We all know the American church is facing challenging times. A well-presented sermon series on the Book of Acts reminds all of us that these are not unprecedented times… it’s just our time.
Seeds of the faith that grew into the worldwide church were planted by God in a turbulent time.
- Rome is still in the new imperial and authoritarian rule.
- The Pax Romana, a time of relative peace in the Mediterranean world, began.
- Roads and improved sailing conditions allowed for unprecedented travel.
And the early church was in turmoil, experiencing persecution, and found itself under intense pressure as they proclaimed Jesus as King — rather than Caesar.
One world government… persecution… authority of the state over religion… a promise of peace — but with strings attached… Does any of this sound familiar?
Welcome to the world of the Book of Acts.
Excel Calendar Worksheet
Plan a year’s worth of sermon series in advance with this simple, but powerful spreadsheet!
Big Built-In Bonuses Preaching the Book of Acts
Teaching history can be a drag — or a world changing experience for the teacher and the student. What makes the difference? How the teacher approaches the material. Reframing your approach to teaching, and not just giving commentary on Acts, can make this one of the most exciting preaching texts you will handle.
These four bonuses from the Book of Acts offer preachers and teachers bridges to their congregation. Take a moment for a macro-view of Acts and how it will change your approach to teaching “history.”
Humans are made to remember stories — and Jesus knew it. The parables are one form of storytelling that we know and often share. So why not use the real-life stories of people from the Book of Acts? These stories are here to help people learn and remember principles God taught the early church and now wants to teach us.
Built-in storybooks and illustrations — what a gift! How much easier is it to teach about materialism by talking about Ananias, Saphira, and Barnabas?
Use the stories of the Book of Acts to help your people remember God’s purpose, power, and provision.
Stories are a great way to learn and keep ideas, but character studies are the way we learn motives, soul, and decision-making.
Staying with the idea of money and materialism in Acts 5, we can see the principles of honesty, sacrificial giving, and using giving to make ourselves appear good. The characters, real people who made real decisions, Ananias, Saphira, and Barnabas deal with these principles in different ways.
We all know it’s easier to look into the mirror of our soul after we look into the folly and success of another person. Use the people and character-based decisions made in Acts to guide your people towards godliness.
Problem-solving is the place where we create with God. God made us co-lead so we could develop this world (Genesis 1 & 2). He gave us a special connection (made in His image) and placed all things under our care. The Fall and sin now make problem-solving our first job and primary way to partner with God and build the world He envisions.
When problems come, our first reaction is to look for a solution — we want to fix it. The hope we feel, or don’t feel, about the solution determines how we respond. Seasoned leaders know different solutions can be found for the same problem — so how do we choose where to place our hope and lives?
That’s a question for every leader. It’s a question for every church. “How do I have hope and live my life well?” is a deep question for every person in our congregations.
The Book of Acts gives us practical problem-solving principles. We learn principles of leadership, how to deal with sin and challenges as individuals, and community-based living. The stories and characters point us to ideas about how we can solve a problem.
The Primacy of Prayer
The Chairman of the National Prayer Committee, David Butts, often says that the early meetings of the church were prayer meetings where decisions were made, not business meetings where prayer was a small planned part of the meeting.
People in Acts constantly turn to prayer first, not as a last resort. They don’t pray to get a stamp of approval. When the problem comes, they go talk to the Lord first. In fact, that’s how the Book of Acts starts — in a prayer room after Jesus ascends to heaven. The prayer room in Acts 1 gives us the explosive birth of the church in Acts 2.
In Acts 4, Peter and John are arrested and speak boldly to the Sanhedrin. The church turned to prayer asking for more boldness and the earth shook, the Holy Spirit moved and they practiced boldness. Many more places in Acts tell us of God’s power, provision, and presence released through prayer.
- In Acts 6, the apostles chose to focus on prayer and the word as their most important acts of leadership.
- In Acts 8, God sends Philip as an answer to the Ethiopian eunuch’s prayer.
- Saul meets Ananias when both of them pray in Acts 9.
- God changes the direction of the church towards Gentiles through prayer in Acts 10.
- Missions are birthed through fasting and prayer of the church in Antioch in Acts 13.
Seeing the church make prayer their identity is one of the gifts of the Book of Acts.
With so many cultural discussion around us today such as racial issues, LGBTQI+, sexual misconduct, and other leadership issues, we must ask ourselves… “Are we as a church going to prayer first like the early church?”
Who Should Preach The Book of Acts?
The short answer: Every pastor should be ready to make their own commentary on Acts for their church.
Solomon rightly said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Pastors, your people need to know the same sovereign God who partnered with people at the beginning of The Church, wants to meet and partner with them today. The Book of Acts is a great way to share these stories and lessons others have learned through the ages and apply them to your church.
It’s no secret that not all churches or all pastors are in the same place. So how might God speak through you to your church?
