention). From name tags to group texts to “reunions,” we operate as a “family.” We build deep relationships through our learning model that features smaller groups (pairs, trios, quads) for participants to share stories, express views, create applications and pray. We regularly host fellowship events (Fourth of July barbecue, river floating, camping, Christmas and Super Bowl party) and reunion events for Life Group Communities (2-4 home gathering groups) to connect, collaborate and commune. We occasionally take group offerings to meet another member’s financial need and encourage generosity to MANNA! Educational Services International to defray the expenses for curriculum, utilities (Zoom) and promotion.
Every MANNA! Life Group meeting begins with a communal recitation of our doctrinal beliefs and a candle lighting to represent the unifying Presence of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4a; Ephesians 4:3). Our evening ends with a common song of unity: “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord...and we pray that all unity will one day be restored...and they will know we are Christians by our love.”
THE LORD'S SUPPER (BREAKING OF BREAD)
In the early church, the believers practiced the Lord's Supper (also known in other traditions as communion or the Eucharist) on a regular basis, but particularly on Sundays (first day of the week) when they gathered to remember the resurrection of Jesus.
Because it was part of a larger communal meal, it was originally labeled a "breaking of bread." To "break bread" was ancient euphemism for eating a shared meal. However, there was also a distinction made between just "breaking bread" (a common supper) and the Lord's Supper, which was Paul's label for this meal (1 Corinthians 11:20).. The Eucharist was "the breaking of the bread" in the Greek rendering (τῇ κλάσει τοῦ ἄρτου).
This "breaking of bread" was deeply reminiscent of Jesus' practice of intimate suppers with his disciples, particularly his "last" meal (pre-death) and "first" supper (post-resurrection) with them.
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19)
When he was at the table with them (two disciples at Emmaus), he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them..Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread. (Luke 24:30,35)
Isn't it interesting that "Jesus was recognized" in the moment "he broke the bread." He had taught these two distraught disciples for hours as they walked to Emmaus from Jerusalem. They were in fellowship and community. It's possible they even prayed together. But it wasn't until Jesus "broke the bread" that their eyes were opened. They finally recognized Jesus! The Lord's Supper experience has that type of power.
It's why MANNA! Life Groups desire to recapture this ancient biblical tradition that has been lost in contemporary churches. Many congregations now observe the Lord's Supper/Eucharist monthly, quarterly, yearly or not at all.
We accept the ancient tradition that the Church regularly celebrated the Lord's Supper/Eucharist.
On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. (Acts 20:7)
For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:26)
In the Corinthian epistle, the apostle Paul revealed how their church was planted with a home fellowship DNA that incorporated the Lord’s Supper (“the breaking of the bread”) into their actual meals, albeit in a divisive and abusive context:
So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? (1 Corinthians 11:20-22a)
In MANNA! Life Groups we conclude our gatherings with the Lord's Supper. After a brief devotional to focus our thoughts, we participate in this ancient ritual by eating some bread (the Body of Christ) and drinking some grape juice (the Blood of Christ). This spiritual meal reminds us of Christ's sacrifice (which covers our sin), our present unity as believers and our future hope in resurrection. Essentially, we look back, around, within (for self-examination) and forward.
CONNECTING TO GOD (PRAYER)
The early church was a praying church:
They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. (Acts 1:14)
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. (Acts 4:31)
So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him. (Acts 12:5)
When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. (Acts 12:12)
So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13:3)
Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. (Acts 14:23)
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (Romans 12:12)
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (Ephesians 6:18)
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)
Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. (Colossians 4:12)
As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith. (2 Thessalonians 3:1-2)
Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. (1 Timothy 2:8)
But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. (Jude 20-21)
The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. (Revelation 8:4)
There are dozens of Scriptures that speak to God's people praying TOGETHER. Our prayers are a sweet-smelling incense to God. Unfortunately, in today's Christian experience, prayer is largely a solitary experience. Only a few select people pray in the average church service. Christians are led into prayer today but that's a biblical idea. Prayer is a communal, shared experience. It can be done alone and privately, but it's at its best within Christian community. James summed it up this way (and notice his use of plural--"them" not "him" or "her"):
Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:13-16)
MANNA! Life Groups practice corporate and communal prayer. We want to teach God's people HOW to pray. Consequently, we open in prayer and commit a significant portion of our evening (25-30 minutes) to communal "share and prayer" where attendees break down into smaller trios and quads to share about their lives, pray for and encourage one another. We end every gathering with a song of prayer ("We are one in the Spirit") and a one-word benediction: Shalom (Peace).
We also encourage gatherings to pray outside of our life group. God's People should be a praying people!
The Board of Directors for MANNA! Educational Services International do not set any restrictive guidelines on MANNA! Life Groups except that they adhere to an Acts 2:42 format (all gatherings must include biblical study, prayer huddles, fellowship and participation in the Lord’s Supper), remain open (inclusive and inviting) and submit to the general MANNA! Statement of Belief.
Should any issue, problem or controversy arise within a specific Life Group, it will be dealt with from the lowest necessary authority (leader/shepherd/facilitator, community leader or area director). Very rarely will local issues or specific house gathering problems rise higher than the area director. The goal is to keep all decisions and low-level as possible.
In general, unless it's a matter that involves heresy (false doctrine) or immorality (biblical sin), then MANNA! Life Groups are autonomous in nature, submitting only to Christ Jesus and the norms of their community, area, region or zone.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.