As we enter into another week of being the church scattered rather than the church gathered, due to Covid-19, the first verses of Acts, chapter 8, are ringing in my ears. Acts chapter 8 for those of you that may not recall tells the story of when the church went from a work primarily focused in Jerusalem, to a church scattered around the then known world. The scattering came about through persecution, Stephen, a leader in the early church, was stoned to death for his faith, and then the Bible states,
And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. (Acts 8:1)
If there was no further explanation after verse one, a reader could deduce this scattering destroyed the church, but then we read verse 4,
“Now, those who were scattered went about preaching the word.” (Acts 8:4)
When the church could no longer be in one place due to the circumstances of their world, the church began to spread and grow.
Ellen G. White in the book Acts of the Apostles sheds further light on the importance of this occasion,
The persecution that came upon the church in Jerusalem resulted in giving a great impetus to the work of the gospel. Success had attended the ministry of the word in that place, and there was danger that the disciples would linger there too long, unmindful of the Saviour’s commission to go to all the world. Forgetting that strength to resist evil is best gained by aggressive service, they began to think that they had no work so important as that of shielding the church in Jerusalem from the attacks of the enemy. Instead of educating the new converts to carry the gospel to those who had not heard it, they were in danger of taking a course that would lead all to be satisfied with what had been accomplished. To scatter His representatives abroad, where they could work for others, God permitted persecution to come upon them. Driven from Jerusalem, the believers “went everywhere preaching the word.” (Acts of the Apostles,105)
Notice some critical points in that paragraph:
- The persecution resulted in a great impetus to share the gospel.
- The success, the comfort of what was happening in Jerusalem, caused the people to forget Jesus’ commission to “Go.”
- The people were losing strength by no longer serving Jesus aggressively.
- God used the trouble of their day to get his people back on mission.
Does any of this sound familiar to your local church context? Maybe even you personally?
I love the previous paragraph, but it is the following paragraph in Acts of the Apostles that hits me like a club over the head,
Among those to whom the Saviour had given the commission, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations” (Matthew 28:19), were many from the humbler walks of life—men and women who had learned to love their Lord and who had determined to follow His example of unselfish service. To these lowly ones, as well as to the disciples who had been with the Saviour during His earthly ministry, had been given a precious trust. They were to carry to the world the glad tidings of salvation through Christ. (Acts of the Apostles, 105).
The above paragraph, along with the last phrase of verse 1, “except the apostles,” tells us one of the reasons why the gospel began to spread the way it did. The “laity” went out to spread the gospel, not the apostles. People that learned to love Jesus and decided to follow Him along with some of the people who followed Jesus while He was still walking the earth, excluding the apostles, went out to share the message. The “members,” as we may call them, did not see it as the role of the “clergy,” as we may call them to establish the ways and means by which to share Jesus in this time of scattering. They just went out and, in unselfish service, carried the love of Jesus to their world.
And the kingdom of God grew each day.
Sometimes it takes a crisis to remind us of the role each one of us has played in becoming the “satisfied church of Jerusalem.” Covid-19 has served as just such a reminder to me. It has awakened me to my failures as a member of the “professional clergy.” I have allowed there to be too much priority on programming and “come to us” type of events, which are pointless in this crisis. I have called people to many committees, but not to training. I have inadvertently taught people that attending worship one day of the week is the primary role of their Christian walk, rather than teaching them that the purpose of the gathering is to be refreshed for the sending the other six days of the week. We occupy members’ lives with so much busyness at church (school) that they don’t have time to be ministers in their neighborhoods and to their co-workers.
I pray this crisis has also helped our members to reflect on their role in surrendering their God-given call to ministry over to the paid professionals. That would start to call us to and hold us accountable for training them to go out and do the work of ministry rather than doing the work of ministry for them.
I pray our members when they have an idea of how they can help their neighbors, won’t make that suggestion to the church, but they will just do it. That if they feel a Bible verse can comfort someone in need, they will share it, not ask the pastor to come over and share it. That if someone around them requires prayer, they will pray, not call the pastor to come and pray.
Hundreds, yea, thousands, who have heard the message of salvation are still idlers in the market place, when they might be engaged in some line of active service. To these Christ is saying, “Why stand ye here all the day idle?” and He adds, “Go ye also into the vineyard.” Matthew 20:6, 7. Why is it that many more do not respond to the call? Is it because they think themselves excused in that they do not stand in the pulpit? Let them understand that there is a large work to be done outside the pulpit by thousands of consecrated lay members. Long has God waited for the spirit of service to take possession of the whole church so that everyone shall be working for Him according to his ability. When the members of the church of God do their appointed work in the needy fields at home and abroad, in fulfillment of the gospel commission, the whole world will soon be warned and the Lord Jesus will return to this earth with power and great glory. “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” Matthew 24:14. (Acts of the Apostles, 110)
No one wants to go through a crisis, but a crisis offers opportunities to learn and come out better on the other side. I pray myself as a leader, and our church comes out on the other side better—better workers for Jesus.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 8:1). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 8:4). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.