The Pastor in the Challenged Church
Every church has challenges, but some churches are in need of a lifeline, rather The Lifeline in the person of the Holy Spirit, revealed in the Book of Acts. Later we will develop these themes and others, but for this moment, consider the fact that Luke deals with serious challenges.
- Leadership (1, 6, 7, 14, 15…)
- Theology (2, 9, 10, 15…)
- Racism (9, 10, 15)
- Inward vs Outward focus (1:8 vs 8:1)
- Jesus in a multicultural world (14, 17…)
- Materialism (5)
Leaders who are in a church with these and other challenges should use the book of Acts as a guide.
The Pastor of a Growing Church
“The Lord added to their number daily…” How did people manage church growth? Growing churches have growing problems–something addressed head-on in the Book of Acts.
Lessons for leaders and stories of how God grows leaders are sprinkled throughout Acts. Pastors, when was the last time you saw a “problem” as the place where your leadership was formed? Issues facing a growing church and church movement require leaders to grow… and the people of the church to grow as well.
The foundation, the core practices of the growing church, is summed up in Acts 2:42.
- Devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching
- Breaking of bread
If you’re going to pastor, how are you implementing those four essentials? It seems throughout Acts that all the believers carried on these same actions and it fueled sustained growth of the church.
As the church expands, we need new leaders. In Acts 6, the deacons are appointed to serve people on an everyday basis so that the apostles can continue in prayer and in the ministry of the Word.
Leader of the growing church — do you do the same? Do we put the primacy of prayer and the primacy of the Word at the top of our leadership?
Serving people is good, holy, and important. In fact, it is referred to as an anointing of the Holy Spirit in Acts 6. How do we manage service, prayer, and preaching as leaders?
Church in need of Gods’ power and presence
Is your church drifting, on life support, or your people feel disconnected from God? Have they lost a sense of God being with them?
The Book of Acts is the story of God’s sovereign hand meeting our freewill over and over and over again. Stories of how God moved into bad situations gives us hope, inspiration, and ideas for new actions. When bad things are happening around us, like bad decisions that leaders are making in government and the church, we can feel lost. The early church faced those problems and learned that God is bigger than any challenge of the day or decade.
Every local congregation should know how they impact the world. Turning our attention outward opens us to the changes God wants to make inside. Missions and loving the local community are important actions of the early church. Engaging in God’s mission and purpose places us in the middle of God’s presence.
God still wants to meet His people and move us towards mission in everyday, practical ways. So if your church needs inspiration, the Book of Acts is for you.
Biblically challenged church
Acts gives us an opportunity to interact with people, places, and ideas in the Gentile and Jewish worlds. No matter if you are interacting with Peter on the rooftop or following Paul through his missionary journeys, you are working with people, places, and ideas. Your people will become more and more familiar with the world of the early church making the Bible easier to understand.
Preaching through Acts naturally leads us to interact with the Pauline Epistles. Studying and allowing Acts to flavor and set a context for Paul’s letters helps all of us to understand his relationship with the church and the challenges.
Acts also reaches back into the Old Testament. Aside from direct quotes and allusions, such as Peter uses in Acts 2, knowing Judaism helps us deal with two groups of people we find in Acts. First, knowing “the Jews” in Acts points us back to the OT and why the church was a threat to their way of life. The OT is important background information to know the mind of those who wanted Gentiles to start acting like Jews.
An Acts sermon series is a great way to learn and have a context for what is happening in Bible times. Acts can really serve you and your church as a hub into a deeper level of biblical literacy.
Interim Pastors and Transition Teams
Transition teams and interim pastors would be greatly served by the Book of Acts. Why? The church in Acts is constantly changing and facing challenges, and through it all, God provides answers and stability. The Lord’s presence and guidance meets question after question and problem after problem.
Solo interim pastors and preaching teams alike will offer solutions to the church in transition. Major leadership failures, growth, persecution, changing directions, racism, and many more challenges are addressed in the Book of Acts. Through transitions in the early church, we can see how God is working, moving, and changing us in our time of transition.
A series through Acts allows, even requires, pointed preaching–without attacking.
You’re not saying, “Okay, church, you did this wrong… he did this wrong… she’s not right here.” A series focused on someone else’s transition can be a healing time. Acts also reminds us there are many transitions we have as individuals and a community. We re-learn that where we are right now is not permanent and not a surprise to the Lord. A series in Acts allows people and situations to unfold and see God act in their lives. We have a chance to see how wisdom is born.
A Pastor Who Needs to preach on the themes of Mission, Prayer, Discipleship, or Prayer
The Book of Acts is full of God’s movement on the earth through this new group of people known as Christians or The Church.
The mission of the church is God’s purpose on earth: it is important. Looking at missions overseas and the mission next door are both important because God has a purpose in both. Jesus made this clear in Acts 1:8 when He commissioned the church to go to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth with His message.
