From time to time I have conversations with other people my age who lament the fact they’re not doing fulltime ministry, whether pastoring, serving on the mission field, or other things they perceive to be exciting. I wouldn’t trade what God has for me with anybody else, but I sometimes look at my friends and think “are you crazy? You’ve got it going on!” You’re going to hear me use a phrase a lot more often on my blog than I did before, “think smaller.” Read on.
I had some more thoughts about the sixteenth chapter of Acts while I was re-reading it in preparation for my thoughts I shared the other day. It blew my mind how simple something is that I think we have over-complicated.
13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together.14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.
Lydia was originally from Thyatira but now living in Philippi. Her conversion came after hearing Paul’s words proclaiming the Gospel of Christ during his second mission journey at this juncture of the narrative. Verse 14 mentions she was a seller of purple goods–a person who traded in purple dyes and fabrics for which the city of Thyatira was noted. These textiles were part of a high value industry and were used by emperors, high government officials, and priests of the pagan religions. The verse also mentions however, that she was worshipper of God. She probably in all likelihood was a relatively wealthy and upstanding member of society, all this before coming to Christ.
Paul would typically find local synagogues in which to preach in every city he visited. Apparently in Philippi he did not hold a Sabbath service for the Jewish men like he tended to up until this point. As a result, he and Silas walked around the city and they came across a group of women praying in the manner of Jews, along the riverbank. After greeting them, Paul and his companions sat down and shared the Gospel of Christ with them. Lydia converted, and then along with her family was baptized in the Gangites River along where they had initially been praying. Thus, Lydia became the first person in Europe to become a follower of Christ. Then the events of my previous blog post took place; Paul and Silas were imprisoned after preaching the Gospel and setting a demon possessed woman free.
Then I noticed something Paul did immediately after leaving prison that I had not noticed, or seen in this light before:
40 So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed.
I could scour through commentaries and the internet to determine who the brothers were exactly–if this is referring to her family, or is inclusive of the jailor and his family, or if this is the initial batch of converts, creating who would become the church at Philippi, who were the recipients of a letter in our New Testament we call The Epistle (letter) to the Philippians. I’m not definitely sure, but that leads to another thought I have altogether.
Do You View Your Disciples As a Potential Church in the Making?
Think about this for a moment. Paul started a local fellowship, a congregation or “extended family” as we call it (Greek “Oikos”), with a woman whom he met, and also very likely the jailor–who I believe was the man he had a dream about earlier in the chapter. Yes, local congregations in the New Testament didn’t resemble what we call “churches” today–buildings with large steeples where pastors preach from a pulpit to large amounts of people one day a week and never can be approached (I’m not saying this of all pastors, just making a broad comparison). Paul did preach in synagogues and in the open square, but the churches he planted all throughout his missionary journeys were more like local gatherings of believers in homes. The Church of Philippi more than likely was started as a result of Paul leading Lydia and the Philippian jailor to Christ, and along with their families formed an Oikos that grew from there or expanded. It’s hard to say really, but I want to make another point about this.
Do You Have the Time For People?
Paul had the time to visit and encourage people like Lydia immediately after leaving prison. He had time for the jailor, unlike some modern-day “apostles” who really cannot boast of similar credentials as Paul for their apostleship (2 Cor 11:24-29) but would never find themselves in prison in the first place. Paul was approachable, and had the time and interest in investing in people he’d met. I recently read of an invitation pastors and missionaries were given to have exclusive ‘face time’ with a well-known man of God. Space was limited and they could spend a morning having breakfast with this special man of God. Oh how privileged us peasants are if we can fly to this city and spend time with him! How lucky are the chosen few.
Or what about a well-known preacher and author who put out in his own ministry website that for $1000 you could spend time with him and talk one on one for a couple of hours? Paul was not like such “apostles”. Jesus went out of his way one time to go to Samaria, a place considered the home of a mixed race, and talked to a woman who was the catalyst for seeing a whole town come to the Lord. Not “revival meetings” with special anointed men of God, though these men truly were anointed. Neither Jesus–who had no place to rest his head–nor Paul had “minimum offering requirements” before they’d agree to come speak at mega churches in the areas. But they left powerful and historical city-changing churches behind in many of the places they traveled.
Think Smaller and Start From There
You may not feel like you’re accomplishing the same things with your life as other people you view as missionaries or pastors or other types of “fulltime ministers” of the Gospel who in actuality are no different from anybody else. I want to challenge you, reader, to look at your own life and ask yourself who God has put in your life? Who you come across in your daily life routine that could just be the next Oikos–house fellowship or missional community that could be waiting to happen. Pray for just three or four people who you could disciple who need to grow up in Christ. They might not be Christians yet or even “saved”, and maybe you need to lead them to Christ. But, I challenge and encourage you to think of these people and get to work. You never know who you might transform into a church in a local city.
Don’t despise the day of small beginnings. As Dr. Stephen Crosby said in our most recent podcast “Revive What?“–Think smaller!