I love that part of the story of the early church in which God allows persecution to scatter the Christians from Jerusalem like ants. The Bible says that everywhere they went, they preached the gospel (see Acts chapter 8).
Phillip, in particular, headed to a city in Samaria and became the earliest cross-cultural missionary. When he preached there, the citizens listened and embraced Jesus. The Bible sums it up by saying, “So there was great joy in that city.” (Acts 8:8 NLT)
I’ve spent a lot of time lately reading Acts and other sources of early church history. I’ve found this theme to be recurring. The apostles enter a city and preach Jesus against the backdrop of creation and the story of God. People embrace Jesus and the city takes on new life.
The other reaction that happens is riots break out and people get upset, but it’s usually the established religious leadership, feeling threatened by the dethroning power of this new gospel, that stir up the crowds.
As I’ve looked over the stories, from Samaria to Athens to Rome, I see some recurring themes.
- The apostles establish trust and common ground, often hearing local leaders in the synagogue before engaging.
- They start with the story of creation (with Gentiles) and with Abraham (with Jews).
- Some respond by embracing Jesus. Others reject the gospel. Everyone is free to decide without coercion.
- Churches are formed as disciple-making, disciple-maturing, and disciple-multiplying centers.
- Cities and cultures are transformed as people are influenced with the gospel.
- The gospel travels beyond that city into the surrounding territories and to new fields.
Unfortunately, I think we often bring about reactions other than joy in our cities.
Sometimes we ignore the city by walling ourselves off socially and keeping to ourselves as though we’re better than everyone around us.
Sometimes we imitate the city and lose any distinction as a community of Christian believers walking in the Way of Jesus, which is the way of love.
And sometimes we even irritate the city by shouting at all the nonbelievers who don’t necessarily think or act like believers.
I think there’s still a way to capture the essence of apostolic mission, which infiltrates cities with the gospel as new believers develop a sense of mission in every realm in which they live.
From within political structures, schools and education boards, workplaces, social services, and other realms of city life, the gospel – the good news about God’s redemptive work through Christ – earns a hearing and makes a difference. And in the end, great joy comes to the city.
In more practical terms, we can…
- Plant churches that make the good news both visible and audible to our community.
- Scatter throughout the community as small groups that grow spiritually and serve practically.
- Live the gospel, love people, and share Jesus as individuals.
- Bring down the cultural barriers that keep people of different ethnicities separated on Sunday mornings.
- Partner with the city’s governmental leaders to address real issues that affect local residents.
- Partner with local charitable organizations, Christian or not, that address problems like hunger and homelessness.
- Partner with local schools to improve education, minister to teachers, and help hurting families.
- Partner with other local churches in kingdom-focused projects.
- Minister to the hurting, the broken, the mentally ill, and the emotionally unhealthy through counseling and recovery ministries.
- Support families, not by replacing parents as disciple-makers, but by supplementing and aiding parents in the discipleship process.
Is there more? Sure. This is not some to-do list or official statement.
When you’re a pastor, cultivate a deep love for your city and let your own heart be broken over its pain. Then, be a vessel of the good news that brings joy to people’s lives.
Photo by Joss Woodhead on Unsplash.
- Matt Carter (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 192 Pages - 05/07/2011 (Publication Date) - Zondervan (Publisher)