So are you on God’s mission? Have you made a “mission” of evangelism, or are you and your church on the larger mission of living and being in the presence of God together? The Book of Acts shows how the different parts of living the mission of the church are important for health and growth.
The combination of God’s purpose, power, and presence is vital to our life as a church. Preaching on the themes of mission, prayer, discipleship, and evangelism helps us to wrap our minds around a larger expression of God’s mission here on earth.
How Long Should an Acts Series Take to Teach?
The short answer is you can spend one week in Acts for an overview, theme, or background sermon for another NT series, a year exploring all 28 chapters, or any other timespan. Every commentary on the Book of Acts you create for your congregation will serve them well.
The structure, breadth, and depth of Acts gives the preacher’s calendar flexibility and options. Here are four ideas and different ways to approach an Acts series.
One Month Book Overview, Theme, or Character Study
You can highlight an important topic from Acts in one month. One month of church history, a theme, or a character is an ideal way to work through the 28 chapters of material for people.
Topics and themes such as missions, prayer, leadership, giving, and many more are found in and through the history of the early church. Make the Bible more familiar to your people by spending a month in the same book. Help them see how God is changing and growing people through the stories of Acts.
Acts gives us the lives of people to study… So why not do a month-long character study?
A great example is Barnabas. He is a minor church history character in major events. We get to know him and his relationship with money in Chapter 5 before we “rediscover” him at the church in Antioch. Barnabas’ life can teach us how to champion an outcast like Saul/Paul, humility, service, and love.
Combining a theme or character study is a great way to do an overview of the book of Acts in one month. Rather than making it history or a number of chapters to mull over in a week, a natural story and thought line helps us move through the entire book.
The Two to Three-Month Acts Study
Just like the one-month approach, themes and characters are important and a great way to work through the book. In fact, the longer time frame allows you to go deeper into a single theme, or even better, link themes together and show how God is building the church.
Dare to ask the Lord for insight, wisdom, and creativity as you study Acts. Let themes and characters influence one another and lead you into life-transforming messages. Staying with Barnabas, his life deals with materialism, serving, leading from the second chair, helping the outcasts (Paul and John Mark), and more.
Another approach is to focus on a section of Acts. Some possibilities include the origins of the church in Jerusalem from chapters 1 – 7, the expansion of the church through persecution in chapters 8 – 11, and Paul’s missionary journey… or journeys. Each section study gives your church a deeper understanding of God’s actions in the early church.
The Half-Year Preaching Plan
The math is pretty simple… 28 chapters in 26 weeks. Textual preaching will help your church learn about the entire Book of Acts. There are two major ways you could approach six months of preaching.
The first is a chapter overview with a point. Preaching an entire chapter of material can be difficult. Offering an overview and then selecting one major lesson to learn gives your people a grasp of the historical context and they walk away with a life lesson. The challenge with this approach is to balance your time so that enough teaching on a principle and its application emerge well from the text and you can drive it home.
The second approach flips the emphasis to delivering the most important lesson from the chapter and giving just enough background information to place the story in its context. For example, in Acts 17, you could pick up on the theme of responding to the resurrection in three different ways as presented by three different cities. You might choose to speak more to the response in Athens dealing with our multicultural world.
When dealing with a textual sermon we are forced to make choices, so be aware of the tension of information and application. A good rule of thumb is when in doubt focus more on the applications people can use to change their lives.
A Year (Or More) In Acts
The Book of Acts has enough information, stories, characters, and themes to easily carry a full calendar year of preaching. A full expository sermon series requires at least a year of study. The benefits of exploring themes, characters, history, and biblical literacy are compounded in your people.
Maybe just as importantly, the benefits compound in the pastor.
Just think for a moment about some of the benefits of building a commentary on the Book of Acts over the course of a year.
- Confidence in knowing a full book of the Bible very well
- Greater familiarity with the heroes and history of the early church
- A better understanding of the theological themes fueling church growth
- How to live in and build a powerful community connected to God and one another
- A full year of study with master preachers and theologians through commentary and biblical resource study
- A renewed purpose for small groups, prayer meetings, and leadership
The best part of all is that you don’t need a church consultant — or rather you get the best church consultant in the world. The same Holy Spirit leading and guiding the early church in the Book of Acts is ready to lead you and your church.
The Most Important Themes in the Book of Acts
Young children around the world have many things to learn — so did the baby church in Acts. Parents work with babies teaching them to eat, crawl, walk, talk, share toys, and hundreds of other everyday life skills.
God was present with His “brand new baby” church in Acts teaching, guiding, and growing disciples and leaders. The following themes are not an exhaustive list, but a summary on the book of Acts and lessons the Lord teaches again and again through the Book of Acts.
All of which should draw our attention to learning and applying the same lessons in our lives and the life of our churches.
