We're currently doing a series from Acts. I like Acts. I like it because it describes the early church as it develops through the ups and downs of discovering and following God's big plan.
On Sunday we reached Acts 13 and I talked about the church unleashed. The titles for this series are all borrowed from a study guide I picked up, but I can't remember who wrote it. If I find it any time soon, I'll give proper credit to the author, but meanwhile I'll just say thank you to whoever it was that came up with the titles I've purloined for use in this series!
So, the church unleashed then. I have pretty strong views about the church, don't we all. I have my share of frustrations and issues with the way we've become institutionalised over the centuries and I long for a simpler, more relationally based expression of church than I currently see in almost every church setting I've served or been a part of in any way.
When I look at Acts 13 I am always challenged by the sheer simplicity of worship, prayer an fasting, followed by hearing, discerning and acting. we are so quick to look for long-term strategies and sustainable outcomes, both of which are important, but sometimes done at the expense of simply getting on with being the church born of and built by the God of mission.
In Acts 13 cultural barriers were crossed, malevolent forces encountered and persecution experienced. There were setbacks and triumphs, successes and failures. But the church grew and the kingdom advanced. All of which was at the very facilitated by a group of unnamed pioneers who pushed out beyond the primarily Jewish confines of the early community. Faith was spelled r-i-s-k, and they just got on with trying to be good news the people around them.
People who can think like this and act like this are probably quite rare. Most of us are shaped to fit our culture and work within it. We're not naturally disposed to think differently. But we need those who can. Without such people we might still have a slave trade, women might not be voting and children might still be working in factories and mines. Someone saw a different world and showed it to others who saw it too.
A number of years ago a book was published called something like On giant's shoulders. It was either Melvyn Bragg who wrote or Melvyn Bragg who hosted a programme on Radio 4 discussing it. I don't remember. I do remember the argument of the book. It suggested that it would be wrong to assume that if key figures like Einstein or Newton hadn't made the discoveries or developed the theories that they had, others would have done so. These men and women of history were giants upon whose shouldres we all get to ride. Without them, development would have been quite different.
So those pioneers in Acts didn't do what anyone could do, they did what they could do, and maybe they alone were destined to do.
If we're going to become the church unleashed in the 21st century, then perhaps we need to recognise a few giants too. And if not giants at least we need to think differently.
And as we think, we shall also need to pray, worship, even fast, as we seek to discern and then follow God's lead.