Life with God – Week 9: Ministry in the Field


So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.  As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all),  you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.  And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.  And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead.  To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word.  And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.  For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

– Acts 10:34-48

Rev. Elvyn Hamilton shared last night at our Frankfort district that there are at least 2 models of ministry. The first model is the Temple. In the Temple model, we build a house for God and invite everyone to come and join us as we meet God together. We pick the time, the place, set the atmosphere, the music, the dress code, the words of the prayers, etc. and we invite the rest of our community to come worship God with us. The second model is the Mission Field. In this model, we go out to the people of our community, knowing God has already gone before us, and we learn their language, their music, their culture, how they work, play, and live. We then look for the ways that God is already at work in their community as well as new ways to engage them with the gospel.

In Scripture we see that the Temple model of ministry is the primary, if not exclusively used in the Old Testament. The Mission Field model, on the other hand, appears much more frequently in the Gospels (with Jesus’ own preaching ministry) and remains a dominant push in the book of Acts. While certain contemporary church leaders take this to be license to reject Temple-model ministries (and the multitude of churches who practice them) in order to fully embrace the Mission Field model of ministry, I can assure you that both models are found throughout the entire Bible – Old and New Testaments. There is no competition between the models nor is one superior to the other. Rather, there is a place for both in all churches. Indeed, we need both.

In our established churches, we typically favor the Temple model and neglect the Mission Field, or try to compensate by sending funds to missionaries elsewhere while neglecting the mission fields in our own communities. John Wesley experienced this in the church of England when he was invited to preach in outdoor, public settings by George Whitefield – a fellow preacher. He writes:

“I left London and in the evening expounded to a small company at Basingstoke, Saturday, 31. In the evening I reached Bristol and met Mr. Whitefield there. I could scarcely reconcile myself at first to this strange way of preaching in the fields, of which he set me an example on Sunday; I had been all my life (till very lately) so tenacious of every point relating to decency and order that I should have thought the saving of souls almost a sin if it had not been done in a church.” – from The Journal of John Wesley, Thursday, March 29, 1739.

St. Peter also experienced this shift in ministry needs, from the emphasis of one model to another. Even though he had followed Jesus as the Lord preached on hillside and in the fields, and even though he himself was preaching in the streets on the day of Pentecost – Peter’s default was always that the people of God should gather in Jerusalem in, or at least near the Temple. When persecution broke out and the believers began to spread around Israel and beyond, Peter finally began to see that the ministry that happens outside the church is every bit as important as the ministry that happens inside the church. Not only that, but God was, and is, actively pursuing people who had not yet conformed to the traditional standards of his people. What do I mean by that? Luke reports that the Holy Spirit fell upon the Gentiles – those who had not been circumcised, did not know the Scriptures, probably did not know the Ten Commandments even… and yet God still met them and filled them with the same Spirit that the Apostles had, and that Jesus Himself had before them. Of course, you may think, this makes sense because Christ initiated a new covenant, a new faith, and we do not have to become Jews first before we can become Christians. Yes, but read on. The Holy Spirit fell on these people, and filled them up so that they were declaring God’s glory and praise in many languages, just like Pentecost – and yet, these people had not even been baptized! They were pure pagans, through and through – but God was able to meet them right where they lived, in the middle of Pagan territory, and work a miracle in transforming them before they ever even learned any of the rules of how to be a good church member. That kind of red tape may stop us, from time to time as a church, but it has never stopped God – and it never will.

Join with me this week as we pray for those mission fields around us: our neighbors, our friends, our relatives, the people we work and shop beside, and those whom we pass several times a week but too often fail to really see… and let us pray that God would open our eyes to what He is already doing in their lives and help us to respond to that work as His instruments of grace and love.

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