Power, Presence, and Purpose of God
Without a doubt, one grand theme of Acts is the demonstration of God’s purpose through His power and presence. Acts is a continuation of the ministry of the Holy Spirit released not just through Jeus, but through all believers. Just as the Gospels relate how the person of Jesus cannot be separated from His purpose, so we see the church take up the same identity… even as it is marred by individuals from time to time.
The Book of Acts kicks off with the Ascension of Jesus in chapter 1. Jesus Himself (presence) once again tells the surrounding believers they will be “his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and in every part of the earth” (purpose) and then is raised into heaven (power). The combination of purpose, presence, and power is repeated throughout the book of Acts in new, and often surprising, ways.
Place this meta-lens over the book and consider the establishment of the church in Acts 2. Chapter 4 is an affirmation of the witness of Peter and John. Acts 9 is a personal visit of Jesus to Saul who becomes Paul — a personal, powerful, encounter with Jesus calling Saul to salvation and ministry. Peter and Cornelius are also swept into the mix in chapters 10 and 11 and the introduction of Gentiles into the church.
On and on the theme carries through the Book of Acts almost demanding us to answer how God is personally revealing His purpose in power to our church today.
Prayer undergirds more of the activity in the Book of Acts than what we might think. Rather than the western bent towards private prayer and meeting Jesus alone, the Book of Acts teaches us the value of corporate prayer.
Prayer is intimately connected to the previous theme of God’s purpose, presence, and power. Acts is a workshop on how to meet God and actively wait on the Lord together.
The first “Acts of the Apostles” after Jesus ascended to heaven was prayer. They seek the Lord to choose another person to replace Judas and then move with 120 into an upper room. In this upper room of a house somewhere in Jerusalem, the believers are praying — and God shows up. We know the story of the Holy Spirit coming like fire and wind, but how often do we discuss the prayer and fasting of the believers?
Prayer is the gateway linking us to the Lord. The early church fathers described prayer as being united with the Lord–and that is what we see in the Book of Acts. Prayer, being in the presence of God, is the way we seek and find the purpose and power of God.
Acts 13 is a prayer meeting at the church in Antioch where God selects Paul and Barnabas to lead a missionary expedition — the very first of its kind. Again, being in the presence of God revealed His purpose.
Paul wants to press the mission further into Asia Minor when the Lord speaks to him in a dream, another form of prayer, and they go instead to Europe (Acts 16).
Take time to learn about prayer in action through the Book of Acts and you will see a church committed to being in God’s presence in the form of prayer.
Mission and Evangelism
Jesus leaves the church in Acts 1:8 with a commission to tell the world about Him — to be His witnesses. Chapter 28 closes with Paul in Rome being a faithful witness of Christ in the most powerful city on earth.
Missions and evangelism are core to the identity of the church because it is part of God’s purpose. From the beginning to the end, Acts is a story of how God is calling more and more people to Himself. Believers are an important part of that unfolding story.
Acts does not allow us to consider the power and presence of God separate from the mission of God.
The church was birthed into a complex multicultural world. Jesus comes into a world dominated by the superpower, Rome, with multiple cultures, languages, religions, and ideas. In Acts we see believers in YAHWEH, the Jewish God, change and make an impact on this very complex world in God’s power — not the power of people.
Jesus’ command to the disciples in Matthew 28 is to make disciples — not simply believers, but disciples who give their life completely to God’s purpose.
The leaders in Acts 2 have a huge problem. What do we do with 2,000 new converts?
They immediately organize people into groups, large and small, to make disciples of these new believers. Acts 2:42-43 tell us the discipleship group activities: “…they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer.”
Pastor, there are many resources on how to make disciples… How is your church organized to make and keep disciples?
For a moment, let’s cut through the shop talk and focus on just the element of fellowship. Why? Because we have a ton of teaching resources on it, love to eat together in the American church, and prayer is often a challenge.
We are missing being deeply connected — not just around each other, but confessing sins, sharing victories and defeats, and sharing our lives with one another. We will not have a powerful corporate prayer life until we have a powerfully connected corporate life.
Discipleship has been made into a personal walk with Christ — and it is not. Read the Book of Acts with this lens and you find groups of people following the Lord together. From day one, the church is about community.
Loneliness and disconnection are rampant in American culture and in the church. The greatest gift the church can give is a discipleship community — more depth in the Bible, better and more prayers, and a deep commitment to sharing life and being powerfully connected to one another.
The community portrayed in Acts shows an ideal world where individuals bear one another’s burdens, provide physical and emotional support during struggle, and live in a state of generosity.
This is the type of community humanity craves and preaching through Acts gives modern-day believers an opportunity to create a similar community where believers become the hands and feet of God on earth in the middle of suffering.
