One of the main words that comes to mind when reading Acts is the word “fluid”…they were on the move and they were nimble. They were adaptable…able to move and shift in necessary ways to continue being and doing the things they had been called to be and to do. When persecution broke out, they scattered. When they scattered, they took the Gospel message with them (Acts 8:1-4). It didn’t take a quarter long class in how to reach your neighbor to reach the lost. It doesn’t appear they needed that because their faith in the risen Lord was everything to them. Like the mustard plant, the kingdom reflected by the early believers, was invasive…it couldn’t be contained. It spread…and spread…and spread…just like Jesus said it would.
It didn’t spread as much by brick and mortar as it did by organic, relational outreach.
Paul vs. James
When I think of someone who was very fluid in his approach to ministry in the book of Acts, I can’t help but think of Paul. There were seasons Paul stayed put and ministered for several years, like in Ephesus and Corinth. But Paul was very much like the people of Israel in the wilderness…moving when the cloud moved and stopping where it stopped. Only with Paul, replace the cloud and the fire with the Holy Spirit, a vision of a man from Macedonia (Acts 16) or even Jesus Christ giving him direction (Acts 9 – Saul’s conversion). Paul ran into Lydia by a river and Onesimus in prison. He met people like Aquila and Priscilla who were tent makers like he was. He ran into people on boats, in synagogues and in marketplaces like in Acts 19.
Church wasn’t a place to Paul…it was a people. When you see church that way…the potential for “church” is all around us…in every single person we meet lies the inherent potential for kingdom impact and growth. When you see church that way it isn’t as institutional as it is adaptable.
This doesn’t mean everyone has to be nimble or that we should all transition from whatever ministry we are doing to be church planters. James spent his whole ministry building up the church in Jerusalem…he never followed up on the rest of Acts 1:8 (Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth) but died a martyrs death still in Jerusalem where the whole thing began. He was more static than he was fluid…and he accomplished a lot as well.
We need both, while still addressing the very real imbalance
The point is we need both. The problem is not that one is more important than the other…the problem is imbalance combined with an insufficient definition of what church is. I believe the definition of “church” of the typical Christian is far more shaped by tradition than it is by scripture. This is something we need to work on and allow the New Testament room to tell a better story of what church is all about than the definitions we arrived at while preparing our talking points against other Christian groups.
So when the vast majority of what you do is static and we no longer have enough flexibility to adjust, much less a Gospel culture that was as invasive to the world around them as it was in the first century…we need to reclaim our nimbleness…our flexibility and fluidity…not to the exclusion of those who root themselves in one place for decades but in partnership with them. Some send and some go. Some plant and others water. But we are all still serving the same God and working in the same kingdom.
So what do we do about this? One word – stretch. We need to stretch our comfort zones. We need to stretch our love for God and others. We need to stretch our knowledge of scripture and the story God is telling through its pages. We won’t become fluid and nimble until we stretch. So let’s put on an audio version of the New Testament and begin our stretching routine, starting with the next person God puts in front of us.