A Community on Mission
I think the Book of Acts is one of the most inspiring stories ever written. It begins with a group of scared, nervous, and uneducated believers gathered together behind locked doors in fear of their newfound circumstances. It ends with dozens of established churches and the formation of a new faith movement called Christianity that has since impacted the world over.
As we read this book, there are many pivotal moments, but one that stands out to me is Acts 8. Stephen has just been stoned to death, and as a result of this persecution, the early believers were “scattered throughout the region.” This must have been incredibly difficult for the young church in Jerusalem, as friends and family members left their homes and communities. But as the story unfolds, we see this was actually a masterstroke move by the Holy Spirit.
John Stott explains, “The scattering in Acts 8 led to a shift in the way the church had been functioning. Up to this point, it was the Apostles who were doing the preaching and seeing the signs and wonders. Now, after the scattering, it was the generality of believers who took up the evangelistic task. Not that they all become ‘preachers’ or ‘missionaries’ as a full-time vocation but that they lived out the gospel in their everyday lives.”
Stott makes the point that this persecution and subsequent scattering meant the gospel advanced beyond the walls of Jerusalem and went from being a localized faith movement to an international one, simply because every believer started sharing the gospel. This persecution actually led to a shift in the way the early church functioned missionally, and it’s a shift that moved the church forward.
We learn so much in the first eight verses in this chapter about what mission looked like for the early church. We learn that it almost always comes with a cost (v.3), we learn that it is something every believer should seek to be engaged in (v.4), we see that it should be done in word and deed (v.4-6), and we see that joy is the fruit of the gospel being shared (v.8).
Recently, I had the privilege of gathering with young people and their leaders from the Northeast at our annual Newday Northeast conference, and the message of Acts 8 was well and truly lived out! The theme of the weekend was looking at how our identity in Christ changes the way we live in every area, including mission.
On Sunday afternoon, we saw close to 40 teenagers and leaders respond to the message in Acts 8 by taking the gospel to a community in Portsmouth, NH, called Gosling Meadows. This community struggles with poverty, family breakdown, and drug abuse, and our teenagers spent the afternoon serving the residents in both word and deed. Every teenager was encouraged and empowered to take part, and they served in three different projects: helping to clear gardens, paint bedrooms, and clean and re-organize one family’s home.
One of the families we served was initially very tentative about accepting assistance and having strangers in their home. The Newday team of young people and adults were very gentle in their approach and broke down barriers as they loved this family. The result was that the family not only received practical help, they also encountered something of God’s love.
Another group renovated a bedroom shared by two young boys that was run down and dilapidated, containing just one bare mattress on the floor. Our team turned it into a safe, warm, and comfortable bedroom, and the youngsters who received the newly painted bedroom, beds, bedding, and bureau were so excited to have a fresh space created just for them.
In my experience, Christians can over-complicate mission. We sometimes make it into a specialist sport that only qualified people can engage in. However, the Book of Acts shatters this incorrect perspective, as Peter tells us what Jesus, who set the bar for being a person on mission, was like. Acts 10:38 says that “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power” and “he went around doing good.”
Being a community on mission is in our DNA – not just as Confluence churches, but also as believers in Jesus. It’s who God has made us to be. It’s not always easy and does come with a cost, but it’s something in which every one of us has a part to play. It starts with loving the person in front of you. Serving our neighbors, encouraging our work colleagues, and simply doing good to those around us.
My encouragement is to follow in the footsteps of these brave teenagers, who, like Jesus, counted the cost, did good, and sought to bring joy.