Where there are people, there are leadership challenges… and there are a lot of people in the Book of Acts. At the outset we find the apostles needing to replace Judas and leading the 120 who gather for prayer and fasting. On the day of Pentecost, 2,000 new believers swell the ranks, not to mention the new members joining every day.
We can simply call it compound growth… demanding equal or greater compound growth from leaders.
What do leaders do? How do you grow as a leader to meet such a huge need? They speak boldly (Acts 4). They divide ministry work and leadership (Acts 6). They dive deep into the Word and prayer (Acts 6). Leaders make ministry teams (Acts 11) and much, much more.
Jesus sends an insular people group to go change the world. The Book of Acts shows a real story of how a group of people struggled to change and accept others into their faith — their world — as equals. Acts is full of lessons on power, the process of growing into a culture of diversity, and accepting cultural differences.
Pastors should note the international flavor of the church from the beginning in Acts 2 and Jesus’ calls to go even further in Acts 1. More time needs to be spent on the ethnic clashes and how they are overcome by the Holy Spirit in Acts 10 than the focus on dietary laws, and deep discussion on the importance of Acts 15 and how leaders are to embrace leadership of other ethnicities. The gathering of support from the gentile churches back to Jerusalem is often overlooked in the ethnic and racial discussion.
The American church has a really terrible theology of suffering. James, an early leader in the Jerusalem church, says we should count suffering and hard times as joyful (James 1:2).
The Book of Acts does not shy away from the fact that discipleship costs followers their entire lives. Hundreds of years before Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote on The Cost of Discipleship, the Book of Acts tells the story of an immature church growing up and thriving in the face of persecution.
- Peter, John, Paul, Barnabas and others are thrown in jail
- Steven is stoned to death
- Paul who faces death over and over as he makes his missionary journeys
- Believers we do not know in Thessalonica and other cities were persecuted greatly
Thank God the prosperity movement is dying out in America — but do not be fooled — the church of America lives far, far away from a proper theology of suffering. Thankfully, the book of Acts is canonized, reminding us that suffering brings about the purpose of God. We learn from the characters in Acts that God does not abandon us nor is He abandoning His purpose.
God’s power and His presence are still there in the midst of suffering. In fact they are magnified in suffering.
God’s Expectation of Movement (Acts 1:8 & Acts 8:1)
Does God really expect the church and disciples to grow when times are difficult and culture is not aligned with the church?
There is an old saying in missionary circles that goes, “If we do not practice Acts 1:8 voluntarily, Acts 8:1 will come and move us into the mission field.”
You are very aware that Jesus calls the church to go to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to every part of the earth. This is God’s expectation — no matter the circumstances, no matter the trouble, no matter the blessings, no matter the resources. Jesus’s words are not ambiguous.
The church must be a witness for Jesus. This is Jesus’ desire. This is the purpose of His body, the church, here on earth.
The church grows and thrives in Jerusalem for up to ten years before persecution forces the church underground and outside of Judea in Acts 8:1. Miracles are happening and people are coming to believe in Christ every day. Certainly the church spread to other Jewish communities around the Mediterranean as reported in Acts 2 and the mature church of Antioch we find in Acts 9 and 11. This sounds very healthy, right?
God had a bigger plan for the church. Ethnic boundaries are not crossed until the church is forced out through persecution in Acts 8 and the revelations to Peter in Acts 10. Indeed, the church is arguing over what God is doing until the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15.
The Jewish believers had a problem — they enjoyed being with God and wanted to keep their life in God for themselves and their own communities. So God allows a greater persecution to move them from enjoyment to engagement with the world. He moves the church from their own ideas and purposes to His very own.
God still expects movement and multiplication of His believers to spread around the world.
God’s Sovereignty and Human Free Will
The mystery of God’s sovereignty interacting with human free will is played out in multiple ways throughout the book of Acts. Relationships between any two persons are not singular nor static; relationships are dynamic.
We see the dynamism of the Lord when He works with His people in the Book of Acts. God moves before, in, and among the prayers of His people. God picks out Saul and makes him Paul–and somehow Saul yields and chooses the Lord.
No matter the theological tradition of your church, your people will benefit from seeing the Lord interact with His church. Why? Because they can have hope for His interaction in their lives and learn how to be more responsive to His leadership.
Consider how God sends Philip to meet the needs of the Ethiopian eunuch. God places Philip and takes him away to help this one person have an eternal relationship with Jesus. Also consider the Holy Spirit made an example of Ananias and Sapphira.
Rather than worry about pulling every theological thread in how God moves first and we respond, all believers agree that life is best when we partner with God. Whether God moves strongly first or we cry out loudly, the Book of Acts assures us of our importance and nearness to the Lord of Hosts.
The Resurrection of Jesus
Lastly and most importantly, is the under-appreciated theme of the resurrection in the Book of Acts. From the beginning claims of Peter and John to the Sanhedrin and through the nomadic preaching of Paul, there is no more controversial and important claim of the church than the resurrection.
Acts 17 is a snapshot of the way people responded to the claims of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul first preaches on the resurrection in Thessalonica and is attacked in the marketplace. A man named Jason offers refuge and bail allowing Paul and Silas to leave the city with their lives. The Berea people hear the claims of the resurrection and dive deeper into the Old Testament to decide if this is really true or not. In Athens, Paul presents Jesus and all is well until he mentions the resurrection of Jesus. At that point the philosophers and thinkers ask for time to consider this amazing claim.
If we skip the theme of the resurrection, we are missing what it means to be a witness of Jesus — and thus miss His command in Acts 1:8.
Summary note: The best commentary on the Book of Acts is the one where you help the lessons of the early church come alive in your congregation.
<iframe src="https://www.google.com/maps/d/embed?mid=1Q4ZZGt1chKaDhn9pOs0LyuqWuGw" width="640" height="480"></iframe>
(The above map is a project by Jill Marshall, a scholar of the New Testament and Early Christianity [PhD, Emory, 2015] The map depicts New Testament cities, and in particular, cities found in the book of Acts.)
What are the Key Chapters in the Book of Acts?
Let’s go back to our idea of doing an overview and a short sermon series on Acts. If you’re wanting to do an overview of the Book of Acts to get your feet wet, here are some places to start.
Preaching Acts 1 & 2
Acts chapters 1 & 2 are a nice overview of God’s purpose, power, and presence meeting believers and unbelievers in prayer. Jesus is crystal clear in stating what He wants believers to accomplish. The church goes into prayer mode and bursts into full-blown glory on the Day of Pentecost. We also pick up the themes of the resurrection, leadership, and discipleship.
Preaching Acts 4
Chapter 4 teaches the church’s first reaction during persecution should be prayer, boldness, and generosity. These are all signs of trusting in the abundance of the Lord rather than working from our own limited pool of resources.
What does the church do in a crisis? The early church got bold, prayed for more boldness, and became radically generous with one another.
Is that how your church responds in crisis?
Preaching Acts 6 & 7
Leadership and suffering take center stage in these chapters — and we would be wrong to miss how they are linked together.
The elders and apostles viewed their leadership as protecting the importance, the primacy, of the Word and prayer. Two small observations. First, hearing from the Lord and leadership are tied directly to how well the Word and prayer are linked together. Second, of all the activities of leadership in a fast growing church, prayer and the Word are the most important. If the presence of the Lord is not experienced by the leaders, how can the church experience His presence and power?
Steven is full of the Holy Spirit and chosen by the leaders to put effective systems in place for the care of the widows. Recall the radical generosity of the church in Acts 4 and we begin to understand this is the administration of life to those who have no other options.
Yet Steven is killed for his bold generosity and witness — just as the apostles will be in the coming years. Leadership is an invitation to all forms of suffering.
Preaching Acts 9
Saul moves from approving the murder of Steven to the chosen witness of Jesus among the gentiles. The radical shift from the one persecuting believers to being the one persecuted by those outside of the church is huge.
We need to point our friends who have a bold and radical conversion story to learn from Paul. Rather than escaping the troubles and hardship of the world, their fight with the Lord makes them important ambassadors for Christ.
Those of us in the church need to put on boldness and compassion like Ananias and Barnabas. We must support believers who have put everything on the line to follow Christ. This includes people in our own American culture, but also believers around the world who have escaped the darkness of sin to enter into a life of suffering for Christ.
Why? Because God cares for all people, including the lost. Paul was not just saved by Christ for Paul’s sake, but for the sake of Jesus and the gentile world.
Preaching Acts 11
The most notable mission movements in the history of the church are born from prayer and fasting. The Antioch leaders in Acts 11 seek the face of the Lord for some time and He chooses to send Paul and Barnabas to them. Note how they are called from worship to service–these are connected in all mission movements.
Preaching Acts 15
Combining cultures is a process that takes time. Notice how the chapter begins with the Jews taking a serious offence against Gentile believers. John reminds us that when we hate our brother we are murderers who hate God (1 John 3) and we see that being played out in the early church.
After all, who is the one calling the gentiles to faith and pouring out His presence if it is not God Himself? Racial, social, and economic biases can inadvertently lead us to calling works of God works of the devil.
Moreover, when James makes his pronouncement at the end of the council, there are still very Jewish strings of understanding tied to the gentile church. Notice in 1 Corinthians 8 – 10, a letter directly opposing this “Judaizer” point of view, Paul declares that all can eat meat sacrificed to idols as long as our conscience allows.
Bias takes time to overcome — even in the presence of God.
Preaching Acts 17
Noted under the importance of the theme of the resurrection.
How Often Should I Preach Through or In Acts?
The Book of Acts is an important history and theology hub for the church. Acts’ place as a history book gives a direct contact to all the books of the NT from the Gospels through Revelation. A better understanding of the “hub” of the NT and the church will help your church grasp times, people, and places in other sermons and sermon series.
Reconnect Often Back to the Book of Acts
Even if you’re in another book of the Bible, make a point to come back and connect with Acts. You can take a sermon on a series in 1 Thessalonians and spend it in Acts to set up the context of the believers and Paul. If you are in Joel or another part of the OT, it is probable that a foreshadowing of the church in Acts appears.
Dedicate a Sermon Series to Acts Every Three Years
The lectionary has a schedule of scripture readings that takes you through the Bible every three years. With Acts’ role as a hub, it should be preached from every three years. An in-depth exposition is not necessary every third year, but a short series with an overview, character, or theme study is very appropriate and keeps Acts on your church’s mind. Acts is packed with characters and stories making it easy for people to connect to and learn from in your preaching. These tools and other commentaries on the Book of Acts should simplify sermon preparation and help you focus on timely application.
Annual Acts Visit
Simplify your preaching calendar and let Acts become a seasonal journey for you and your church. January offers itself as a kick-off for vision and direction for the year. Acts provides multiple entries into the new year with themes and characters. Alternatively, one could use the book for an annual emphasis on mission and evangelism, giving and generosity, leadership, and more.
Again, allowing Acts to serve as a hub for your preaching will enrich other series and sermons.
Annual Mission Check-Up Using the Book of Acts
The mission of Jesus must be carried out by us — His body here on earth. Acts allows us to interact with others who have gone before us and carried our burden in their time.
The church in America needs to internalize that “mission” is not just about how we support people overseas and sending missionaries money. The Book of Acts reminds us that “mission” is about worship, presence, prayer, power, racial reconciliation, and so much more. We can evaluate ourselves against a church we know made an impact and is still bearing fruit 2,000 year later.
The Value of Acts as a “Preaching Hub” for You and Your Congregation
Bible students may take their knowledge for granted and assume most people in the church know the difference between Ephesus and Corinth. Sermon series in Acts using history and characters to enrich other series, will help your people connect more with the Bible.
Christians would like to know more about the world of the Bible. Most are familiar with the world of Jesus and His struggles with the Pharisees and Sadduccees. Less well known is the world of the Mediterranean where the church blossomed and grew into a world-wide, multicultural, movement.
Places Found in the Book of Acts
Your people will greatly benefit from knowing the places in the Book of Acts. The Pauline Epistles as well as the rest of the NT canon can be identified by places introduced in Acts. Take time to show maps and share how Greek, Roman, and other religions impacted the early church. Not everyone will remember details, but each person will become more and more familiar with the world of the early church.
Theology, meeting God and having new ideas about God, does not happen in a vacuum. The church thrived and did not thrive in actual, real, historical places.
Competing Theological Ideas In the Early Church
A foundation in the Book of Acts introduces the competing ideas in the world of the early church. For example, 1 & 2 Corinthians takes on a deeper and richer meaning when we know the problem of Judaizers presented in Acts 15 and following. We also understand that in the context of Paul’s journeys, he spent much more time in Corinth than other cities — which is why he is so direct.
The gods and goddesses of cities influenced the way Paul taught and the response of the people. For example, the temple dedicated to Artemis at Ephesus is a different thought context than the Caesar cult in Thessalonica. For reference, Artemis was also linked to fertility cults of Isis and others, harkening back to the OT. The huge outpouring of support for Caesar in Thessalonica makes sense with it being made an imperial city by Julias Caesar.
Take time to let the ideas and places of the early church influence your preaching. Help people to see applications in our day from similar, albeit ancient, ideas. The early church was multicultural allowing us to find how local churches thrived or died based on how they interacted with local people and their ideas.
Time in the Book of Acts can demystify the people and the places of the early church.
The Book of Acts Can Build Up Small Groups
The church in Acts made and multiplied disciples through the small group experience. The practice of the early church in Acts is the practice of small groups.
Smaller congregations need to take heart — you are exactly the right size to make and multiply disciples. Medium and large congregations can also take heart — you can organize yourself like the early church and experience life-changing fellowship.
Acts 2 Is the Small Group Blueprint
Every great movement of discipleship groups labeled Discipleship Making Movements, Four Chairs, or whatever label of the day, have the characteristics of Acts 2:42:
- The Word
- Breaking Bread
When the small groups in your church internalize their heritage as the place where the Lord has always made and multiplied disciples, new energy and expectations will be released. Pastor, let the Book of Acts help you paint the picture of the center of God’s activity in small groups. Let a series in Acts get more people involved in small groups.
Purpose and Practice of Prayer
Great singing and powerful preaching are good — but by meeting with others in prayer we have changed our world. The American church shies away from prayer because we like to be known, but not intimate. In other words, we want people to know some things about us–the things we like to show to the world, but we keep our deepest ideas hidden.
Small groups are the place God has given the American church to break away from self-reliance. In communal prayer, as we find through the book of Acts, we are required to depend on God and others. The small group can be the place of intimate confession and deep restoration… once again, meeting God with others in prayer.
The world may not shake like in Acts 4, but group prayer might shake us to boldness. Prisoners might not be released in response to our prayers like Peter was in Acts 12, but we might escape the prisons created by our sin.
Small groups practice the presence of God together.
Learn Places and People of the Bible Together
Small group discussions are a fun place to learn about history. So why not teach about a new place or person in your sermon and provide more details for small groups?
Individuals will make a contribution based on their own insights and questions. Help your small group leaders create a space for discussion to move from facts to meaning.
Motives are a really powerful element for small groups to unpack in a character study. Thinking about life situations aloud with others helps us to consider our own motives in similar situations. Certainly, this type of speculation can go astray, so help your leaders to come back to ideas the Bible teaches.
Character studies also expose us to the life of an individual rather than finding them in one moment in time. Help your small group dig deep into the people of Acts with tools linking people and places to other NT books and in Acts itself.
These are the seeds of application that can lead to transformation of the disciples in your congregation.
Why Should My Church Spend One Year in Acts?
Is a year-long sermon series in the Book of Acts worth a full year? The short answer is yes!
Acts is packed with information, stories, people, and places worth a full year of exposition and study. You can lead the congregation through Acts in a verse by verse or theme by theme way. No matter how you lead your church through Acts, you all will benefit.
God Works Through His People
Starting with Jesus’ declaration of mission in chapter 1 through Paul’s journey to Rome in chapter 28, Acts is a story of God working in and through His people. We see dramatic movements changing a large number of people in chapter 2. Saul’s world is changed in chapter 9 and he goes on, as the apostle Paul, to partner with God as a missionary. Small movements, such as God nudging Ananias in Acts 9, have huge consequences for God’s people.
A year in the book of Acts lets us discover and look for ways God might work in our own lives.
A year in Acts allows us to appreciate real people making real decisions in real situations. Lifting a person from their historical context and the broader biblical narrative does not tell their whole story. Historical times, events, and ideas shape all of us, just like they did to the people in Acts.
Baranabs is an important figure in the early church, removing his experience from the growth and development of the church can leave part of his story behind. Barnabas grows from being a generous giver in Acts 4 & 5 to a protector and ministry partner of Paul before taking up the cause of John Mark. Spending a year in Acts gives us a deeper understanding of Barnabas as Acts unfolds.
A year in Acts helps us appreciate the dynamic faith of Barnabas. Major crisis after major crisis arise in the early church, and we find Baranbas discovering practical and faith-filled responses to every problem. The more time we spend in Acts, the more we can appreciate the growing faith of the people in Acts.
Life in Bible Times
The more time we spend in a new location, the less mysterious it becomes — and that is true of the ancient world we come to know in the Book of Acts. By spending a year in Acts, a church member has more opportunities to pick up on the nuances of what made life work then. There is a greater chance to connect and decrease the distance between now and then.
In plainspeak — the Bible is more accessible.
We can access the lessons, challenges, and people easier because we understand the times better. The more we understand, the better we can apply those lessons to our lives today.
God’s Purpose, Presence, and Power
A full year in the Book of Acts forces us to see how challenges in the church reveal God’s purpose, power, and presence. In turn, we can begin to look more to the Lord and not to our own resources, confident God will show up.
The church in America can forget that God’s power is revealed in the very midst of difficulties. A year in Acts can remind us that God can move in large or small ways — but He always moves to accomplish His purpose. Those who know Him are drawn deeper into His presence every time He moves.
We need to be confident of God’s presence at all times — especially the difficult times. A year in the Book of Acts helps pastors, churches, and small groups appreciate the privilege of prayer.
The Acts of God is what we have in these 28 chapters, God working in individuals, small groups, evangelism, mission, conflict, and so much more.
Our times are not unprecedented nor a surprise to the Lord of Eternity. However, these are our times when the Lord will move among His people to accomplish His purpose.
Isn’t that worth a year of your time?
The Book of Acts is a quick and easy “win” for every preacher and church. Whether it is one sermon as a background for another NT book or a full year of expository and thematic sermons, time spent in the Book of Acts benefits everyone.
Sermons in Acts with a fun and useful combination of characters, themes, theology, and historical information are waiting to be unpacked by pastors like you.
Acts is a unique treasure of the Holy Spirit giving us inspired historical and theological context, character rich stories, and important themes for the American church. The same Holy Spirit moving in the pages of Acts is calling you and your church to a deep dive into the purpose, presence, and power of God.
Preaching Calendar Template for Planning Your Annual Sermon Series
A free spreadsheet template to help you organize your series ideas and preaching calendar.